Anne Marie Hayes
Disney World is swashbuckling pirates, fairytale princesses and beloved storybook critters. There’s music and laughter and people milling all around. Balloons bob in the sky and costumed characters offer ice cream and popcorn treats. It’s exciting! It’s thrilling! And it can be overwhelming for little ones. Here are some things you can do now to prepare them for their adventure and help them stay safe and happy.
1. Practice What to Do if Kids Get Lost
Do your kids know what to do if they get lost? What are your family rules? The Disney Theme Parks are big, crowded, noisy and have lots of fun distractions. This makes them ideal places for children to get lost. Following are some ideas to help kids stay safe if they get separated from their parents.
Make sure everyone is carrying identification. For young children, tuck the identification in a pocket. Include your cell number and don't forget to keep your cell phone with you and fully charged.
In our family, we tell kids to stay where they are when they realize they can't see us. We will find them. The worst that could happen is if they went in one direction and we went in another. If they stay where they are, we can backtrack and find them.
You can practice what to do in a mall. Make sure the kids know what is happening and what to expect. One parent can pretend to lose the child while another watches carefully from a short distance.
At Disney World, parents often tell children it's okay to tell Cast Members when they are lost. All Disney Cast Members have distinctive ID tags. If you decide to do this, it's wise to point out the ID tags when you get to the park each day, so children know what to look for "just in case."
For older children, designate a meeting place where you will meet. Make sure everyone has a park map (they are free at the gate) and you point out the exact meeting place on the map. Walkie-talkies or cell phones can also be a good way to reach each other.
2. Measure the Heights of Children and Plan Attractions Accordingly
Some of the most thrilling rides have sharp turns and jerky movements. Kids love them and Disney World takes every precaution to make them safe. However – young children can slip under harnesses and out of safety belts so some attractions also have minimum height requirements. Disney doesn’t impose them to be mean. They are totally about safety. (Some parents don’t seem to understand this and try to “sneak” their kids onto rides they shouldn’t be riding!)
It’s a good idea to measure your children beforehand and check out which rides they can and can’t ride – before they go. This way you can avoid disappointment.
Some rides offer the “Parent Swap” option so non-riders can stay with one adult while the other rides. Then parents can switch. If you want to use this option, bring some activities to amuse the non-rider like coloring pages, a special book or a small toy.
3. Practice Meeting Giant Characters
Parents look forward to seeing the excitement on the faces of their little ones when they meet the Disney stars, but sometimes the sheer size of the cuddly characters can be intimidating. I've seen toddlers burst into tears and cling to their parents for dear life when Tigger reaches out for a hug!
What can parents do to prepare small children to meet the giant, cuddly creatures? You can talk to them and even act out meeting favorite Disney characters.
For example: one parent can loom large and pretend to be Tigger. The other can walk with the child to "Tigger" and introduce him in a soothing voice. Tigger should bend down slowly, smiling gently and take the child's hand. Tigger needn't talk (furry characters don't.) Talk about how big and cute Tigger is and how gentle he is. Make sure your child understands that it's okay to say "hi" to Tigger because you're there to help. A few practice runs should help the child feel more comfortable when the real time comes.
Preparing your children in these ways will help them be more confident and stay safe during their great Disney adventure!