Photo Credit: http://www.visitingdc.com/city/disneyland-address.asp
I credit my parents with most of my parenting skills, but as any former Disneyland cast member and parent (and even the ones who aren't parents) can tell you, you learn A LOT by watching the hordes of horrible parents and the handful of good ones that come through the parks.
As a person who loves theme parks and rides, I want to ride everything. As parent I know that a trip to a Disney park (or any theme park for that matter) is no longer about me. It is about my two-year old daughter. Unless my husband and I are prepared to bring a friend or leave the little one home with a sitter, we have to be ready to skip the big rides, the scary rides, and take frequent breaks. I wish more parents understood this.
This is my parenting guide for Disney mixed with some long overdue online ranting. I do not claim to know everything. I am merely a former cast member and first time parent. But this is what I've learned during my time at Disneyland (and world) as a cast member, as a guest and as a decent human being.
As a former Disney cast member, I have dealt with thousands (yes thousands, if not more) of parents seemingly unconcerned with their child's safety. There is a height requirement for a reason and that reason isn't only because we want to be jerks (we don't actually want to be jerks). My advice for visiting the parks with kids is to go online or call beforehand to get a list of all the rides with height requirements and what those requirements are. Measure your child to see what they will be able to ride. Make sure you and your child keep in mind that even though the ride says 46 inches and you measured your kids at home and they appear to be 46 inches tall that does not mean that their height will match up with the measuring stick in the park and whatever the cast member says is the final answer. No matter how much you beg and plead or yell and scream or if you threaten with violence, your kid still can't ride. We once had a guy claim he had a gun and he would use it if we didn't let his kid on the ride. Security escorted him and his child from the park within minutes of the incident. I don't know what happened, but it's likely they won't be back anytime soon, if ever.
Kids can be very disappointed if they don't get to ride something, especially if an older sibling can ride and they can't. The worst was when I had to measure twins and one was tall enough and the other was not. The parents would say "But they're TWINS!" So what? That doesn't mean they are the same height. My advice is to figure out who can ride which rides before you go and plan to split up. Maybe mom takes the taller kid who can ride the big rides and dad takes the little one to do something else. No need to tell them why you’re splitting off from one another. That just might upset the one who can't ride the big rides. Just tell the kids it’s their special chance to get the one parent (or relative or family friend or whoever) all to themselves for an hour.
Don't try to sneak your kid onto the ride. The attraction I worked had four separate height checks throughout the queue, including one where the ride vehicles were loaded, and we caught the little ones every time. It's such a simple thing to do before you get to the parks and being prepared for height checks and which rides have them can avoid disappointment and melt downs. Disney is very serious about height checks. A guest once asked me (in a very rude tone), "What about a little person!? Would you tell a 40 year old little person he couldn't ride!?" The answer is absolutely. I have had several little people come through and the difference is they don't cause a scene. They are usually polite and prepared to check the height requirement sign on their own. They know exactly how tall they are and they know the drill. I've never actually had to measure a little a person because they have either been obviously tall enough or opted to wait back while their party rode the ride.
If your kid can't ride a ride and you are by yourself don't tell them to wait for you at the exit! Disney takes this very seriously. If a child is left unattended and is under the age of seven you could get into a lot of trouble. Depending on the situation, sometimes that trouble involves Child Protective Services. I never understand why parents just leave their kids on purpose. Sure, sometimes kids get lost by mistake, but you would be surprised how many parents will leave a small child and tell them to wait by the exit while they get in an hour long queue for a ride. Get a babysitter and just go to Disneyland yourself, bring a friend or relative with you that can watch the kids while you're on rides, or wait until your kid is older to take them to Disneyland!
Don’t drag your kid on something they are afraid to ride. There is no reason to traumatize or upset them. Yes, sometimes you can drag them on and they will end up loving it. That isn’t always the case. I once had to deal with a mother who insisted her 8 year old son ride a ride he was too scared to go on. He got into the car and was screaming and upset. He didn’t want to fasten his seat belt and we couldn’t send the car into the ride. They held up every single person both in line for that ride and already in the ride. Why did the mother want to force him to ride? She said that she wanted to ride the ride herself but she didn’t want to leave him by himself. We ended up not allowing either of them to ride the attraction unless he could calm down (he didn't) because we couldn’t have a scared kid trying to get out of his seat while on the ride. As a parent, sometimes you have to be willing to miss out on some things. It sucks, but that’s life now that you're a parent. Deal with it.
