My 5 Year Old Is Freaking Out About Traveling over the Holidays

Updated on November 08, 2016
G.T. asks from Canton, MA
17 answers

Each year me and my 2 girls travel from MA to NC to visit my family over New Years. For whatever reason this year my 5 year old is adamant about NOT going.
She is suddenly afraid of flying and my sister recently got a dog and she is nowafraid of the dog.
My 9 year old is excited to go.
I've tried explaining that there is nothing to be afraid of. That Santa will be leaving presents for her there too. That she doesn't have to see the dog at my sister's house. That gramma and grampa really miss her (who my 5 year old typically LOVES and can't wait to see).
She has always been afraid of cats and dogs, so this is not new, but the fear of flying is. She usually loves to fly and fights over the window seat with her sister.
I fly alone with the 2 girls and I cannot deal with her screaming on the plane for 2+ hours by myself, or the whining up until the day we leave.
Any advice?

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answers from Springfield on

My first thought is, stop talking about it. You're not going to take this trip for, what, 6 or 7 weeks? That is a long time in the life of a 5 year old. Just find other things to talk about. Bring it up again when you're just a week away. Don't mention any of her fears. Just help her get excited about Christmas and seeing family.

It's amazing what fears 5 year olds can get over in just a few weeks.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I had a child at that age become anxious about something totally unrelated to her actual fear (or lack of confidence). It took me a long time to put two and two together, because I didn't have experience with anxiety in my kids.

So this may not have anything to do with flying at all. That's why I would drop the whole flying conversation for now.

Also, I would not guilt trip her (I know you don't mean to, but kids feel badly about this stuff) about her grandparents wanting to see her. If she is anxious this will only add to her stress.

Just listen to her - maybe she'll offer up what's really bothering her about the whole thing in her own time. She won't though if you bring it up. From my experience anyways.

4 moms found this helpful

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answers from Washington DC on

well, you've done all the explaining necessary and then some.

it's great to get her input about it, but if she's not going to be given a choice in the matter (she wouldn't have in my family either), it's time to take it off the table.

all of your explaining is counter-productive. if the fear of flying and dogs are sudden new fears, they're not actually fears- they're her way of trying to get across to you how very very much she doesn't want to go. so trying to rule out her irrational reasoning with logical responses is just going to frustrate both of you.

i would absolutely refuse to do the drama dance with her, starting right this minute. if she brings it up, say firmly, 'we are going to visit gramma and grampa for christmas, and that's final. i'm sorry you're unhappy about it. we're not discussing it any further.'

if she pushes it, banish her.

if she keeps melting down and there's no audience, it will lose its charm soon enough.

you can't guarantee that she's not going to howl on the trip itself, although hopefully she'll have resigned herself by then. but you can sure as heck give yourself a break by not listening to it from now until then.

boundaries are not only your friend, they're hers. she'll learn how to cope much more quickly if you stop engaging her over it.

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answers from Portland on

I'm cofused after reading some of the responses. Kids have fears that seem to not make sense. Sonetimes, because they are so young, say they're afraid of one thing because they don't know how to talk about their real fear. In this case, perhaps she has fear related to Daddy not going. My grandchildren were afraid of dogs. ONE still will want Mommy, Daddy, or some trusted adult before she'll even look at a dog. Being afraid of dogs or cats or any animal they don't know, is common even among adults. My grandchildren's gradually introduced them to dogs. ONLY stay with the dog for a few seconds to start with. I suggest that when you keep her away from dogs you are reinforcing her fear. TheI must be a reason to fear dogs because.they take him away, sort of thinking.

Does your daughter usually scream non stop when faced with a fear even when mommy is holding her showing that everything is ok.? PERHAPS you fear nonstop screaming because you don't know how to soothe her or because you worry, or want her to be happy. PERHAPS you fear what other people will think and get tense.

I suggest that at 6 your daughter will not not make the connection between discomfort in the car and fear of flying. I doubt that driving will teach her anything and be miserable for you. If you make driving uncomfortable for her, she will be even more difficult. She will be bored. She will complain. SHE may act out in a variety of ways.

I suggest that if you're not able to soothe her and she screams nonstop, she may need some help from a pediatric mental health person. CRYING is to be expected, even when the crying lasts10-15 or more minutes. SCREAMING non stop is unusual. My 5 yo grandaughter is on the autism spectrum. HIGH functioning. SHE does scream non stop at times. She is learning how to use words and is improving. HER screaming doesn't get her what she wants.

I've removed many children around this age from their home. Few scream but when they do, my quietly sitting down on the floor or sitting with them in my parked car usually helped them calm down. I found that rushing them is guaranteed to increase the screaming or crying. ABOUT half of the children cry. CRYING is good.

I've found that just listening without explaining helps. I relax as much as I can and use reassuring calming words that let them know I get it.

A last minute thought. Talk to her pediatrician about the possibility of medication to help her be calm. A one time thing.

As to whining, do not listen to it. PErhaps SAY I can't listen when you whine. If she continues, send her to another room. You can work on finding ways to stop whining.
For now, don't talk about flying. It is possible that her attitude will change.

Has she or a friend have an experience on the plane that they consider bad? HAS she seen/heard about plane crashes?

Stop trying to talk her in to it. This forces her to repeat she doesn't want to go which causes her to dig her heels in.Instead, say all of you are going and stop there. NO more discussion. A child psychologist recommends using a phrase, such as "too bad, so sad" and "it's tough to be you." SAY them in a supportive way. They acknowledge a child's feelings and at the same time tells them that this is the plan and it's not going to change.

At a time in which you're talking about the trip itself, tell a story about a little girl who is flying to see her grandparents. ASK your daughter to tell the next part of the story by asking, "what do they think about seeing their granddaught er. The ask how the girl in the story thinks about it.

Build on the story, always talking about the little girl in the story and asking your daughter to fill in the spaces.

After you've said that we're going several times. ASK her what she needs to feel safe. PERHAPS a stuffed animal, perhaps to hold your hand.

Another approach is to have her draw a picture of the trip. Or about last year's trip. TALK about specific ways she had fun last year.

When you try to talk her into going, you're putting too much pressure on her. IN essence you're telling her this decision is hers. THat's scary. BE firm, don't argue or try to talk her out of not going. You made the decision and you all are going. Bottom line.

On the day of the flight, be calm and not hurried. Perhaps take a walk around the airport to look at planes if she would be intetested. TELL her what will happen step by step. Just remember you're the mom. YOu're going. BE briefly empathice/sympathic. Show her you're confident he can do this.

I'm surprised that anyone would guest driving and not going. YOUR daughter is a child and should not have power to so drastically change your plans. She has to know that you make the big decisions and will see that she's safe. Would a mom let a child stay home because their child was afraid of school skip immunizations? No, we don't. We help our children face those fears knowing that they will benefit. Spending time with extended family over the holidays is beneficial. YOU enjoy the time. You've seen your children and parents enjoy the time. IF you drove, you'd be tired when you get there. YOu'd have less time with them. What is the fun in that?

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

why can't your family come to you?

I personally don't like traveling over the holiday's myself. I might drive an hour, but flying? No. Thank you.

Typically, I would NOT give the child the final decision on this. However, I would definitely sit down and talk WITH her - NOT TO - her and ask the questions about her fears and LISTEN to the answers. She needs to know you are listening to her and understanding her.

Why is she afraid of animals?
WHY is she suddenly afraid of flying? My boys? They were TERRIFIED of my flying to my best friend in Denver after the Malaysia Air went down. Please talk with her and listen.

Address her fears - don't make excuses and tell stories. tell her HOW she won't have to be near the animals. Will they be in a kennel or at a friends house? DO NOT tell her if you do NOT know.

