Yesterday afternoon, a friend of mine asked me to drive two kids to the airport to catch a flight back to their parents in Chicago. I have met these kids. I know them. What I did not know is that they had never been on a plane before.
When I picked them up, they informed me of their concerns and started asking questions. I expected some – about where they will sit, what they can take through security, what will it feel like, etc. My favorite question of the night though has to be this one:
“How does the pilot see at night?”
As adults, we often fail to look at the world through a kid’s eyes. The 10-year-old sitting next to me last night was desperate for assurance that, even though their flight left at 9:50 pm, the pilot could still see what he was doing and where he was going.
I took a break from the GPS navigating me to the airport, worrying about what they had in their bags that may or may not be allowed through security and explaining the way it all works. I stopped and just said a few simple words, “Hey guys, it’s going to be okay. In fact, chances are – you’re going to have fun.”
I navigated them through security, got them something to eat, showed them where they would board the plane at and then we just sat down and talked. We talked about their upcoming school year and their friends. They told me stories about their home and family. We talked about what sports they may play this year. The underlying fear they faced in the unknown melted away.
Answer their questions as honestly as possible
It is tempting to tell kids to not worry. In my experience, telling kids (or anyone) to not worry usually just makes them worry more. The better option is to just be open and honest. Answer their questions. Those kids last night weren’t worried about the plane crashing or terrorists hijacking the flight. They were worried about if the pilot could see at night.
“He definitely can. There are lights on the front of the plane just like headlights on a car. Also, you know those flashing lights you see on tall buildings and towers at night? Those are there so pilots can see there is something there. They have very detailed navigation and are in constant communication with people on the ground and other pilots to make sure they are on course and nothing is going to keep them from their route. Actually, flying is safer than driving in most cases.”
Lead them through trust by example
Especially in stressful situations, I know I am tempted to get all stressed out. The best course of action though – don’t. And especially don’t if there are kids in the mix. I am constantly working on this in my own life because I am so easily convinced that something is a huge problem and in order to convince kids its a big deal, I have to make it a big deal.
For instance, I was involved in a car accident in June. There were three kids in each vehicle and none of them had ever been in a car accident of any kind before. I didn’t do a very good job of keeping my demeanor in check and because I was stressed, the kids I influence also felt stressed.
Thankfully, I made better decisions at the airport last night and was able to keep my verbal and body language in check. Because I was relaxed, so were the kids. When I laughed, they laughed. They felt comfortable to ask me questions. And because of that, I was able to answer their questions instead of them being lost in curious fear.
As they were boarding the plane and I could no longer see them, a young guy looked at me and said, “Hey, good job. They’re on the plane. It’s over.” He and his girlfriend had been stuck in the airport for most of the day trying to get from Chicago to Pensacola. I had no idea he was paying attention to me. Apparently, he was. We talked for about 30 minutes before I finally left the gate. I learned an important lesson in those 30 minutes – others are watching the way I connect to and engage with kids. Chances are – others are watching you too.
Here’s today’s “get to know you” question: