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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What To Do When Your Child Is Afraid of a Ride

What can you do when your child is afraid of thrill rides?  First of all lets breakdown the reasons why some children do not like thrill rides. 

-          The Dark:  Some kids are afraid of the dark. Anything they can’t see tends to freak them out.  If you really break this down it’s a fear of the unknown that most kids outgrow or get over through experience. Problem is if your kid is afraid of the dark rides like Dinosaur, Tower of Terror, and even tame rides like Pirates can be a deal breaker.


-          Noise: You can also call this the loud factor.  Some kids are freaked out by loud noises.  Let’s face it Disney can be crazy loud at times.  Whether you like it or not your hearing is most likely worst than your child’s. So the big boom that made you jump made your kid jump, was louder to them, and they have no positive experience with loud noises which means it’s going to be a negative.


-          Drops: This is a big one. The human body was not designed to feel an accelerated plummet. It’s just not a natural feeling.  Our minds naturally resist the sensation.  For adults the mind can segment bad from good when it comes to this.  For kids that might not be the case. 


-          Reflection:  Reflection is the parents.  Parents can amp a kid up or calm them down.  For example. My niece and her parents went on Splash Mountain.  Her mother hates all rides. I’m not sure if she’ll ever be turned but she freaks out!  She freaked out bad while on the ride. Guess what happened.  My niece freaked out so bad she refused to ride any rides for the rest of the trip.


Those are just some of the most common things that freak a kid out.   You could also add characters for some kids but we are talking about rides.

Do not underestimate the impact of the above on your kids.  You know your child. You know what freaks them out.  Do not force them to do something they are not comfortable with.  Doing this will make things worse.  However, don’t despair. Children can overcome their fears.

First let’s do a small case study of how a kid broke and how, and when, he came around.

The kid in question was not afraid of the dark or of loud noises but he was petrified of drops. This fear came about as the result of an incident when he was very young.  His family attended a theme park which had a Snoopy roller coaster.  The child did not want to ride but the rest of his family coerced him.  The fact that Snoopy was on the roller coaster helped. This brings us to rule number one.  Never coerce a child onto a ride they are nervous about. Why?

When a child is nervous or intimidated the body releases ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone).  This hormone serves for one purpose. Get to your adrenal cortex and cause a dozens of other hormones to flood the body.

The sudden spike of hormones like epinephrine, norepinephrine and dozens of others causes your heart rate to spike, pupils to dilate, blood-glucose to spike, and your digestive system to shut down.

The funny thing is the same thing happens to someone who wants to go on the thrill ride.  The difference is its impact on the person’s brain.  If it’s not a willing event it can lead to post traumatic stress. Your brain treats the event must differently if you willing seek out the event.

So what happened to the kid?

Bawled his eyes out and screamed even after the ride was over.  He also didn’t willing ride another ride with a drop for a decade.

The parents tried give him tough love from time to time by dragging him on a flume ride or similar ride.  His friends even tricked him onto a roller coaster where you couldn’t see the drops.  Instead of helping these events made things worse.  The reason is same as above.  They were not willing experiences.

How did this kid ever start riding thrill rides again?

Positive reinforcement was the key to getting this kid to like thrill rides.  Remember this kid only had negative memories associated with thrill rides.  Positive ones had to be established.  Positive ones could only be created if they kid willingly got on the ride.

One warning – compensation IS NOT positive reinforcement.  If you tell the kid they will get a treat or everyone will do something they want to do if they ride the ride it’s not positive.  They are not willing getting on the ride.

So how do you get the kid on the ride?

First things first, tell the child the family is going on the ride and they can wait in with another family member.  This works well in Disney World because of child swap.  Try to avoid play areas.  You want the kid to be bored.

After the family has gone on the ride DO NOT tell the kid how fun it was. That can kick in a defensive mode or make the kid feel bad. Instead have the other family members talk about their favorite parts in an excited and positive manner.  Do not use any negative adjectives like “scary.” Do not discuss the ride with the kid unless they ask questions.  When they do, answer the question in a positive and calm manner.  When you do this you are making the kid feel like they are missing out on something without telling them they are missing out on something. This method draws the kid to that conclusion on their own.

If the child asks to ride the ride, after everyone has ridden the ride, tell them you will later.  The reason for this is reinforcement of the missing out but it also lets you redirect to a less intense ride.  For example if your kid is afraid of roller coasters and you use the above on Space Mountain, redirect to Big Thunder Mountain.  For most kids BTM is must less intense. Then you can build up to Space Mountain without overloading the kid.  Try to avoid rides like Pirates or Splash for this.  The combination of dark and drop could be too much.

There is a good chance that once they start willingly getting on these rides they will quickly start riding everything.  Even if they still balk from time to time – LET THEM.  Forcing them could undo any progress you have made.

This even works for teenagers.  The kid in the example was 16 when he finally got back on thrill rides.

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