What's her fear of flying? Did she see a movie or a news segment where a plane crashed?

Good luck!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

I like Suz. T.'s answer...just stop talking about it and tell her that you are not discussing it anymore. The family is going and that is that. Maybe have her help pick out some movies to download that she can watch on the plane...or some new video games. I let my kids pick out a couple movies and a couple free games that they cannot play till they are sitting on the plane and they are always excited about this. Another thing I will do is let my youngest (now age 6) pick out an airplane friendly art/drawing/coloring type project for the plane. She loves this. Your daughter is way too old to scream on the plane. Do you really think she will do that? If she continues to want to whine and drive you nuts I would give her one warning and then I'd give consequences for bad behavior. Repeat as necessary.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

Personally, I would not want to be turned away at the airport, lose all that air fare money, and risk ruining my other child's trip as well. I think it's too much to chance that you're going to get her to cooperate for a flight by simply avoiding the subject for 6-7 weeks and hoping it will go away. Others may have more faith, but I would just worry way too much about this.

I would drive this time, if you really want to go. Or spend a quiet holiday at home this year, and save a driving trip for summer (with perhaps better weather, more time off school, and an overall less stressful time to travel without the pressure of "holiday traditions").

If you DD is still fearful when the subject of flying comes up after the holidays, I'd get a referral from her pediatrician for a therapist. Fears, anxieties, and phobias ARE real and frightening and can become crippling. It's so often not effective to get all authoritative and force or even calmly reason a child out of them, you have to empathize with her feelings, and accept that while she MAY outgrow it, OR it may take a lot of time and patience to overcome.

Talk to your sister about her fear of the dog, and see if she will agree to a plan to keep the dog's time around your DD controlled and to a minimum. If she is reasonable, and you trust she will respect your DD's feelings, assure your DD about the plan. She doesn't have to spend time with the dog around her if she doesn't want to. If your sister isn't willing to control her dog at all, I'd consider not going. When I was a child I had a large neighbor dog jump all over me while the adults around me laughed as they thought the dog was "playing" while I cried terrified. I was afraid of dogs until into my 40's. Love them now, but that fear was REAL. And I still remember how frustrating it was that no one took me seriously at that time.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

I agree that you need to stop talking about it with her. Wait until a few days before you leave and then tell her in a positive way that 'In two days, we're going to grandma's house. Let's decide what to take on the airplane!'

Personally, I also find the idea of flying over the holidays terrifying! All those people, noises, etc. Yikes! But I also wouldn't allow a five year old to alter my travel plans. I fly a lot, and I can't think of a single situation where a preschool or school age child was crying and screaming in the waiting area or on the airplane. I suspect that if you were to cancel your trip, she'd end up being upset that she didn't get to see her grandparents. And she'd probably be upset that you cancelled the trip. Five year olds aren't real good at understanding the consequences of their actions!

What works best for my son, and other kids that I've seen, is to give him control over some aspects of the trip. We allowed him to pick his own carryon bag. He gets to choose what toys to put in it, and he packs his own snacks. I also relax some of our rules during the flight... He has to be on his best behavior, but if he wants to watch movies or play games the entire time, that's o.k.

For future trips, if she's still afraid, consider Amtrak. Kids seem to do well with train travel because they have more freedom to move around, talk, etc.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

It doesn't sound to me like you really know the origin of her fears.

I'd definitely stop the tension for a while by stopping all the talking. If she has severe anxiety, you may need professional help, but whether it's mild or severe, just trying to rationalize it will be totally frustrating and unproductive. Tell the 9 year old not to talk about it either. Off limits.

She has so many fears - dog, flying, just don't know where to start. Try listening more and talking less. She may share more if you aren't working quite to hard to get to the bottom of it and talk her out of it. Sometimes kids just get to a stage where they understand their mortality and they aren't living in a bubble anymore. And you have no idea if she's heard talk about plane crashes - there's been stuff on TV about the Malaysia flight and also the movie about Sully Sullenberger landing the plane in the Hudson. It could be anything that triggers a child's fear.

