It’s not easy raising kids with anxiety, but it’s more common than one may think. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 7.1 percent of children in America have been diagnosed with anxiety. That’s around 4.4 million children.
If your child is one of them, know that you’re not alone. There are legions of parents going through the same thing and a world of resources for you to help your child navigate and manage their anxiety. And if you’re thinking of traveling as a family soon, here are some tips and pointers to be the best parent you can be when traveling with children who have an anxiety disorder.
Know in advance what might trigger your child.
There is a big chance you know your child better than anyone else, and rightly so, but it doesn’t mean you may know every single thing that could trigger their anxiety. The way to know is to ask in a kind and non-pressuring way. You can ask simple questions like, “Is there anything you’re worried about for our upcoming trip?” Encourage them to be honest and let them know that you will be there to hold their hand along the way.
Knowing what worries your child is already half the battle because, for example, if they’re terrified of riding on planes, you can already prepare the necessary activities to distract them during the flight.
Lay the necessary groundwork by managing expectations.
At the same time, you and your child will also benefit greatly if you help manage their expectations weeks and even months in advance. Encouraging your child doesn’t mean invalidating their anxious thoughts. For example, you may think it’s irrational that they’re worried about riding a plane when it’s considered the safest way to travel, but in your child’s mind, it’s a genuine threat that poses a danger to their safety.
You can show kindness and empathy by listening to their worries and assuring them that the pilot has trained for years and knows what they’re doing. You can also tell them that you can hold them in your arms the entire time until they fall asleep, and before they know it, you will be landing safely in your destination.
Travel to more familiar places.
One of the biggest factors that trigger an anxiety attack in many people is unfamiliar places and situations. If you find that this is one of your child’s triggers, consider traveling to places they have been before. Bring them back to more familiar places where they’ve already had good experiences and where they associate fun memories with.
You can gently ease them into new locations in areas you haven’t visited yet, but those that are near to locations your child already knows. Do everything in your power to keep things the same and to stick to routines that your child is already used to, like waking up and having breakfast at a certain hour.
There is no such thing as being over-prepared.
You are more likely already on top of your child’s essentials, like their medication and their soothing items like safety blankets or stuffed animals. But it also can’t hurt to bring other materials that can help make the car, train, or plane ride more pleasant, like picture books or coloring books. An iPad or other devices might help distract them, but studies show that unchecked device use is not healthy for children.
You can also give your child their own backpack. Once again, if they have a safety item that they cling to for emotional support, they should have it in their own backpack, so they know they can access it anytime.
There is no such thing as over-preparation when it comes to traveling with children who have an anxiety disorder. Circling back to knowing what triggers our children, we must be prepared for whatever may cause them to have an episode. For example, if your child can’t stand having their clothes wet, then a fresh change of clothes must always be present in your carry-on or at least know the location of the closest children’s clothes boutique. If your child is picky with food or has many allergies, they must have their favorite snacks in their bags at all times.
The Bottom Line
Last but not least, don’t hesitate to consult with their primary care provider or therapist. A mental health professional will have the answers to your questions and provide the support you need as a parent. So don’t be too overwhelmed, and believe that your child can be fully healed from their anxiety.