We love going to Walt Disney World Resort and rediscovering our favorite rides through Eli’s eyes. While he is our wild child and isn’t afraid of many things, he is afraid of the dark and being confined. This means that there are quite a few rides that he has been tall enough to ride but was too afraid to try. We tried a lot of things to make him comfortable with the idea and I wanted to share my tips with other parents who may be facing the same situation.
- Don’t force it. This is my number one rule and one that drives me nuts when I see it happen. Yes, your child may be tall enough or old enough to ride the ride, but if they are afraid, forcing them to ride is just going to make everyone miserable.
- Test it. It’s hard to know if a ride is going to freak your child out if you haven’t ridden it yourself. Take advantage of rider swap (you can use it even if your child is tall enough for the ride as long as they don’t want to ride it) to test the ride out. That will give you the ability to really explain the ride to your child as well as to decide whether it might be best to wait another year or two if there is something intense or scary.
- Prepare them. Kids (and adults for that matter!) often fear the unknown. If you help them understand what they can expect then they may get ready on their own. While you can talk about the ride and what happens, I’ve found that the most effective way is to find a You-Tube video or two actually taken on the ride. Eli refused to believe that it didn’t get dark inside the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train no matter how much I reassured him of that fact. So I found a great video of the ride from start to finish and let him watch it a few times.
- Hype it. I think the thing that worked the absolute best was watching the new Disney commercials about kids Eli’s age doing new and exciting things at Walt Disney World Resort (thank you Disney Jr.) and watching the Disney Parks Planning DVD. I’m convinced that those two things are why Eli finally decided to ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Test Track recently.
- Time it right. If the darkness inside rides (like Peter Pan’s Flight or the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover) is what is frightening to your child, then consider riding those rides at night. It may sound counter intuitive, but I noticed that I could see so much better inside those rides after dark because my eyes didn’t have to adjust as much. During the day, on the PeopleMover I could barely see anything inside Space Mountain, but after dark I could see the cars and the tracks dramatically better. I noticed that Eli was much more comfortable in those rides after dark as well. The biggest exception to that would be something like where the train goes through a tunnel between Main Street Station and Fantasyland Station because the tunnel is short enough for the sunlight to be seen through it.
- Positive reinforcement. Ok, some people may call it bribery but I think it’s a reward for bravery. For Eli, we agreed to buy him a trading pin for each new ride he tried. He’s really loved adding pins to his lanyard to show his ride accomplishments! We also have him call his brother or grandma after he rides a ride to brag about what a great job he did!
- Quick repeat. For Eli, I’ve learned that when he tries a new ride that used to scare him he’ll always say he loved it. But if we don’t get him right back on the ride he starts worrying about it all over again. However, if we can get him to ride it again immediately then it “sets” better and he’s more eager to ride again.
- Glow sticks. A friend on Twitter recommended giving kids glow sticks to carry on dark rides to help them avoid being afraid of the dark. I haven’t tried it yet, but now that Eli is asking to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad I’m going to give it a try.
- Accept regression. When Eli was three he rode Goofy’s Barnstormer a bunch of times on the same trip, but then when we went back he said he didn’t want to ride it anymore “because sometimes kids fall off”. We reassured him that kids did not fall off but didn’t push him to ride again. It took a little over a year and then he suddenly decided he was ready to ride it again. He’s loved it ever since and that marked the day he decided to start trying even more rides.
- Don’t force it. This one is so important that I’m repeating it. Be patient. Give your child the room to grow up at his own pace. Riding rides is supposed to be fun, not traumatic. It can be frustrating when your five year old suddenly refuses to ride something you know isn’t actually scary, but you have to accept that for whatever reason, it is scary to them. Encourage them and use the tips above but don’t haul a screaming child onto a ride. If you’re patient and calm and encouraging, the day will come when you’ll have a willing and eager companion for your fun!
One month ago, Eli refused to even ride the People Mover and suddenly on our last couple of visits (yes we go all the time!) he agreed to ride the PeopleMover, Splash Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight, the Jungle Cruise, the Gran Fiesta Tour and so many more “new” rides! He’s even asking to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad now.
What are your tips to help your child overcome fear of trying new rides at Walt Disney World Resort? I’m linking up today with run.geek.run(Disney).