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Parenting in the Park
Tips and ideas for the traveling family
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Adrienne Krock, editor
Adrienne's eMailbox March 1, 2001

Many of the emails I received after my column last week were anecdotal accounts from readers. Because I know that I benefit from hearing other people's stories and learning from their experiences, I am sharing some of them here today (there is not enough room for them all!) Like Sue Kruse said in her recent email column, I too expected to receive feedback telling me how wrong I was. Nope.

What I found were many readers who agreed with me and one who disagreed with my previous column
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Adrienne's eMailbox for 3/1/01:
In an unsigned email, one reader writes:

We prefer parks where parents and children can do things together. DCA fits that description. Granted Disneyland has more, but then it's been around a lot longer too. DCA is much better for family togetherness than Magic Mountain, Knott's and even Toontown. Your young child may not have much to do, but for my 6, 8, and 10 year old, there is plenty to do, for all of us, together. I don't have to sit outside the ride and watch them have all the fun. They enjoy the farm play area (and you most certainly can climb into the tractor), the other playgrounds, the movies (I do agree with your warning about BUGS), the spinner rides, even Soarin' and Screamin' and GRR. My kids love this park. Many of my students (grade school teacher) have been and love this park too. Your article should be titled "What is there for YOUNG kids to do?" Perhaps when your child is older, you will see it differently.
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I think if you look at my columns carefully, you will notice that I do use the term "young" children repeatedly. I'm glad that your six- year- old enjoys DCA. It seems to me that this seems to be a transitional age for children at DCA. Some will like it, some won't. Many will be tall enough to experience many of the attractions, others won't. DCA may be better for family togetherness than parks such as Magic Mountain and Knott's, but in my book, Disneyland is really the park that knows how to address togetherness for the entire family. Disneyland does this better than Magic Mountain, Knott's, or even Legoland, which heavily markets itself as a family park.


One of the tractors at California Adventure

About climbing on the tractors: I did ask sources connected with DCA before posting that there would be no climbing permitted on the tractors. I was told that they would not be allowing children to climb on them, even once the park opened. Several readers wrote to say that children are now allowed to climb on tractors. This is better news for the younger crowd.

I don't mean to sound like I'm "bashing" DCA. I did not say that it was a bad park. What I said was that it wasn't good fit for us right now, and shared my reasons why. I resist assigning age- specific guidelines to my articles because every child is different. As with all my commentaries, my purpose is to give share my opinion, and to let you make up your own mind.
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To that end, Rob writes:

You and I have talked about parenting, so you know we tend to agree quite a bit. This is one of those areas. I have talked to my kids, who are quite a bit older than Matthew, and Sean (12) would be interested in going on It's Tough to be a Bug, and Andrew (11) would not. Now Andrew shares his mother's fear of spiders, while Sean is willing to inspect a spider before stomping it into the ground (unless it is a good and harmless spider). I would not take Andrew on It's Tough to be a Bug, it would scare him. Now sometimes Andrew likes to be scared. He loved the Mummy, but it scared him at points. He has seen some very scary movies and has come away grinning. But having giant spiders show up in a personally threatening manner is just too much to expect him to handle.

SO, what I am getting to is exactly what you said, if you have any questions as to how your children will react, check it out first. You as the parent will be the best judge as to whether something is too intense for your child. No demographic exactly matches Matthew, Sean, Andrew or any child out there. Only the experience of the child's parent with that child is going to give you any indication of how the child will react. That's why I feel your advice in this case is flawless.
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Thank you, Rob. I know a 31-year-old, Gulf War veteran who refuses to ride It's Tough to be a Bug! I'm not about to force him to go on it, so why would I do the same to my child? It's not a "bad" attraction, it's just not for everyone.

Also, this is one reason why I avoid assigning specific age guidelines in may columns. Every child is different; age- guidelines are not always flexible enough to apply to everyone.
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Cathy, mom of two, wrote:

I just read your column a little while ago and wanted to compliment you strongly for sticking to your guns on that one. Kids should not be lied to. Or made to go on something they don't like just for the "experience". So many times I have seen parents in line with little kids at Haunted Mansion and they tell them it is not scary and is just fun. Well, we all know that is not true for a child. I feel like telling the child the truth right then and there.

The Matterhorn
The Matterhorn

I remember being at DL one day and a man and his small son were standing over by Ariel's area and looking up at the Matterhorn. The dad was pointing up at it and yelling at the boy and the boy was crying and just looking terrified. I felt so sorry for him.

