Monday, December 13, 2010

The Anxious Child in Disney

Hayley Ringing the Dinner Bell

Making Magical Memories Column
Newsletter #142
Published August 17, 2010
My son is only 5 years old and was in preschool during our last trip. He is our “thinker” of the three kids and because of that, he is also our worrier. I swear he can ask a thousand “what if” questions a day. He can get himself worked up over the simplest things. As a result, prior to our last trip to Walt Disney World, we began preparing him for what it would be like on our vacation. Though he hit a stage of being very frightened of everyday things, we felt his familiarity with Disney characters would help him through our time in the theme parks. Well, we were wrong. During the entire 8 night stay, he did not once have his picture taken with a character. He avoided any rides he couldn’t see what was on the inside. Even at Hoop Dee Doo, he was asked if he wanted to ring the dinner bell, which he responded by hanging his head and closing his eyes. Luckily, my three year old was there to step in! So here are a few things I learned on this vacation while traveling with an anxious child:

Joey's 1 st Trip Down Splash Moutnain

First, for all the preparation for the attractions we gave my son, we realized if we talked about the attraction as we were making our way to it, he would refuse to ride. If we just walked into the queue area without discussing the ride, he would realize too late and he couldn’t refuse. Plus, since he didn’t have time to think about it, he didn’t have time to get himself worked up about all the “what if” questions. Now, don’t get me wrong, we aren’t talking Tower of Terror or Rock N Roller Coaster, those he certainly had the option of denying, but I am talking more of Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan type rides, those that he couldn’t see what he was getting himself into, even though he had ridden them on previous trips. My lesson learned here was too much preparation was probably our mistake. The great thing is that he enjoyed every one of the rides he tried to refuse to go on, had he not, I think we would have had a much bigger problem on our hands!

Next I learned that glow sticks are awesome! I certainly am not a big fan of them at home for the fact that my three year old chews everything and the liquid inside a glow stick is impossible to get out of linoleum ~ I know this from experience. But in Disney, every dark attraction or nighttime show that my son had a glow stick, he was fine. By simply having something to hold and that gave that slight amount of light worked. For those of you who have seen Fantasmic! glow sticks helped all three of my kids make it through the entire show without crying and no nightmares that night! I would highly recommend bringing some of those along for your trip. Our dollar store has 4 in a pack for a dollar – they were invaluable for all three kids, especially my son!

Also, if you stay at a hotel that has a lot of noise or activity that goes on, try to find the times when this is happening and either enter the area from the side or avoid it completely. At the Caribbean Beach Resort, every once and a while at the food court, music would start playing and cast members would come out with the limbo bar. Now my two daughters loved this, my son was completely overwhelmed by the loudness and all the cast members trying to get him to limbo. I wanted him to join in and have fun, but I knew this was too much for him. I had to quickly let the cast members know he wouldn’t participate. Of course, they were very nice about it, but one did keep talking to him and try to convince him to take a turn. This just made a difficult situation worse as his grip on my shirt was tightening to a point that I thought he may rip it! Once I knew about the limbo contest, I would simply bring him in the side door where he could watch from afar. He never did participate in the limbo contest, but late in the week he would watch from afar with a smile.

Finally, one of the best things on this vacation was my parents! They always come with us to Disney and their help is invaluable. They would take the girls onto the rides if we had to sit with Joey or vice versa. I think this helped because no one missed out on the things they wanted to do and at no point was Joey taking away from anyone’s vacation. He actually just needs a moment in a quiet spot to get himself back from being overwhelmed, so having my parents meant that someone could walk him around (go figure, he found the gift shops very soothing!) while everyone else experienced an attraction. Besides having the extra hands, it is always great to share our magical moments with family!

During our week in Walt Disney World, it really was trial and error with Joey to get through the parks and keep his anxiety to a minimum, but we did it and we all had a great vacation. He, as well as his sisters, is already asking when we will be going back. He has even mentioned some rides he would like to try out next time and we can’t wait!

What is your best tip for bringing an anxious or extremely shy child?


Mike said...

Thank you for writing this post. Your writing brought out the best in how you worked with your child to help him get over his anxious moments. I'm fortunate that my daughter has never had that issue at Disney, but she does have similar issues in other less magical places. Good luck in helping your little one move past the anxiety.

Beth Doda ~ disneymom2jhe said...

Thanks for commenting, Mike! I have three kids and they each, of course, are completely different. My middle child will try anything and hugged all the characters, while my youngest loved all the characters but refused to ride most attractions. Luckily, I went into the vacation prepared for that and ready for whatever my three kids were going give me! It still was a great vacation, but I am looking forward to the day we can get Joey into the parks and past all his anxiety!

Days In The Park said...

Excellent article, Beth. Really enjoyed it, and a lot of great pointers and tips.

I'm just now learning some of these lessons. Talking about it, or trying reverse psychology, just doesn't work. They'll ride things when they are ready and not before. Patience is a virtue.

And LOVE the new look of your blog. So nice and clean! :)

Beth Doda ~ disneymom2jhe said...

Thanks, Chad! My blog needed a major overhaul. I actually worked on it while avoiding a very long to do list! I felt so good about it when I was done, I actually ended up feeling motivated to do everything else on my list. :-) SO for once procrastinating paid off!

Our son has a lot of anxiety about anything that is unknown to him. The hardest part is balancing the three kids personalities, without him feeling like he is being left out. I am very lucky to have two great parents to help us out on trips. If we went just the five of us, it would have been difficult. But like you said, kids do things when they are ready and there is no way around that!

Kimberly Hill said...

Our third is our anxious child (she's 8, her brothers are 22 and 20) and in trying to be helpful and explain everything, I made it worse for my little over-thinker who tends to choose the worst possible scenario and stick with it.

At night we put together Dollar Store glow bracelets for her to share with other children who might be anxious or just want some fun and she loves to pass them out.

She's VERY outgoing, which doesn't seem to match the anxious part, so it mainly affects attractions and other situations not involving people

Beth Doda ~ disneymom2jhe said...

I am so happy it isn't just me! My son literally will not attempt anything new simply because of some scenario he has built up in his head. I hope that he outgrows it. The thing is he is the most kind-hearted little boy and when he is panicked, he is a completely different kid. Luckily, WDW has a lot to offer everyone, so we have been able to manage it well there. Hopefully, he will be a little more outgoing on our next trip ... fingers crossed! :-)

lbaxter80 said...

Noise-cancelling ear muffs helped ease the "loud" factor (at first) for our 6yr old. Rides were another story. He refused and resisted rides like It's A Small World! But, after 5 days of fighting it, he relented and rode the Barnstormer, Pirates of the Caribbean, and a few others. Not sure why, but his first two trips were not that troublesome. It was something about being 6, I guess.

Beth D. said...

Same for Joey when it came to the characters. He was never afraid of them, then when he was five, he wanted nothing to do with them. Now he can't get enough of them! :-)