The Crankiest Place on Earth

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Spinning to a meltdown?

Not that Susie or Johnny–or these days–Taylor or Ashton–would ever do this, but here’s a little secret: Kids sometimes get cranky.

Yup, it’s true.

And, yes, they even get cranky at the Most Magical Place on Earth. In fact, maybe more so. What with overstimulation, inflated expectations, too much Dole Whip, and the sheer excitement of seeing Pluto in person—what’s a kid to do but act out? We can’t promise your kids won’t have a meltdown—or that you won’t, either—but here are some tips to deal with them when they happen, and with any luck, to forestall them altogether.

Deal with Your Own Expectations

Lots of parents find that they have a particular fantasy of the way the trip is going to play out: After all, you’ve probably been saving and planning for this for quite a while. Here’s a tip: Dial it down. You’re going to have a great time–but maybe not in the exact way that you’ve planned. Steel yourself for the fact that no matter how much you plan, not everything is within your control. Life happens. Kids get tired. Lines are long. The concession stand runs out of chocolate-covered frozen bananas. Deal with it. And we mean that in the nicest possible way. Remember: You’re the grown up. Do not deal with your child’s tantrum by yelling, as we heard one parent do, “You’re going on Dumbo whether you like it or not!!”

Now, really. Who is that Dumbo ride supposed to be for, anyway?

Remember that it’s still possible to have a long and happy life even if you haven’t ridden on Pirates of the Caribbean 12 times and that you’ve substituted some down time in the play area for a long line in Epcot.

Always Be Five Steps Ahead

Make sure you have snacks (meltdowns are often due to hunger, if you hadn’t noticed); water, and things to do while waiting on lines. A small first aid kit wouldn’t be amiss, either. Beware of the times your child tends to get hungry/sleepy. Plan rest stops or quiet activities for those times, rather than a 20-minute walk to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad followed by a wait on line without a FASTPASS. Maybe go back to your room to swim in the middle of the day. And here’s a novel idea: Note the times that you tend to get tired/hungry/cranky as well.

Be Prepared to Switch Plans

Follow the Touring Plans, but be prepared to deviate if need be. It’s fun to be in the moment, not always to anticipate the next thing, or to bemoan things you didn’t get to do, or to try to do 10 things miserably instead of five that your really enjoy just so you can say you’ve checked them off your list.

Again–Have Realistic Expectations

You won’t see all of Disney World in one trip–even if you walk very, very fast. You may see a lot, but certainly not all. And don’t go with the idea that you absolutely, positively have to see/ride/do certain attractions/rides/events, or you’re bound to be disappointed. It’s like going to France with the sole idea of seeing the Mona Lisa—it may be off view; you might get to see it, but for four seconds, rather than the lengthy period of contemplation you envisioned. You’re going for an overall experience, not just a single attraction.

Check in With Your Kids

Make sure your kids are getting to do what they want; that they get to rest if they need to; if they’ve changed their mind about Kali River Rapids. Let them be in the moment—to stop and watch a performer; to buy a postcard for Aunt Myrna; to see what’s down that side path.

The Eye of the Tantrum

Despite all your planning, however, tantrums may still occur.

In general, it is not a good idea, as a friend of ours did, to say to your kids, “If you stop screaming because you can’t have gummy bears, I’ll give you some chocolate.”

Try to diffuse the situation. If you can get somewhere quiet, do so. If kids are hungry, feed them. Use distraction, but try not to bribe them.

Above all, remain calm. Your child will get over it. Disney World, while utterly, completely fabulous, can be pretty overwhelming. And remember….

Other People’s Kids get Cranky, Too

And, in a way, that’s one of the great things about Disney World—to know that other people’s kids are also whining for ice cream, begging for souvenirs, shrieking because the didn’t get a certain autograph, sneaking soft serve for breakfast. It’s incredibly comforting to know you’re not alone, that other parents face the same issues, and that meltdowns and tantrums, as unpleasant as they are—do pass, whether you’re in your own living room or at Cinderella’s Royal Table.

Do you have suggestions on dealing with meltdowns and tantrums at Disney? Let us know!