Anyway, people have such differing opinions -- lots of times I think their opinions just conveniently coincide with the fact that they desperately want to go on the ride themselves. I'm sure you will probably get lots of mail on this one. I'm proud of you for not fudging even a little bit. And the little kids would all be proud of you too.
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I think this goes along with the adult-oriented concept of "I paid $43 to get into this park and we're going to get the most for our money!"

I believe that children are never too young to go to a Disney park with families who want to take them. (OK I have to believe that; Matthew started visiting Disneyland at a very young age!)

However, I also believe that adults who do not want to make accommodations for taking children to the parks, for whatever reason, should make arrangements for their children so the parents can visit without them. There's nothing wrong with going to a Disney park and leaving the children at home or with a sitter, especially if everyone will be happier with that arrangement. I would rather go without my children than force them into situations for my convenience.

And for the record, even though it is not a common occurrence, we have done this in the past. Just last month, Matthew had a slumber party with Grandma while Mom and Dad attended the DCA Preview Merchandise Event.

Gregg wrote:

Hello and what a fantastic and informative column. Richard... hrumph... some people.

My wife and I will be bringing our 4 year old daughter to WDW in June for her first time. Can't wait!!!

We rented Bugs Life one night on the old satellite dish. During the opening scenes my daughter said "I'm scared daddy." No problem, we turned it off. Just because its rated G doesn't mean small children will enjoy it. We watched Snow White and I had forgotten how scary it was since it had been like 25 years. The witch scared her but she told me not to turn it off, which surprised me. I did fast forward through the witch parts though.

We will not force her on any ride. If she doesn't want to ride-fine and like you eluded to -- we will long for these days once she's grown. If this trip is a success I expect we will return year after year so there will be plenty of time for It's Tough To Be a Bug. Besides, there's a ton of scary stuff in everyday life that kids will be exposed to soon enough. At her age I figure let her enjoy this time of childhood bliss.

Thanks again for your insight... oh and if you know of any other rides and / or attractions that may be to frightening for a 4 year old, please let me know. I know about Alien Encounter and read about some guy who took his 5 year old inside. From what I understand its terrifying... even for an adult.

I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time in Orlando! As for "scary" rides, I don't know that I have a lot to add in addition to It's Tough to be a Bug! and Alien Encounter. I'm always cautious of "dark," such as the Fantasyland rides, Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

As I've said before, however, every child is different! Matthew went through a period where the taking animal heads in Country Bear Jamboree scared him. Normally I would tell people: hey, Country Bear Jamboree is a great show for kids. When we're unsure of a show, we find a seat near an exit.
 

Gina asked:

My husband and I are going to be visiting Disneyland in the Spring with our two year old. We are familiar with the rides but we don't know how our little boy will react to them. We aren't planning to take him on any that we know will frighten him but we will want to let him try as many as he can.

Do you have any suggestions about what we can do if he freaks out in the middle of a ride? My husband, at the age of two, screamed all the way through It's A Small World. If this runs in the family I'm concerned that we'll be ruining the ride for the other people who are near us. Does this kind of thing happen very often?
 

I'm sure this is going to get me some interesting email, but I'll say it anyway: Gina, when it comes to my child and the public, I do my very best to make sure that he is well-behaved, polite, and not forced into situations that he is not capable of handling. That said, I'm not a mind reader. Sometimes, Matthew picks the most unpredictable moments to announce to the world that he's two. If I've done everything that I think is appropriate, I just don't worry what anyone else thinks.

Knowing that "it's a small world" is a ride that many small children enjoy (Matthew loves it, by the way,) I would go on it. If Matthew decided to act out, I would hold him, probably put my hand on his mouth to muffle the screams if that will not cause him more harm than good (I don't want to hurt him and I certainly don't want to inhibit breathing, just lower the decibel level,) and ask him to calm down in a soothing voice. If he doesn't, there's not a lot more I can do, is there? If that causes stress to my fellow guests, I can apologize and feel bad, but it's not up to me to "make it up to them." This is the "risk" all of us take at theme parks; we have to put up with the other people there!

I don't know how often this happens on "it's a small world." I'm sure that it happens throughout Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Being aware of rides that would be obviously scary, and taking appropriate steps to be courteous of other guests, frankly, is all a parent should be expected to do. I think in some cases, unfortunately, parents don't even do that much (see the other reader stories today.) The Disney parks are generally family parks. When guests ride family rides, they run the risk that families will be on them!

