Naughty Kids in the Parksby Adrienne Krock, staff writer
Maybe not every kid is naughty, but they all seem to have moments, don’t they? Siblings fight. Kids climb on queues even when we tell them over and over again to stop. A kid acts out because he's not getting his way. Tell me it's not just me? We can’t always pull out a "Time Out" step at Disneyland. I'm not going to punish the whole family because one kid is acting out. This week we asked our Parenting Panel: How do you discipline your kids when on a Disney vacation?
Jen, also known as *Nala*, is an engineer, a Disney fan, and a MouseAdventure fanatic. She lives in Southern California with her husband and two future MouseAdventurers, ages 1 and 3. Jen writes:
I have a toddler and a preschooler. They are wonderful, sweet, energetic kids, but, like any other small children, they have their moments when they aren't on their best behavior. We've found that consistency works best for us when it comes to behavior, especially since we visit the Disneyland Resort often. Even at Disney parks, we tend to enforce the same rules that we do at home.
Redirection – For relatively minor things like pulling on the chains in line or whining about wanting to ride right now, we'll try to focus the kids' attention on something else. Little kids, or at least mine, are a lot like Dory: "Hey look! Something shiny!" This can be anything from asking them to point out colors of ride vehicles and think about which one they might want to choose, to giving them a small snack to eat in a long line. We've even brought a small bottle of bubbles to use in line, which had the added bonus of entertaining quite a few kids at once.
Time Out – Our 3-year-old son knows time out as "go sit," and Disneyland is full of places to go sit. When it comes down to it, we're essentially just wasting his time. There's not much worse for a small kid than having to sit on a park bench watching the fun happen around you. We'll tell him to sit for things like hitting his sister, screaming at stuff, or trying to run off on his own.
Get Out of Line – This is not something I've done often, and I hated to do it, but it's worked. One day, my son was whining in every line, and, eventually, started screaming that he wanted to ride while waiting for Mickey's Fun Wheel. I asked him several times to stop. Finally I told him "If you scream one more time, we will get out of this line and not ride. Do you understand?" He said yes. Not a minute later he was screaming again. So I felt like the meanest mom in the world, but I carried him kicking and screaming out of the line. He calmed down and figured it out. Now if he starts whining in line and I ask him "What happens if you scream in the line?" he will answer, "We go out." Usually, that's enough.
Rewards for good behavior – It's Disneyland, after all! It's not all about punishment and discipline. When the kids are being especially good, we'll reward them with anything from a special snack to letting them pick what we do next. Our last day at Disneyland was like this. They shared, they ate good lunches, they took their naps in the stroller, and they waited their turn in lines. We took them to Sarge's in Cars Land and let them each pick out a small toy, and Ramone and Sally came home with us at the end of a great Disney day.
Chris, also known as GusMan, is always planning his next family trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and loves to help others plan their trips, as well sharing his experiences. Chris writes:
I have to be real honest, and I hope this does not sound like I am bragging, but I am very fortunate to have kids that are very good travelers and tend to get along the vast majority of the time. However, that does not mean that they don’t have their moments. After all, they are siblings and they are bound to annoy, pick at, tease, or somehow set the other person off at some point in the trip. (Not to mention setting off one of the parents as well.) It may be in good fun, but it can be disruptive for the whole family, not to mention fellow guests in the surrounding areas.
I’ve mentioned in the past that being prepared helps predetermine many different reactions to certain situations. At the same time, being very observant and reacting accordingly can also help set some good examples for acceptable behavior. Keep in mind that many kids don’t misbehave because they are at Disney. They simply continue behaviors that are accepted at public places around home. With this in mind, talk to your kids about acceptable public behavior and practice such teaching during your everyday activities. Take the time to calmly correct them, and then talk about what you observed when you get home. Use your upcoming trip as a teaching tool and milestone of sorts for good behavior, explaining that there will be actions taken for bad behavior while on vacation.
While on vacation, my wife and I would make sure that we calmly correct our kids when they start veering away from what is acceptable. We do warn them, explaining what they should do, and then if needed, take action. This very well may mean that one of us parents steps out of line and the child misses out on the attraction. Unfortunately, this means the parent has to sacrifice the attraction, as well. During that down time, use the moment to make sure they understand what they are missing and why. This is especially the case if what they are doing can cause a safety issue, such as swinging on a queue rope or dangerously hanging over a railing or similar. But the key thing is – keep it calm. I know that it can be tempting to react in a way where everyone can see what is going on, but it can trigger a meltdown of sorts, which can very well escalate the situation.