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Posted on August 7, 2012

43 Responses to “The Crankiest Place on Earth”

  • It always makes me sad to see parents behaving like jerks… but you see it a lot. As you advised, remember that you are the grown-up and it is not acceptable to be hateful to your kid. A bit impatient or grumpy, sure — it happens to the best of us. But I’ve seen and heard some stuff that made my toes curl!

    All your advice is great! Depending on the age of the child having a tantrum, I also suggest the magic of distraction! WDW is such a wonderful place for that! It won’t always work, but sometimes keeping calm and being cheery — while pointing out something that is just WONDERFUL and exciting will make a kid forget that they are in the middle of a meltdown. Sometimes just looking into their eyes and telling them you love them and that you understand can work, too. It dissolves the screams into sobs and you can just sit somewhere nice and rock them for a while.

    I also find that I need to bring prepackaged snacks for Dad. The man’s blood sugar level sensitivity is something to see. Once he starts getting hungry, you’d better shove something in his mouth, or he’ll get more and more cranky. Cranky Dad snaps at tired kids and causes Mom to turn into the Dragon Lady. :) Feed everyone!

    If nothing else works, find a margarita or other frozen grown-up beverage. It won’t magically fix anyone else’s attitude, but you won’t care as much! :)

  • by Meredith McCutcheon on August 7, 2012, at 11:38 am EDT

    LOVE the margarita idea!! :) Great article. I DO think, however, that we need to be careful not to judge other people when they are being firm with their child. There have been times when I’ve had other parents roll their eyes at me while I’m delivering a little “tough love” to my child. Of course, there are the extreme examples of just plain poor parenting. However, if I hear a parent say, “You’re going on Dumbo whether you like it or not”, I do consider that I may not know the whole story, and I don’t judge. We had something similar happen last time we were at WDW. DS7 wanted to go on one ride first; DD5 another (and she really wanted to ride WITH her big brother). DS told DD that if we rode Buzz first, we could ride Dumbo next. Then, of course, he broke the deal after Buzz was done. So, in fact, after trying a more peaceful approach and failing, I uttered a very similar statement to my son–something along the lines of “You WILL go on Dumbo now”. Sometimes, being the parent DOES mean ordering a child to do something, “whether they like it or not.”

  • by Jeff Laughlin on August 7, 2012, at 11:52 am EDT

    We were watching Beauty & the Beast in DHS and the kid in front of us was driving his Dad nuts and asked him what would be lunch and his Dad replied, a knuckle sandwich if you’re not quiet. Funny enough we saw him the next day throwing his own tamtrum in Peco Bills in MK. He was a perfect example of the parent not to be that’s for sure

  • When my kids were little, we used a simple plan, run them until they melted down. It sounds rough but we were surprised at how long thatthey could go. Strollers were key even when they were just a litle big for them. It saved their legs and energy.
    When they finally got cranky, cooling off usually did the trick. There are “get wet” places in most parks or we headed back to the hotel pool for a swim, ice cream and a nap. Once after a particularly good run, we suffered a quarduple meltdown that required a trip to Blizzard Beach.

  • I just want to add how great the cast members can be – we were there last November and my 3 year old DD was crying. I can’t remember why – she was probalby just tired. And a cast member came up to her and made a big deal about no crying and gave her stickers and buttons. She had her smiling in no time. I thought it was so sweet that she went out of her way to cheer up my daughter!

  • by Heather Louise on August 7, 2012, at 1:33 pm EDT

    Any good ideas out there for what to do in line? We are bringing our toddler to WDW next month and I am trying to figure out ways to distract and avoid (as much as possible) crankiness and fits in line. Any help is greatly appreciated.

    • by Meredith McCutcheon on August 7, 2012, at 2:03 pm EDT

      I’ve heard some GREAT ideas (some mine, some I’ve read and can’t remember where): bubbles in the little tiny bottles, a roll of stickers that they can stick all over themselves, SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS, a disposable camera so they can take their own pictures while waiting (although your child might be too young for that).

