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Air Travel Safety
Air Travel Safety

Child at Lamu Airport

Photo by Alfredo De Simone

By Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, Pediatrics Now

Traveling during a heightened security alert is every parent's nightmare, long lines, canceled flights, invasive security personnel and terrified kids. Preparing your children for a crowded airport and introducing them to the airport security process, from start to finish, will help reduce their unease. Patience, on your part, will help alleviate their stress. Yet proper communication is the only way to ease a child's anxiety about air travel safety. The following tips will help you deal with a resounding 'Mom, but is it safe to travel home?'

Whether you discover the unwanted news when you arrive at the airport or a day or two prior to your scheduled departure, managing the flow of information will help you re-establish a child's sense of security. Avoiding or watching the news coverage of a terrorist attack together with your children will reduce the visual impact of a tragic event. But it is not enough. Dr. Paula Rauch, Director of the Child Psychiatry Consultation Service at Massachusetts General Hospital and a specialist in talking to kids about tough topics, emphasizes the need to clarify the details and stress the rarity of such events.

'The age of your children is your best guide for how to comment on any difficult event,' asserts Dr. Rauch. Small children, preschoolers and kindergarteners, should be told little about tragic world events. The fantasy world of small children and their lack of understanding about space and time make it difficult for them to grasp what has occurred. For this age group, you will need to let them know that something scary has happened but that everyone they know is safe and nothing will happen to them. To help them through the airport security process, explain that the conveyer belt is safe for their luggage, including security blankets and stuffed animals. Watching an older child or adult go through first, and suggesting the child go through to meet that person, will go a long way to easing their concerns.

Older kids, from tweens (ages 9-12) to teens, should be told the essentials of the terror event and be given an opportunity to ask questions. What's more, teens deal with difficult situations best when involved. Find ways to include them in the steps you need to take to get the family to your travel destination safely. Have them help with the repacking of luggage or placing all liquids you plan to carry in your hand luggage in a transparent re-sealable bag. Ask them to hold the line when reconfirming flights. They can also help keep younger children occupied and distracted. Teens that crack jokes when under stress should be reminded that the security process is serious and talk about bombs, guns and violence will not be taken lightly.

Heightened airport security is unfortunately a facet of air travel safety. So, when you write your family vacation planning checklist, add talking to your kids about airport security to the mix. The more your kids know before you leave home, the more comfortable they will feel regardless of what happens on the road.

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