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Parenting in the Park
Tips and ideas for the traveling family
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Adrienne Krock, editor
Theme Park Safety
Whenever there is an accident at a theme park I stop to think. Whenever there's an accident at Disneyland, I really stop to think. As annual passholders, my husband and I take our son to Disneyland several times a month. In the aftermath of the most recent Disneyland accident involving a young child, [see Al's Update today about this particular incident] I was invited to share some of my reflections on theme park safety. So here they are.

When I go to visit a theme park, I have a set of expectations. I expect the parks to train their employees to safely operate the parks' attractions. Often times, I've witnessed belligerent guests question safety measures at theme parks. I expect park employees to be trained to handle such unfortunate situations and I am grateful for the people who accept the responsibilities of those jobs. I also expect theme parks to maintain their attractions. When I ride an attraction, I expect it to be safe. These two things, training and maintaining, are beyond my control. 

As a parent and a park visitor, I have a set of expectations for myself as well. These expectations are what I can control. I believe that I have a personal responsibility to be aware of my surroundings and to behave safely. But above all, I have the very important responsibility to make sure my child is safe and to teach him how to be safe and responsible at a theme park.

Step One: Ride with your child.

When my sister and I were growing up, we always divided up the same way: She went with Mom and I went with Dad. This gave our parents the opportunity to monitor our behavior. They could remind us to keep our hands, arms and legs inside the ride vehicles. Mom and Dad made sure we stayed in our seats and that our safety restraints were secure. If you cannot be in the exact same seat as your child, you should be in the same vehicle, sitting so you can see the child and monitor his/her safety.

Remember that just because a child is well behaved does not mean that he / she will know how to behave on a theme park ride. We need to teach these behaviors to our children.

Step Two: Whenever possible, keep children toward the middle of ride vehicles.

Tram operators at Disneyland say it all the time: "Seat small children toward the center of the tram." The outside edges of the trams are not safe places for children to sit because are no doors nor windows on the trams. Whenever we take Matthew on the attractions at Disneyland, we keep him toward the middle of the ride vehicle when we can. We know he's more secure in the middle and it keeps him from reaching over the side of the vehicles.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that it's easier to see if you're on the edge. Not true. Here are just a few examples: On both it's a small world and Pirates of the Caribbean, there are displays on both sides of the boat. The displays are also large enough and high enough for Matthew to see from the middle of the boats. On other attractions, such as the Haunted Mansion, the vehicles turn to face "the action," and all seats are good seats.

Some rides do not have a middle. There may only be two seats or you may be riding one parent with one child. As you line up for the ride, watch the ride vehicles. Sometimes one edge of the vehicle may be more secure than another. Take a moment to size up the situation before it is your turn to board the ride. 

Step Three: Don't expect kids to watch kids.

We have had some wonderful opportunities to spend time with other families at theme parks. Often, older children want to be helpful with younger children. I think Kathy Fackler (of ) said it so well when she wrote, "A 7-year-old is not capable of protecting a 3-year-old from hurting herself on an amusement ride." Even children older than seven will not be capable of effectively monitoring a younger child. Disney requires children under the age of 7 to be accompanied by an adult.

Step Four: Don't assume that rides are the only 'hazards' at a theme park.

Rides aren't the only potential hazards at Disneyland. I have watched children climb on the rocks of Tomorrowland. Other times, children climb on fences or railings. During parades, parents encourage their children to stand on fences or take "short-cuts" through planters.

I speak from personal experience on this one. This past summer, I was at the park with an individual who shall remain anonymous but who I will refer to as: DrK. (OK, he's not a child.) DrK decided to take a short cut over a fence. DrK fell. DrK sustained an injury to his ankle during his fall. Not only were DrK's plans for the day completely ruined, but he experienced a long recovery period. We all need to be careful at theme parks.

Step Five: When a theme park sets a policy, follow it.

"There is no lap seating on the tram (except for very young children.)" "Children should be seated on the inside of the tram." Many times cast members (CMs) make safety announcements to guests. Too often they have to repeat these announcements many times to get everyone's cooperation.

Here's my opinion, take it for what it's worth: I think people assume that Disney is "just worried about a lawsuit." Given the choice between my child's safety and suing Disney, I'd take my child's safety any day!

One policy that many parents try to circumvent is the height restrictions on rides. I have seen tips online for making a child appear taller than he/she actually is so he/she can cheat the height restrictions. I have two major ethical dilemmas with such advice. First, what message does that send my child about lying? Second, how important is my child's safety to me? Height regulations are set because rides are designed to safely secure passengers of a minimum size. Kathy Fackler advises:

Use the posted height and age limits as suggestions, not pass/fail criteria. Manufacturers base their guidelines on developmental timelines and height / weight ratios of children in the 50th percentile. Kids who are tall for their age may not be developmentally ready for a particular ride. Kids who are more impulsive than average need closer parental supervision.

Step Six: Before you go, talk to your children.

Talk to your children. Explain to them why it is important to follow safety guidelines. With older children, discuss peer pressure and the importance of following rules. Kathy Fackler provides an excellent list of potential topics for such conversations.

So who's Kathy Fackler?

If you haven't followed either of my previous links to Kathy's page, I'll give you one more opportunity.

Kathy Fackler is the creator of You may remember the story of Kathy's son, David. In 1998, David lost part of his left foot in an accident at Disneyland on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Since that time, Kathy has developed a "relentless interest" in ride safety at theme parks. 

Not only does Kathy's site provide information about theme park safety legislation, but there are detailed tips by age level for keeping children safe at theme parks. Her "Safety Tips" sections have extensive information, much more than I could include here. Please take some time to visit this valuable site.

Wanted: Your questions and feedback! They will help me plan future columns! Write me at:


Adrienne gathered experience taking kids to amusement parks when she worked as a day camp counselor and director. She was an elementary school teacher before she started her favorite job, being Matthew's Mom.

Adrienne and Matthew visit Disneyland several times a month, usually with Daddy, too.

Besides Matthew, Adrienne and her husband Kevin created and maintain The Happiest Potties on Earth website.

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