    • On the toddlers in line… engage them! I’m shocked by how many parents have adult conversations and completely ignore the little guys until they are bothering others or melting down. When my (now giant 18 y/o) son was that age, we played alot of I spy in line, played with key ring toys (etch a sketch, bubbles and the like) or freeze and thaw, or let him mist us with squirt bottle of water. Really, as long as we were focusing on him a good amount of the time, or took the time to set him up with something to look for or find, he was great. Do not underestimate the power of hidden mickeys!

    • I bought a package of plastic coated, colored paper clips. We hooked them together and made bracelets!

    • see below–also look up former blog post on tips for waiting in line…

    • Hi:

      I have a 4 year old and a two year old. We have found that bubbles (the small package like you get at weddings) and lollipops work wonders for in line distractions.

  • “… do 10 things miserably instead of five that your really enjoy…”
    I heard that one years ago & have remembered it ever since, not only for WDW but life in general.

  • One thing that I find helps with my kids (and helped a lot more when they were younger and less verbal) is to ask them how it’s going. Literally, after every ride, ask them how they liked it, or what has been the most fun so far today, etc. Just something. It makes me reconnect with each child and focus on them. Keeping tabs on them in this manner is the best way to spot an impending meltdown. Yes, even now, as tweens, they still have meltdowns! But there are warning signs, and by checking in regularly I can look for those warning signs and try to do something about it before there’s a full-blown emotional crisis.

    You know what they say about an ounce of prevention…

  • As with everything, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

    We sit down with the kids about two weeks before the trip and ask what the rules are. I write down whatever they say (making sure they hit the salient points) and then print it out for them. We review it again the week before and then the night before.

    We also discuss the consequences for misbehaving and the benefits of behaving.

    Then we just follow through. (My son has to test the system at least once. Maybe he has a future in QA?)

  • We have young boys, so in addition to snacks (tic tacs, cereal, etc…), we brought a few $1 bags of rubber/stretchy animals(spiders, frogs, catepillars, etc…) worked out great. It kept their attention (standing in line or waiting for shows to start), andas they were so cheap and we had plenty of them ,even if they lost them along the way or they got ruined it didn’t matter.

  • Oh, yeah and we didn’t buy them anything. We gave them a certain amount of money and they got to decide what to spend it on.

    Once it was gone, it was gone.

  • After this experience on our first trip, we count witnessing meltdowns as part of the Disney entertainment: http://wdwdork.blogspot.com/2012/04/oh-humanity.html

  • by GRAEME COCHRANE on August 9, 2012, at 8:29 am EDT

    I remember walking down main street a couple of years ago to the sound of a mother screaming at her children that “there will be no arguing at Disny” at the top of her voice, she was so convincing that it has now became my travel mantra. also it must have worked because a couple of hours later we saw them having a very happy time together

  • A little common sense goes a long way too. It’s not a good idea to wait for 45 minutes in a line to ride Winnie the Pooh with an 18 month old. Toddlers by nature do not like to stand or sit still for any amount of time. Come back when the line is shorter or get a fast pass!

    • And that’s why I love TouringPlans. We have gone twice with our kids and they think a 20 minute line for ANYTHING is a long line.

      The only time we waited more than that is when my daughter JUST HAD TO ride Expedition Everest again. I explained going in that it was going to be a 45 minute wait and that if she got whiney about it, I didn’t have to go again. She took it like a trooper I was so proud! (Of course, EE has one of my favourit queues which made it a lot easier.)

    • yes, exactly!

  • Having a special needs child we have lots of melt downs. Over the years we have found lots of little tricks to help avoid some of them (with him, there is no way to avoid them all!)

    Our favorite one for Disney is pipe cleaners. They are great to pull a couple out of my bag and have the kids make ‘things’. While waiting at restaurants, we even have the adults having contests on making things. My daughter likes to make up things that they have to make. (she keeps a list in her bag…she is 12 and loves to be in charge!)

    We have had a bit of problems with the bubbles…too many bubbles in a short amount of time equals a possible slippery step…

    Nini

  • You surely put forth some work! Effectively done, sir.