We’ve all seen it: a child crying bewildered because his parents are pushing them to experience an attraction they don’t want to ride. Some parents shout or belittle their children. Some threaten punishment. Some bribes avoided. (I’m ashamed to admit I’ve tried it once or twice). Maybe there are tears or screams or a stoic refusal to go one step further.
I understand the impulse. I mean, you paid about a billion dollars for a vacation to the happiest place on earth and why (WHY!) Would anyone (especially MY KID) be afraid of something as silly as a walk in a theme park? For now, it may seem like it fails in parenting. My son should be braver. We should have planned better. We are wasting money.
Regardless of the reason or tactics, pressuring your child to take a walk in the theme park you don’t want is a bad idea around. Here are six reasons why:
1. Weaken the bonds of trust between you and your child.
When a child admits fear of roller coasters or anything else, he asks you for confidence. They ask you to keep them safe. When you deny their feelings and put them in an awkward situation, you communicate that their feelings don’t matter and that trusting you is not effective.
There are only a few leaps into adolescence. Do you want a child who, when he is wrong, is afraid and hides things from you? Or do you want the kind of relationship in which they can be vulnerable with you and ask for help in a sticky situation? Viously, obviously, a bad day at an amusement park won’t completely derail a bond between parents and children, but beware if you start a pattern of not respecting your child’s feelings.
2. Tell your child that he cannot make decisions about his own body.
In the same way, we want all boys and girls to have control over their bodies; have the confidence to say no when a physical situation or feeling is uncomfortable. Help them internalize that it doesn’t really mean no, respecting their physical needs.
3. Comparison is the thief of joy.
A common tactic to force a child on a trip is to compare them to others. “Your sister was brave enough for Splash Mountain when she was younger than you.” “Look, this guy over there isn’t scared.” Such statements are a sure way to make the child feel “less than”. They are also a way to prepare the ground for sibling rivalry, when one child is seen to be better or more worthy than another. Wouldn’t you prefer your children to be animators of each other rather than their opposition?
4. It’s not fun for anyone.
Keep in mind your vacation goals. Why pay for this trip? Most likely, your vacation will aim to build family ties, have a good time and relax outside of your regular life (for fun) and not check the completion of a particular attraction of any imaginary list.
Screams and tears are stress and conflict, the exact antithesis of fun and a barrier to coming together. Is it worth three minutes on Space Mountain to fight a massive cold? What if that three-minute trip and the adjacent fighting time are spent creating joy looking for rides, watching the ducks, or tasting a new flavor of Dole Whip. Any of these activities or hundreds of other things would be a better option for fun.
5. You really don’t know what they feel.
You like coriander, but your partner thinks it tastes like soap. You’re comfortable with the temperature, but your mom throws off her sweatshirts. You love wool sweaters, but your brother thinks it stings. Every body is different. Every body perceives the world differently.
To you, the adrenaline rush of a mountain ride is stimulating, but your child may find it disgusting. You may not experience claustrophobia or vertigo, but if your child does, they are perfectly legitimate ways to perceive the world through their body. How would you feel if someone pressured you to do something you knew you would perceive negatively?
6. He is rude to other guests and cast members.
Just as your vacation goal is to relax and have fun, this is also the goal of other Walt Disney World guests. They want to spend their vacation in a cheerful atmosphere, which is not full of the sounds of another family’s discord.
Submitting other guests or cast members trying to do their job to a screaming child creates an unpleasant atmosphere. Of course, all children cry from time to time; any good father understands this and can roll with his fists. But when you are an adult responsible for creating or escalating a child’s anger, this is unpleasant for the child and rude to everyone around him.
If you’re a kid who’s scared of some theme park attractions, you might want to take a look at our post on Coping with Phobias at Disney World. Here are some intermediate steps to prepare your child for challenging theme park experiences.
These may include:
- Watch attraction videos in advance.
- Starting with smaller attractions.
- Practice with similar attractions near home (where the stress of a whole new environment does not exacerbate tensions).
- Provide comfort items, such as noise-canceling headphones.
Also, staying positive and giving praise are the clearest ways to learn to love theme parks and attractions in general.
There are MANY things to do at Walt Disney World without taking any walks. Check out our list of suggestions for activities that can’t be done at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
First published on July 13, 2021. Updated on October 18, 2021.