If it's not part of a sanctioned playground area then don't let your kids climb on it. Andy and I love to watch kids climbing on stuff that they shouldn't be climbing on. Under our breaths we chant Fall! Fall! Fall! And we keep a tally of all the snotty kids that fall off of stuff. Insensitive? Yeah, maybe. But where are you when your kid is climbing on this stuff? If your kid is nine years old or older they should know you can't climb on anything you feel like climbing on. We like to watch those kids fall the most. If they are younger than you should be watching them. WATCH YOUR KIDS.
Disneyland is the perfect opportunity to teach your kids when to say "excuse me". It is very crowded and you will no doubt bump into or brush up against strangers. No matter whose fault it is, you should say "excuse me" and teach your kids to do the same. Why shouldn't kids be polite and have good manners? There is absolutely no reason why they shouldn't or couldn't.
Now I know its Disneyland and it is fun to buy all the mickey ear hats, princess dresses, stuffed animals... I'm guilty of being a huge Disney shopper too! But as soon as your kid starts being an ungrateful little butt, you need to stop. You may even need to take away anything you've already gotten them, at least until they change their attitude.
Just because you're in Disneyland does not mean you have to buy your kids whatever they want. It drives me crazy when kids freak out until their parents buy them stuff just to shut them up. Did you seriously just give in to your screaming kid in Disneyland? That sets the stage for more and more fits throughout the day. If screaming worked once, maybe it will work again... kids are smart in all the ways we wish they weren't. The best way to approach this is to let the kid know before you go and again when you arrive at the park and maybe even again when you enter a shop, that they can choose one souvenir, or give them a price limit. Let the younger ones know that they can look around throughout the day, but that you will make final decisions at the end of the day. This way they don't get something right at the beginning of the day and then realize they would have preferred something else. Also this way you won't have to carry around a bunch of extra stuff all day because even though Disney will hold items at the front of the park for you so you don't have to walk around with them, your kid isn't going to want to buy a souvenir and then not carry it around (for at least a little while before they make you carry it). They want instant gratification.
Purchasing the items at the end of the day also gives them a chance to think, do I really want that stick with mickey's head on it that lights up and has things that spin around when I press the button or will that only be fun for 5 minutes during the fireworks? You would be surprised how many kids might change their minds if they have to think about it for a while. But then again you might be surprised how many kids dwell on it.
I am a firm believer that children can have a time-out no matter where you are. I understand you just spent hundreds of dollars to be in Disneyland for the day with your family and so making your screaming child leave early is not an option for you. That does not mean you can let your kid be a little jerk and get away with it. Why can't you bring them somewhere out of the way, in the shade and have them sit quietly for a few minutes or longer if needed? They are probably hot and tired. Maybe they do need to just throw a good fit and get it out of their system. Maybe they are just giant snot-nose brats that need to be put in their place. Whatever the situation, there are plenty of low key, shaded areas both within or right outside the parks that are perfect for time-outs or just a good quiet break.
Make sure you explain all the rules for the day to your kids before you leave, while in the car, and when you arrive. It's best to make sure the whole family and anyone traveling with you knows what kind of behavior will not be tolerated and that they know the consequences. Make sure you have thought the consequences through. Is it realistic to tell your kid if they misbehave you will take them home? After spending more than $360 for your family just to park the car and be inside Disneyland for the day, probably not. There is no refund for misbehaving. Just remember that if a child is told they have to sit out of a ride or show then a parent has to sit out with them. And guys, mom shouldn't have to be the one who always sits out of the fun stuff.
Above all kids should know they are damn lucky just be in Disneyland in the first place. Whether you've traveled across the world to be there or just across town, whether this is their one and only chance to visit the park or you take them every weekend. Whether you are a billionaire or you've scrimped and saved to make the trip, they are incredibly lucky to get to be at the Happiest Place on Earth and they should know that. Millions of people all over the world will never get to see the inside of a Disney park, but here you are! However, both you and your kid need to remember that Disney World (and land) does not revolve around you no matter how much money you are willing to spend. Remember to be polite and respectful.
Well that's it for now. I am sure I will have more to add. I always think of more. sorry it was so LONG... I am curious to know more from other Disney guests and cast members about what you would want to tell parents about their trip to a Disney park? What kind of stuff drives you crazy when you're in a Disney park?
I stole this photo from "Tidwell Tidbits" blog. This mom gave her kid a time out in Disney World, so GO HER! See? It's not impossible!
Lilly and Rapunzel in Disney World. Luckily we didn't have to deal with anything more than very minor bad behavior while we were there.