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.
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.
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.