Care and Feeding

Ugh, I Think I’ve Infected My Kid With My Worst Fear

I really wanted him to avoid this!

A man covers his face in fear on an airplane.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by anyaberkut/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have had a fear of flying since I can remember (I am close to 40). I don’t know why that is, since I have flown ever since I was a child, and no one else in my family (not even my grandma, who first flew at 70!) is a nervous flyer. In any case, I have managed it relatively well and it’s not visible to others (or so I thought), though it makes traveling difficult for me. I have always been adamant about not passing this fear on to my children (ages 6-years and 15-months now) because I know it is unreasonable, and I want them to enjoy travel. Well, it seems that my older kid has picked up on this anyway …

… since I noticed that he has started getting nervous over take-off and airplane noises (my biggest issue) on my first solo trip with the kids. I feel terrible. It seems clear to me that I must have not concealed this fear or dealt with it as efficiently as I thought. My question is: How do I help my son manage his fears when I have them myself?

— Nervous Flyer

Dear Nervous,

Maybe you’re right: Maybe you didn’t conceal your fear, and your son is fearful because you’ve unintentionally modeled that fear is the natural response to flying. Or maybe he is imitating you, because that’s what children do. Or maybe this has nothing to do with you. Maybe you have successfully concealed your own fearfulness, and—because he is a separate person, with his own constellation of responses to whatever comes his way—he is experiencing his own, entirely separate fear of flying. It’s very common after all.

So whatever has inspired it, please don’t beat yourself up about it. And perhaps helping him to deal with his own fears will end up helping you as well. Can you be honest with him? (“I’m nervous about flying too, even though I know it’s unreasonable and I don’t want to be.”) Talking him through the reasons that flying is safe will remind you of them (if you need help with this, you might try a free course online). There are plenty of resources available to help you help him. And keep this in mind: As parents, we very often have to help our children with problems we ourselves have. It’s part of the job description, and I have faith that you can do it.

— Michelle

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