By: Dr. Donna Pincus

Although fears of loud noises are common in young infants and preschoolers, typically these fears dissipate by the time children enter their elementary school years. However, for some children, fears persist and can often disrupt their everyday functioning. In the case of thunder and lightening phobias, children who are excessively afraid may carefully monitor the daily weather, and may refuse to participate in activities such as sports or other outdoor activities if there is even the slightest cloud in the sky. For these children, the help of a child psychologist can be extremely important to help the child return to their everyday routines without avoiding things.

There are several techniques that have been used by psychologists to help children with such fears of thunder and lightening. First, therapists who are carefully trained in how to conduct relaxation therapy may help teach children to relax during a thunderstorm. Children are also often thought to readjust their anxious thoughts about thunderstorms and to obtain accurate information about when to be concerned, how to keep safe, and when it is okay NOT to worry. It is also important that children practice these skills during storms.

Although therapists unfortunately do not have the power over mother nature to cause a thunderstorm right in time for a therapy session, there are other ways that storms have been re-created so that children can learn to face their fears. Children can purchase tapes or CD's of thunderstorms, which are available in most music stores. Children are encouraged to practice positive coping skills while listening to thunder storms. Several museums have lightening exhibits where the phenomenon of lightening is explained, and created in the museum for children to learn about it. In addition, other techniques, such as having a therapist use a strobe light while the child listens to a lightening and thunder tape, can help children re-create the feeling of being in a storm. Ultimately, exposure to real storms can help children see that if they take proper precautions, they do not need to be excessively afraid.

Suggested Readings:
Flash, Crash, Rumble and Roll

CHILDREN's FEARS OF FLYING: Helping your child prepare for plane flights!
By: Dr. Donna Pincus

Fears of flying are quite common, especially for young children who have never experienced a plane flight. Some children will appear to be eager to fly, and will look forward to the plane trip almost as much as the vacation itself. However, for other children, thoughts of flying lead to tears, worries, and physical feelings of fear such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, and muscle tension.

There are several ways in which children develop fears of flying, and sometimes there are combinations of factors that may contribute to generate a child's excessive fear. First, children who have experienced a flight that was particularly turbulent or traumatic in some way may have developed negative and worrisome thoughts and feelings about flying due to their prior experiences. Other children can develop a fear of flying by watching others act or behave fearfully, such as watching another sibling or friend cry or verbalize scared feelings about flying on airplanes. Third, some children can acquire a fear of flying by the information that is transmitted through television news shows, newspapers, and other media sources. Typically, plane crashes are featured in these shows and papers and are described using highly descriptive, fear eliciting language. Some children may have experienced some or all of these situations. For example, a child may have been on a turbulent flight where he or she watched a sibling crying about feeling scared, and then saw many shows on television that portrayed plane crashes. This often leads children to believe that plane crashes are more common that they really are. In fact, flying by airplane remains the most safe form of transportation. Recent studies estimate that the probability of dying in a plane crash is 1 in 11 million, whereas the probability of dying in a car crash is 1 in 5,000.

So, what can you do to help your child feel less anxious about flying? First, it is important that your child or teenager obtain some accurate information about air travel and its safety. Persons can call the local airport and can obtain statistics on the number of flights that took off vs. the number of flights that had difficulties on a particular day or week. Obtaining accurate information helps children to adjust their misinformation about air travel. Children should be encouraged to talk about the positive and exciting parts of the trip, and parents can help foster this by talking about the flight in a positive way.

If children's fears persist and become disruptive to the family's functioning (e.g., child refuses to fly, won't go on family vacations, etc.), it might be necessary to obtain some professional guidance. Psychologists can help kids to change their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors regarding air travel, so that they are better able to cope. Also, there is new technology called virtual reality therapy that allows children to experience a "virtual plane flight", while sitting in a stationary seat with eye goggles on their head. This allows the child to see special virtual reality images projected onto small screens in front of their eyes. Realistic audio of plane flight is played through the earphones, which corresponds to the images the child sees on the screen. In addition, the seat vibrates and shakes with increasing intensity to correspond to the visual images seen. Virtual reality therapy for flying fears allows the child or parent to experience a plane flight without actually leaving the therapist's oNovember 28, 2014hroughout the country, including the Child and Adolescent Fear and Anxiety Treatment Program at Boston University.

Overall, we know that the best form of treatment for flying fears is to take real plane flights! Often, children will do very well after learning to readjust their thoughts and feelings about flying. So start planning your vacation!

Suggested Readings:
Flying Without Fear

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Last Updated
November 28, 2014