5 Helpful Tips for Calming Scared and Anxious Kids at Disney

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You’re so hyped to take the kids to Disney! Perhaps this is your first visit there or maybe you’ve been before. What do you do if they’re scared at Disney and your child is terrified of the attractions? Or refuses to get on a ride, even if he’s been on it a dozen times before? Your kid is “too-scared-to-ride” but that doesn’t mean your vacation is doomed. This is my helpful guide for kids who are scared at Disney with my tried-and-tested tips.

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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nervous kid at Disneyland
My formerly “too-scared-to-ride” big kid comforting his little brother who was nervous his first time on Flik’s Flyers

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. Watch them over and over so your child can be comfortable with more of the aspects of the place.

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.

Kid standing with Mickey Mouse at Disneyland
No need to be scared at Disney. And no pressure during character meet n’ greets…Mickey’s cool!

If you’ve never been to Disneyland yourself, you may not know what’s scary for kids at Disneyland. 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. You can do this by researching blog posts (like this one!) with tips for kids your age.

READ MORE: Check out my post on TravelingMomHow to Encourage Shy Kids to Be Brave at Disney for lots of tried-and-true advice on encouraging reluctant children.


2. Tried and True…Maybe Not So Much

Even if your child 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 after that. And then one day, just like that that, he was fine and wanted to go on it again! 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 little boy at Disneyland
Too scared at Disney to ride the Silly Symphony Swings (which has now become his favorite!)

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.

Preschooler with Toy Story Woody at Disney California Adventure
Some kids love characters and some don’t!

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 themself 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.

child in life jacket at Disneyland hotel pool
Taking a swim break mid-day is one way to take the pressure off kids scared at Disney.

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.

You’ll also want to read these tips on how to avoid the Disneyland Meltdown.

Scared girl holding Minnie doll at Disneyland
My daughter was comforted by having her Minnie Mouse from home with her on all the rides.

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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.

Little boy in Disney California Adventure Cars Land
While other family members are on a ride, we take the time for some fun photo ops in the park.

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.

Kid eating ice cream cone at Disneyland
An ice cream break usually fixes everything!

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?

Disneyland parade with Smee from Peter Pan
Waving at Characters from afar might be preferential to a face-to-face Meet n’ Greet for kids scared at Disney.

What tips do you have for easing the tension for your kids when they’re scared at Disney? Share with us in the comments!

Think your kids might be scared at Disney? Whether you're headed to Disneyland in California or Walt Disney World in Florida, these 5 tested tips are sure to help kids who are nervous, anxious or scared enjoy their vacation! Practical advice for kids of all ages, including those with special needs or sensory issues. #Disneyland #DisneyWorld #SpecialNeeds | Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Autism Travel | Disney Tips

 


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