The treasure room from Pirates of the Caribbean
The treasure room from Pirates of the Caribbean

Another thing I do is to not tell Matthew that something is not scary, when he is scared... Matthew loves Pirates of the Caribbean, for example, but once we're on it and it gets dark, he sometimes gets apprehensive (but not scared enough for us to not go on the ride.) What I do is I give him words that help him know what is happening, and for him to name his "reality." For example, Matthew understands tunnels (he loves trains) and on Pirates, the caves remind him of tunnels. When we're on the ride and he says tunnels, I say, "Yes, it's like a dark tunnel." As we approach the drop, it's very dark and I tell him "We're going to go down a slide! Here's the slide. Here we go." I let him know what is happening in a calm voice but, I try not to spoil the "magic" at the same time.

One advantage to children this size is that they still fit well on our laps! My husband or I hold Matthew (we hold on to Matthew on all rides anyway) and let him know we're there to protect him. For young children, that's still their parents' job!
 

Several readers shared their experiences and opinions. Michael writes (and beware, there are some spoilers here on the Bug show at DCA):

This will be real quick since I'm sure you're getting a flood of response from your article, but I just wanted to say that I agree that this attraction is too intense for young children. I had the opportunity to watch this show this past weekend, and I counted at least 8-10 young children (some infants) who were literally yelling and screaming in horror as the "bug spray" filled the room, the lights went out, and then the bees and spiders came out. While the spiders do look mechanical, for a young child, it must be horrific. Being in the dark with bug sounds surrounding you is also something that wouldn't rank highly on any kid's list of "fun things to do".

Comparing this to the Haunted Mansion or Snow White isn't fair. Even as a youngster, I have never found the Haunted Mansion to be overly scary, and it is done in good taste and in many cases, humor. You never feel like you're not in control of the situation. Snow White is also fairly relaxed... I thought the train tunnel in Mr. Toad's Wild Ride to be scarier than anything in Snow White. The above- mentioned segment of the Bug's Life show is sheer terror, though, which doesn't belong in a Disney park. I love this show, though... the interaction with the audience is better than anything I've seen in a Disney park... if it had the hydraulic seating movement of Honey I Shrunk The Kids, it would be even better... but the bugs running under the seat effect is a welcome substitute. :)

Andrew shares:

You know, the last time I was in Orlando I saw "It's Tough to Be a Bug" in DAK, and I have to agree with you on the point that it may be too intense for younger guests.

I wrote about what happened:

How to Traumatize Your Child in One Easy Step (Don't listen to them when they tell you something!)

My friend and I settled in to watch the 4-D movie "It's Tough to be a Bug," located in the base of the Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Before the movie had even started, the four-year-old kid in the row in front of us was starting to freak out. "I want to go now," she told her parents. Their response: "We'll go in a minute, honey." (I can only assume that they thought their kid would get into the movie once they saw that Flik, the hero from "A Bug's Life," was in it. They were wrong.)

The lights went down and the movie started. The kid's anxiety kicked into overdrive. When she realized her parents weren't going to just take her out of there, she used the strongest weapon in her arsenal -- the one phrase that must have always gotten her taken out of anywhere. She started screaming (and I do mean screaming) "I have to go to the bathroom! I have to go to the bathroom!"

Her parents' response? "We'll go in a minute, honey." (At this point I had to conclude that her parents were just being lazy and / or selfish, because even I could hear the naked terror in the girl's voice...)

Then the acid- spitting bug comes on screen. It spits. The audience gets (lightly) sprayed with actual water. The kid, because she is standing instead of sitting on the bench, gets a full blast. She totally loses whatever control she had left and just starts screaming incoherently! "Aaaaaaaah! Aaaaaaaah! Aaaaaaaah!" (And these were gut- wrenching sobs to hear...)

Thankfully, one of the cast members operating the attraction came over to the family and tactfully said, "If you'll follow me, we can get your daughter to a bathroom," and the "Mother of the Year" finally takes her now- scarred- for- life child out... Seriously, that kid's parents deserve to have to pay for years of their daughter's therapy!
 

Thank goodness for great cast members! That CM did that child and the other guests both a favor.
 
Mike C writes:

I want to thank you for a well- balanced, insightful approach in your article. As a father of four (now aged 26 to 15), I have always felt it was important to guide my children through their life experiences... not dismiss the experiences with off-handed remarks to try and create an immediate answer or immediate comfort.

Life does not always provide immediate answers and, as far as I am concerned, it is healthier to work through situations with personal reflection, honesty, and conversation with someone who listens well. True comfort and feeling safe comes when someone senses that they have been heard and understood. At that point, a person can work through their issues.

