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Six Reasons Not to Force a Reluctant Child on a Theme Park Ride

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We’ve all seen it – a crying child distraught because their parent is pushing them to experience an attraction that they don’t want to ride. Some parents scream at or belittle their kids. Some threaten punishment. Some attmept bribery. (I’m ashamed to admit that I tried this once or twice.) Maybe there are tears or screaming or a stoic refusal to budge one step further.


No means no.

I understand the impulse. I mean, you’ve paid approximately a billion dollar for a vacation to the freaking happiest place on earth and why (WHY!) would anyone (especially MY KID) be afraid of something as silly as a ride at a theme park. In the moment it can feel like a parenting fail. My kid should be braver. We should have planned better. We’re wasting money.

Oy, again.

Regardless of the reason or the tactics, pressuring your child to go on a theme park ride they don’t want to is a bad idea all around. Here are six reasons why:

1. You weaken the bonds of trust between you and your child.

When a child admits a fear of roller coasters, or of anything else, they’re asking for your trust. They’re asking you to keep them safe. When you negate their feelings and then put them in an uncomfortable situation, then you’re communicating that their feelings don’t matter and that confiding in you is ineffectual.

It’s only a few leaps forward to the teen years. Do you want a child who, when they make a mistake, is afraid and hides things from you? Or do you want the kind of relationship where they can be vulnerable with you and ask for help in a sticky sticky situation? Obviously one bad day at a theme park won’t entirely derail a parent/child bond, but be aware if you’re starting a pattern of not respecting your child’s feelings.

2. You tell your child that they can’t make decisions about their own body.

Similarly, we want all children, girls and boys, to have agency over their bodies – to have the confidence to say no when a physical situation or sensation is uncomfortable. Help them internalize that no really does means no, by respecting their physical needs.

3. Comparison is the thief of joy.

A common tactic for coercing a child onto a ride is to compare them to others. “Your sister was brave enough for Splash Mountain when she was younger than you.” “See, that kid over there is not afraid.” These types of statements are a sure way to make the child feel “less than.” They are also a way to set the stage for sibling rivalry – when one child is seen as better or more worthy than another. Wouldn’t you rather that your kids be each other’s cheerleaders rather than their opposition?

4. It’s not fun for anyone.

Keep your vacation goals in mind. Why are you paying for this trip? Chances are that your vacation aims are to create family bonds, have a good time, and find some relaxation away from your regular life – to have fun – not to check completion of a particular attraction off some imaginary list.

Screams and tears are stress and strife, the exact antithesis of fun and a barrier to bonding. Is three minutes on Space Mountain really worth a massive chill-killing fight? What if that three minute ride and the adjacent fight time were spent creating joy by looking for cavalcades, watching the ducks, or trying a new flavor of Dole Whip. Any one of those activities, or hundreds of other things, would be a better choice for fun.

5. You don’t really know what they’re feeling.

You love cilantro, but your spouse thinks it tastes like soap. You’re comfortable with the temperature, but your mom is throwing on sweatshirts. You adore wool sweaters, but your brother thinks they’re itchy. Every body is different. Every body perceives the world in a different way.

For YOU the rush of adrenaline from a coaster is exhilarating, but your child might find it nauseating. YOU might not experience claustrophobia or vertigo, but if your child does, those are perfectly legitimate ways that their body perceives the world. How would you feel if someone pressured you into doing something that you knew you would perceive negatively?

6. It’s rude to other guests and cast members.

Just as your vacation aim is to relax and have fun, this is also the aim of the other guests at Walt Disney World. They want to have their vacation in a lighthearted atmosphere, not one that’s filled with the sounds of another family’s discord.

Subjecting other guests, or cast members trying to do their jobs, to a shrieking child creates an unpleasant atmosphere. Of course, all children cry from time to time; any good parent understands this and can roll with the punches. But when you’re an adult responsible for creating or escalating a child’s tantrum, that’s unkind to the child and rude to everyone around you.

If you have a child who is afraid of some theme park attractions, you may want to take a look at our post on Coping with Phobias at Disney World. Here we suggest some intermediate steps to getting your child ready for challenging theme park experiences.

These may may include:

  • Watching attraction videos in advance.
  • Starting with smaller attractions.
  • Practicing with similar attractions near home (where the stress of an entirely new environment is not exacerbating tensions).
  • Providing comfort items such as noise-cancelling headphones.

Additionally, staying positive and providing praise are the clearer paths to learning to love theme parks and rides in general.

There are MANY things to do at Walt Disney World without going on any rides at all. Check out our lists of suggestions for non-ride activities at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.


First published July 13, 2021. Updated October 18, 2021.

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Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (now PlanDisney), a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater.

8 thoughts on “Six Reasons Not to Force a Reluctant Child on a Theme Park Ride

  • Forcing to go on rides soured Disney, specifically Magic Kingdom, for me until high school. And I loved watching the cartoons as a kid too.

    When I willingly made the decision to go on the rides, it rekindled the joy for Disney parks that had been buried for years.

  • I’ve taken the chicken exit on many a ride because of a hysterical child. It’s supposed to be entertaining, not a visit to the doctor for shots, so no, I’m not going to “push through” their fear of something not necessary. It would possible ruin the experience for us and probably other guest. After a couple of years of maturing, my kids were able to ride those “scary” rides. All in due time.

  • I love this article because of the way you presented it as things for us to think about rather than advice. I’m a theme park junkie, and my now pre-teen and teen boys are as well. Were there moments when I wanted to force one to ride something because I knew he would love it? Absolutely! Have I made mistakes? Yup. It’s part of learning how to be a parent. But you brought up some good points that I hadn’t even thought of. Great article!

  • These are six excellent points, and ones we should all keep in mind. You really have to know your child and be focused on their needs. We have three kids and they couldn’t have been more different with rides/ bravery. Youngest has major anxiety issues and it was actually very therapeutic for us to push him. We just had to find out what worked. He made the biggest progress when it was just him and one parent. No sibs to pressure or shame or compare or disappoint.

    • And I should add that this was over multiple trips, slow progress, and advised by his doctor! Not a quick fix.

  • It’s almost as though you think it’s not okay to push through our fears? I certainly think with proper tactics parenting and knowing each individual kids means of understanding and feelings and you’ll do fine. I don’t want to gain a few things with kids while taking the worst step back which is having strength and knowing how to push through fear to enjoy something out to survive something. Don’t let great control you or your kids. Their tougher than your letting on by a lot.

    • Nothing wrong with encouraging a kid to push thru fears and be brave, but note that the title of the article is about “forcing” a kid to do something.

      If the kid is ready to push thru his/her fears, that is awesome. Offering assurances that you’ll be together the whole time, can hold hands, etc, can help a kid work up the courage to try something that seems scary.

      But trying to push them thru their fears as the adult is counterproductive.

  • Great points! I also made the mistake of thinking my youngster knew what he was in for… I let him ride Big Thunder Mountain when he was barely tall enough because he wanted to “ride the train.” He cried through the whole thing… and after that he didn’t want to ride anything because he was sure it was going to be fast and scary no matter what I told him!


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