Maybe she just wants to stay home - that's normal too. She may also have heard from kids that there is no Santa, so in her mind, why should she go elsewhere? I don't know - just floating possibilities.

I think there are a lot of ways to handle this - not going at all, driving (at least one way), and just laying down the law and not giving her a choice. If she screams for an hour in the airport and during pre boarding, the plane won't take off, at least not with you on it. But you'll be out all that money too. You have plenty of time to schedule some long drives to let her know what it would be like to be in the car that long, but then again, a road trip can be terrific. Airports at holidays are a nightmare, and you may be showing your stress at having to buy all the presents and wrap and ship them ahead of time. She could be picking up on anything.

And as others have suggested, perhaps something occurred on a prior visit that she didn't share with you. There could also be an episode with a dog somewhere in your neighborhood. Gently probe, subtly, with very little emphasis on getting to the bottom of it in a short period of time.

Good luck.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

What is the need to discuss something so far in advance with a 5-year-old? Tackle this issue six weeks from now.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Do you typically give in to her whining? Because it sounds like she's trying to manipulate you.

My kids love to fly because they get unlimited screen time on flights. Maybe stop asking her opinion and start talking about why flying is fun.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

I agree with Suz T. You need to set the boundaries and expectations. I fly with my boys also - 6 and 10 now. Since they were 2 and 6, they carry their own backpacks - they are not allowed to pack more than they can carry (this is for toys, blankie, loveys, crayons, etc.). We only fly 2-3 times per year but they know the expectations, how to go through security, how to board plane, how to sit in seat with seat belt on, etc.

Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

When my daughter was about that age, she had a bad flight - tons of ear pain - and the next time she flew, she made such a fuss. Anyway, we fly quite often so she just had to get over it. She still doesn't love to fly but her ipad and a bag of candy usually does the trick!

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answers from Norfolk on

I know you do this every year but have you ever considered NOT traveling for the holidays?
At least some of the time?
It's kind of nice waking up in your own bed and not dealing with packing, traffic, airports, etc.
Maybe every once in awhile (not this year if you've made reservations) you can take a year off.

In our family - my Mom's too old to want to travel anywhere - and where she lives the winters are bad enough that she gets mad if anyone risks their lives to try to visit her.
She only wants visitors during the summer.
So for holidays we call each other - and we like it like that.

At some point - your 'family' is you, Hubby and the kids.
You don't have to visit extended family every year.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

You just tell her that you understand she is nervous, but you are going and that is that. But I would be curious about what is causing all these irrational fears, maybe have her talk to a therapist at some point and see why she is so afraid of so many things.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

I wonder if you are feeding her emotional stuff be even responding to her when she's doing this?



answers from Miami on

It's not just about dealing with her screaming on a plane for 2+ hours. The airline may not even let you fly with her. They have done this to families before. My advice is to drive. Break the trip into 2 days. When she starts fussing about sitting in the car for so long, tell her that this is what happens when she fusses about flying on a plane. If I were in your shoes, I'd be saying it every single time she fussed about anything.

Don't make things easy for her. Be strict. Don't play movies or have many toys for her to play with. She needs to feel the weight of her decision. Even as a 5 year old, she can. Get ear plugs for you and your older daughter for the car ride.

I would ask the family to send the dog elsewhere. Right now you can't deal with her "fear" of a dog. She's too young.

If she STILL fights about going, plop her into that carseat and be TOUGH on her, no apologies. Tell her "We're going and that's FINAL." You cannot let this 5 year old run your life, even though she is bound and determined to try to.

If you think that there's a chance that she will dread the drive home, take a rental car instead of your own, and book one way tickets home. That would be at least easier than driving both ways.

If this is just too hard to do, consider leaving her at home with someone else and just flying with your 9 year old. Sometimes nothing but realizing you've been left out will change a child's point of view...

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