For a child, learning this process not only engenders a deeper trust and love for their parents, but it sets them up to handle adult life with personal strength and integrity.
 

Very well put, Mike. I'm sure that your four children benefited greatly from your parenting.
Travis writes:

I agree with you that if something is scary for a child, you don't try to "fix it." Richard's suggestions (telling children the bugs are pretending and therefore trying to be funny) disrespect the child by denying and invalidating her / his experience of the presentation.

Basically, this qualifies as "talking down" to them. It's parents trying to force themselves on their children, something that just causes resentment later on.

Matthew (great name, by the way,) contributed:

Just wanted to drop you a note and say that I agree with you 100% about "It's Tough to be a Bug." And I speak from experience.

This last Sunday, 2/18/01, my family and I decided to take part of California Adventure. Now my family consists of myself, my wife, Kahlan, my two year old daughter, Haeden, my one year old son, and Connor, my six week old son. And yes, you read that correctly... I have three children under three. Anyway, Kahlan and Haeden both adore Bug's Life to death. I swear I have had to watch that DVD close to a hundred times already. And we were also traveling to CA with Hollie's (my wife) aunt, who insisted that "Bug" was not that scary. I mentioned your column to my wife, who quickly said, "But my Aunt says it's not scary." But I am getting ahead of myself I think.

MuppetVision 3-D
MuppetVision 3-D

First off, we saw the Muppet 3D show, and the adored that show. In fact I enjoyed that show much much much better then Bug, but not my wife. Anyway, Haeden sat through the whole show with the glasses on... Amazing that a one year old will keep the glasses on for the entire time. Kahlan, I had a harder time with, she keep taking the glasses off, not understanding that you needed them to see the screen. But towards the end of the show, she realized that she could see the picture with glasses on and thought that was just the Bee's Knees (do bee's have knees?). Overall, a great experience for me and my kids.

After such a great experience with Muppet, we thought the will adore Bug. Especially given the fact that they have never seen the Muppet show, but have seen Bug's Life over and over again. So we sat down, and it started out great. Haeden and Kahlan both kept their glasses on, and thought the Flik animatronic was neat. In fact Haeden tried to grab the butterfly at the beginning. But after that short quiet beginning, everything went south. After the spider came out and did the first acorn explosion, Haeden grabbed his glasses and threw them off his face, as if thinking that will make it all go away. Kahlan didn't seem to mind to much, but after Hooper showed up, she was buried in my lap the entire time. She clutched on to me like if she let go, the bugs we surely get her. It was a horrible experience for my children. Although, Connor didn't mind. He slept through the whole thing.

Overall I don't recommend taking small children to see Bug. In fact you know which attraction (which I don't know if you can classify it as an attraction) my children loved the most? It was the animation building. I sat down in hub of the building and watched the entire loop of clips playing on the screens and the lights playing on the floor, especially the clock from Big Ben during Peter Pan.

Mike M writes:

I liked your article about what's scary for kids and wanted to share my experience with my 3 year old son Beau.

We took him to Disneyland when he was still 2 last year. When we took him on Pirates and the Haunted Mansion we told him it was going to be scarrrrryyyy, but not to worry because it was just for fun and he was in no danger. Somehow, that just seemed to work with him. He actually told another little boy we didn't know who was crying in the Mansion stretching room that "It's OK, it's just for fun" and went on to make the other little boy (who looked to be 4) start laughing. He would go on the rides and be "scared" but in the way you want to be scared. After we got off the ride he begged to go back on again.

The main thing I wanted to accomplish was to have him separate what is REALLY scary and dangerous, from what is entertainment and designed to scare in a fun way. I also didn't want to spoil a child's view on things and not ruin the magic of being a child. He still believes Mickey Mouse at Disneyland is the SAME one he sees on TV.

Just wanted to share... Keep up the great work and tell Al hello! MP is the best site out there.
 

Adrienne responds: Thanks for writing, Mike!

Al adds: Thank you for the kind words Mike - MousePlanet is a team effort, we have lots of folks who help make this happen every day for our readers. I am always in awe of what they accomplish. :)
 

Stew writes:

AMEN to your recent article on "guiding" our children. I know a lot of people who say that my wife and I are "Overprotective" of our son. Our answer back is that we are not being overprotective, merely that we are trying to help him avoid situations where he might become hurt. We know that we cannot be with him 24 / 7 and prevent every little mishap, but why not try to avoid ones that we can!

