Clearing Airport Security with Kids

Susan Pederson, our resident travelling parent, explains how to avoid tantrums and how to quell a child's fear of airport security

Recently, we headed off for a vacay with our two daughters, and for once I was looking forward to the flight. Our kids are past the diaper stage, they can reliably enter the brain-mush zone of the on-flight entertainment system (which allows me to catch up on my reading), and the oldest can even pack for herself. “This’ll be a breeze,” I thought.

It wasn’t until we had downed our requisite Starbucks drinks and made it into the security “holding area” that the trouble began. I was standing on the other side of that security thingy that sounds an alarm if you forgot a dime in the lining of a jacket.

As the security officer looked through my toiletry bag, the shrieking began. My five-year old was paralyzed with fear at the idea of walking through the metal detector, screaming at the top of her ample lungs.

Getting kids through security without incident doesn’t have to be this stressful. With a little prep and a few rules, you can ensure this part of your journey runs as smoothly as security will allow.

Car seat shuffle

If your child is still in a car seat and you are carrying it on the plane (either alone or attached to a stroller) be prepared to remove your wee one from the car seat once you head through security. Yes, I know you just got him settled. Yes, I know this is his normal naptime and he was up all night teething. I feel your anguish, I really do. Security does not. Don’t even think about trying to convince them to let him stay put.

Preflight role-play

In hindsight, I realize I could have prepared my daughter for the trip by pretending to go through the security procedures at home beforehand (she’d been clearing security since she was still in above-mentioned car seat, so who knew?).

Sometimes a chat about what to expect at security, with the help of a book or with role-playing will ease fears. Just make sure you cover this off well before you’re ready to pack your bags.

Trying to convince my daughter to pretend that the security device was a “castle covered with beautiful flowers and you are a princess” didn’t wash once she was purple-faced and popping ear drums with her caterwauling.

Prepare for tough questions

It’s my own fault. I made the mistake of commenting to my older daughter about how much easier it was to clear security before September 11. The inevitable questions followed and after a rather glossed-over, watered down explanation, she understands why we’re not allowed to joke about carrying a weapon and also why I can’t listen attentively to the minutiae of her latest fairy story as we are clearing security.

Still, giving too much detail about the myriad reasons for stepped-up security will likely foster unnecessary fear in a sensitive child such as mine. She’ll be hitting puberty soon and I can only imagine how she’ll feel about the full-body scanner.

And how did I finally persuade my youngest to join me on the other side of security gate (while her dad and the ever-lengthening line-up waited behind her)? The security guard  let me go back and carry her through (usually a no-no at this age). Sobbing, frazzled and sweaty, we made it through, just as the other security guard finished looking through our carry-on luggage.

Photo by Miki Yoshihito

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Susan Pederson

Susan Pederson is a Calgary-based writer and editor who lives with her husband and two daughters. She has written for Avenue, Homemaker’s, CBC Radio, The Globe and Mail, and Today’s Parent, often with one of her kids dangling from an arm or leg, and from wherever she can steal an Internet connection while travelling.



I fly all the time and flying is not new to my kids. I have a 6 and 8 year old, and our recent trip was rather similar. Days before the trip question after question about security. I answered the questions but with no additional information(my 8 year old also tend to be a worrier and has a lot of fear around change). Flying out of Calgary... no problem! We avoided the full body scanners, however once through I did show her what they looked like. On the way home out of LAX, not so lucky. I was wearing a hooding with a bra on underneath and was asked to take it off. When I explained what I was wearing (refusing to take it off) I was separated from my kids and given a full body search. Thank goodness my mother was their because my 8 year old went into absolute panic. Can you share with your readers what this simple conversation should like? Because there is defiantly a fine line(depends on the child)as to what to tell your children. I not sure if I could have prepared my 8 year for the 60 seconds of fear she faced.

Susan Pederson

Good question, as my nine-year-old is very much a worrier as well, even though it is the youngest who freaks out at security. I try to explain as many eventualities as possible to her, always reassuring her that "you may feel scared for a few minutes, and that's not fun to feel that way, but it's O.K." In this case I would say, "I really am not looking forward to those scanners either, and sometimes they want to take a closer look at what we are wearing underneath our clothes. So if they take me or Papa to the other room, don't worry, we'll be back, and they are just making sure we are all safe.." or some such thing. Really though, it's all lame advice when your kid is scared and upset and you aren't feeling much better.

But I'm doubly glad you asked this question, because I hadn't had the in-depth conversation about the scanners yet, and haven't been subjected to the full-body search myself, so I need to add that to my list of what to prepare them for. I'm afraid my youngest isn't really at an age where she would remember that in that "crisis moment" (she's six). But I feel your pain, Mother of worrier. It's tough, as I was a worrier myself, and it tears my heart out.

Thanks for writing in. Let us know if you have any tips in retrospect, as I'm sure all parents could use them.


Great tips, I like the empathy root.

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