At certain times, if the siblings are the main cause for the strife, it might be a good idea to consider spit up the activities of the day to redirect the focus and to avoid the situation all together. Granted, this does have several disadvantages, the primary one is that you somewhat take the “family” out of “family vacation.” Each parent can use the one-on-one time to take about the trip and expected behavior while still enjoying the sights. You can always regroup later in the day with the hope that things will be better. I will say that this option does work better for repeat Disney visitors as splitting up may even be a part of your travel plans.
A Disney vacation can be a great time for the family. Prepare your kids for what they will experience and chances are, you will avoid many issues, or at least keep them to a minimum.
MousePlanet columnist Chris Barry, his wife Diane, 14-year-old Samantha, and twin 10-year-olds, Casey and Alex, live on Long Island and are all major Disney and Walt Disney World fans. Chris writes:
It seems to me that a lot of parents suspend all the rules when they head to down to Walt Disney World for vacation. Granted we all chip away at the rulebook a little. I can’t imagine letting my kids stay up past midnight just to play or watch TV at home. Yet, some of those Extra Magic Hour late nights in the Magic Kingdom Park have taken us well past midnight. Or how about ice cream at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. just before bed? Not happening on your average Tuesday. But, hey, we’re on vacation, right? Things are a little looser. Now, I don’t want to sound like too tough a parent, but on vacation we still try our best to stay within the general rulebook, and that especially goes for behavior. We expect them to act the way they’re supposed to act. They know that and for the most part, they do act accordingly.
Twin boys will be twin boys however, and they can get under each other’s skins and begin fighting or climbing on walls, and acting in a way that they know they aren’t supposed to. Usually, we have a good stern look that they know all too well. It means Mommy and Daddy have ceased being amused and we want the behavior to change. They’re pretty conditioned to that look. Just because we’re on vacation doesn’t mean that look or the equally stern voice is on vacation, as well. We don’t change our expectations on behavior just because we’re visiting Mickey Mouse and they know that. But what comes after the look or the raised angry voice? For us there are really two threats that work well.
The first is the Disney gift card. Inevitably, my boys will receive a Disney gift card before their vacations from one or the other set of grandparents. They know that this is their lifeblood to toys, pins, and whatever else they love to purchase and bring home. It helps them easily keep track of how much they have to spend and how much is left. Mom and Dad never relinquish the card though, and it’s the biggest carrot to dangle in front of them. “Keep it up… and the card gets taken away…thrown away… cut up… or worse beyond reason… given to your sister!” This is a pretty solid deterrent for them and it usually keeps them in line.
The second threat is pretty much surrounding you at all times. They love being in the parks and quite simply, the threat of going back to the hotel and sitting there, no TV, no pool, no bag of toys—just siting there—usually cracks them into shape. I’ve called their bluff on several occasions and started heading swiftly toward the park exit with the threat of going “home.” You’d be surprised how much that works if you sell it really well.
That last part is really the key to it all. YOU have to sell it. The rulebook can’t be tossed out completely once you drive through the Walt Disney World arch. They still have to understand clearly that there are consequences. Find something that they really latch onto—sweets, meeting characters, time in the pool, a specific attraction—and take it off the menu unless they start behaving. If the threat fails, then be prepared to turn on the act and head to the park exit. Or grab a bench and make them sit there and not have fun for a while. Hopefully you can send the rest of the family off on their way and they will realize they are missing out on the fun and whip themselves back into shape.
The parks and resort itself are the biggest “carrot” that they have to fully earn to fully enjoy. Train them that way, don’t turn off Mom and Dad rules as soon as you get there and you shouldn’t have too many problems.
Lastly, and this is something that we see all to often at Disney, learn to read the signals that your kids are giving you. Just because the Magic Kingdom is open until 3 a.m. doesn’t mean that the 4-year-olds need to be there. Some can handle it. Yes, it’s a special treat; it’s Disney, etc. Most of the time, however, a kid is acting out because they are tired, hot and/or over-stimulated. Go back to the hotel and cool off or rest. Don’t push them too much and you’d be surprised how the behavior turns around.
It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!
Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!