The Haunted Mansion
The Haunted Mansion

Last December, we visited Disneyland over a long weekend. We basically let our son call the shots in terms of "where are we going to next / what are we doing?" At one point, *HE* decided that he wanted to go into the Haunted Mansion. We were fine, until we got into the front door, it was dark and the music started. He'd had enough and wanted to get OUT of there. So we left... no big deal, right? Well, one of the "smart mouthed" CM's at the door just *had to comment* .... "Yeah, you'd better go back to Fantasyland *WHERE YOU BELONG* and keep practicing on the kiddy rides...."

I was so upset that I didn't get their name (I should have, and if I had I would have gone DIRECTLY to City Hall and written up a report) ..... C'mon....the child is only 4 years old. From the outside, the house is very non- threatening.... he had NO idea what he was in for (although we've talked about all the attractions with him)..... Although he "knows" the Ghosts aren't real.... it was really scary enough for him just to go into the entry hall.... I would NEVER force him to go in or on something that he wasn't ready for.

When he first went at age 2, he HATED all the dark rides in Fantasyland. This past trip, it was a problem to get him away from them... so I know things will change, and one day he'll be dragging ME into the Haunted Mansion. I just wish that some people (and some CM's) could keep their opinions to themselves sometime.

Great column. We *will* be visiting DL / DCA this summer, but since we'll be at the DL Hotel we can hop if we get bored / tired of DCA.
 

Belittling guests is completely uncalled for, especially towards a child. I guess not all CM's can be as well composed as the Animal Kingdom CM that Andrew described earlier. And I believe you're right, your son will be dragging you on those rides before you know it and you'll wonder, "gee, where did the time go?"
 
Ginny wrote:

Thanks for the as-always informative article... I don't have kids, but as the resident Disneyland expert in the family I feel I need to know about what special needs my friends with kids or littler members of my family might face. I really enjoy taking little kids to the park, like my little cousins and friends kids, and I feel very honored that these people think enough of me to allow me to be responsible for their children for a day. As a result, I feel I'm responsible for knowing what content a ride has and how sensitive the child would be to that.

For the reader who implies that all kids can handle "It's Tough to be a Bug", I say this: If you aren't concerned about what impact this show might have on your child, at least be considerate of the other people trying to watch the show. Just last week I witnessed a child become hysterical during the black widow portion of the show. The parent took the child immediately out of the theater, but I could just imagine a parent trying to explain to a child that it was really funny over the screams... Sorry, but not possible.

Personally, I think the show is just perfect for someone like my 9 year old little cousin. If I had taken him on that when he was four, he would have demanded to leave the park as he did after Mr. Toad at that age. At any rate, I think your warning was perfectly clear and well qualified.

Thanks as always.
 

Ginny, you remind me of my sister who spoils her nephew to pieces, but has great care-taking and child raising instincts (fortunately for all of us, she's graduating from medical school in May and seems destined to be accepted into a highly respected pediatric residency!)

My son is very lucky to have her as an aunt and it sounds like your cousins and your friends' children are lucky, too!


Wanted: Your questions and feedback! They will help me plan future columns! Write me at: AdrienneK@mouseplanet.com

Readers respond

Adrienne's eMailbox

Send your Adrienne's eMailbox / Parenting in the Parks questions or comments to:

AdrienneK@mouseplanet.com

Keep in mind all questions submitted to the Adrienne's eMailbox column become property of this site. They may be edited for length or style and in consideration of a family readership. Questions may also be quoted on other parts of the site too.

Not all questions may be responded to, but all will be read so I can have an idea of what you all think out there.

MORE INFO:

For more information about Character Meals at the Disneyland Resort or Walt Disney World, visit the following links:

The Disneyland Restaurant Resource - Character Meals

Note: A new character meal, Breakfast with Chip and Dale, is now available at the Storytellers Cafe in the Grand Californian Hotel. As with the other Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier Hotel character meals, priority seating arrangements can be made for this breakfast by calling: (714) 956-6755

Parenting in the Parks: Meeting Princesses

In this column, I gave my own reviews and descriptions of the Character Meals at Disneyland.

Parenting in the Parks: Birthday Parties At Disneyland

This column describes how to arrange a party inside the park itself, at Redd Rocket's Pizza Port.

Walt Disney World Restaurant Resource - Character Meals

This page provides a list of each WDW Character meal and the characters who typically appear at each meal. There is also a table available at the bottom of the page for a quick reference guide.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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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