< 1 min read
I recently took a short flight to another state and was seated near a 2 year old that appeared to have a panic attack as the plan was landing. It was distressing for all to see and the child’s parents were unable to do anything as the child had to remain buckled in. When the plane landed, it was as if the event hadn’t happened for the child and they were back to their bubbly talkative self. Has anyone had experience with how to support little ones through panic during similar situations?
Marked as spam
Wow! It sounds like the toddler was truly terrified. Panic attacks are simply horrible and can happen when you least expect them. For a toddler or young child, I think it is important to help them understand what is happening to them. Reassure them that they are ok and i love the idea of singing to them and talking them through their breathing. On a flight it is so difficult since the child needs to remain restrained. It is probably important that the parents talk to the child about it after they are calm again so that they can process what happened. This will mean that the next time they will have a greater understanding of what is happening in that moment.
Oh the poor soul might have been terrified. Such strong behaviors are displayed when children feel overwhelmed, unprotected or threatened.
To be very honest, I have even seen elders becoming anxious during takeoff and landing of plane. He was only a toddler who felt threatened and expressed his fear. Children as young as 2 years usually know very few ways of expressing their distress. Crying and screaming are ways of showing discomfort and fear.
I agree with Dona and Lesley that the child might have felt uncomfortable when plane was descending and not having the reassuring touch of the mom might have made it worse. Being hungry, sleepy or sick could have made things even worse.
Getting the child busy in some mutually enjoyed activities e.g. doing actions on favorite poems, playing peek a boo or using finger puppets usually prevent children from getting into a panic like reaction. Important thing is to get the child ready before hand. Child should be made comfortable in his seat and engaged in the activities before the plane starts to descend.
For younger children pacifiers and favorite teddy bears can also help in making children calm and comfortable.
In the case you refer to, my guess is that the descent of the plane caused discomfort, cause, or earache which might have been the cause of toddler's distress. In young children confusion about the source of discomfort or pain can trigger the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response) and lead to anxiety. Being unable to seek comfort and having to remain seated would probably have further contributed to their panic.
In very young children, the best way to reduce anxiety is to be a constant, calming presence. Being held securely (for children who are not claustrophobic or who are not touch averse) can help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which can restore calm.
This same technique can be used for children (and adults) of all ages which is why weighted blankets are often recommended, but you can also add other forms of verbal reassurance and can help an older child to rationalise their anxiety or panic which will also help de-escalate their state.
Wow, I have never seen a child that young suffer a panic attack. I honestly don't know if it is possible to have an actual panic attack as a toddler.
However, it sounds obvious that the child was terrified. Some preventative measures may have helped the situation, but it was too late in this case.
It is too bad that she could not hold her child, but I know the rule is under 2 years old for lap children while flying. Perhaps the child was cozy and asleep on the mother's lap and had to be awakened and plopped into the chair abruptly, all alone when landing.
Another factor to consider is that the child may have been having ear pain which is a big reason for small children crying and thrashing around in discomfort when landing.
Providing calm soothing comfort measures is needed whatever the cause. If the child took a bottle, that would help the hungries, and ear pain and provide comfort.
As a mom, I would try the best that I could to wrap myself around my toddler while giving a bottle and talking or singing quietly.
Flying with children is hard, especially when they are this young. I always feel bad for young moms traveling alone with little ones as I know it is a big challenge.