Scared at Disney?
When I took my son (who is now 12) to Disneyland for the first time, he was 14 months old. He loved toddling at Disneyland, getting wet at Dot’s Puddle Park and climbing stairs and rocks on Tom Sawyer Island. What he didn’t like were the rides. At all. Not even a LITTLE BIT!
He simply was unfamiliar with the quick and unpredictable movements of the rides and there was nothing we could do or say that would help him to relax on the ride. So what can you do if your child refuses to ride, or worse bursts into tears at the very thought? You don’t want your kid having bad memories about his Disney vacation, right?
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1. Plan Ahead
You know your child and if there is any doubt in your mind that you might have some issues at the Park, do everything you can before the trip to prepare them. Show them videos online about the rides. Get a Disney Vacation Planning DVD (click the image above). Watch it over and over so your child can be comfortable with more of the aspects of the place.
Check out my post on TravelingMom, How to Encourage Shy Kids to Be Brave at Disney for lots of tried-and-true advice on encouraging reluctant children.
I’d also advise against setting huge expectations. Don’t expect that you’re going to jump right on Space Mountain with a nervous kid! Plan your day intentionally with a slow start. Don’t expect that your kid is going to run into Mickey’s arms to give him a huge hug if he’s never seen these larger-than-life Characters. As your children become more comfortable in the Park throughout the day, you might be able to get them to try new experiences.
SCARED KID TIP: Read up about the rides, attractions and shows in advance so you’ll have an idea if your child would want to ride them or skip them. The The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids 2017 and The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2017 offers tips on the possible “scare factor” of certain attractions at the Disney parks.
2. Tried and True…Maybe Not So Much
Even if they loved a particular ride in the past, that doesn’t guarantee that they’ll still enjoy it on this trip. My son rode the Pirates of the Caribbean dozens of times but one day (at age four) he got in the boat and screamed until we took him out! For whatever reason something scared him and he refused to get on the ride for years. And then one day, just like that that, he was fine! You just never know.
Your kids might be fine with the spooky Haunted Mansion but suddenly be terrified of Dumbo. And they might be 10 years old…just sayin’. There’s not much you can do about this issue, just let it go and move on to the next attraction.
SCARED KID TIP: Ask your child in advance which rides they most want to go on and which rides they’d rather skip. Let them keep a journal (like the Kid’s Travel Journal -Disney Edition) with their top 10 attractions where they can take notes or draw a picture of their favorite experiences. Allowing your child to document their happy memories might encourage them to try something new or more adventurous.
3. Backing Out
You’ve waited in line for Space Mountain for 90 minutes and finally reach the end…and that’s when your child decides they just don’t want to ride. We’ve had to back out at the last minute of several rides with my daughter when she decided after waiting that she really didn’t want to ride.
Just go with the flow and don’t get upset. Let the Cast Member know that you need to step aside. Wait for a bit. You know your child and whether they’d prefer to collect them self alone or need a hug. Let your child know that they can make the next move, whether it be to leave the attraction or try to ride.
SCARED KID TIP: A stressful situation may escalate so don’t let one blow-out ruin the day. Move on and don’t dwell upon it. Offer a drink or a snack to relieve some of the tension. When we’ve had a particularly upsetting moment with one of our kids, we take that as a cue to get a treat or go back to the hotel for a swim. You could also try resting for a bit in one of the quiet Park areas (read my post Avoid the Disneyland Meltdown for more ideas).
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4. Use Rider Switch
Just because your kid meets the height requirement doesn’t mean they’ll want to ride! Make good use out of Rider Switch and that way anyone in your group can take turns on a ride and one of the grown-ups can wait with the child that doesn’t want to go on.
My friend Leslie at Trips with Tykes breaks down the Rider Switch process on her website.
5. Switch Gears
So, despite your best efforts your kid is still too scared to ride. It’s time to switch gears and find things that your child will appreciate. Fortunately Disney is packed with entertainment that will occupy you for days. The Parks are full of entertaining attractions other than the rides.
The parades and shows are top-notch and appeal to a wide audience so everyone from your toddler to great-grandma can appreciate them. Make sure to grab a Times Guide when you enter the Park so you’ll know what events are happening that day along with the time schedule.
Even things as simple as waving at the Characters as they pass in the parade (because your child is too nervous for an up-close meet ‘n greet) can be quality vacation memories for them. While other people in your group are on rides, take fun photos of your child in the Park and capture those memories. There are a bunch of great non-ride ideas in my post What Else is There to Do at Disneyland?
What tips do you have for easing the tension for your kids when they’re scared at Disney? Share with us in the comments!