It's safe to say every parent planning a trip to the Walt Disney World Resort is hopping for a vacation's worth of picture-perfect memories and cherished moments—with minimal meltdowns. Lily's first character encounters were terror- and tear-filled. I'll never forget our first visit to see Minnie. No matter how friendly and inviting she tried to be, Lily wanted nothing to do with her. She ended up wrapping herself around my frog legs and burying her head. So no matter how big a fan your child is of her favorite Disney character, her reaction to meeting that character in the parks may surprise you. It's quite common for the younger tadpoles to be afraid of Disney characters when they meet them for the first time. So what's a parent to do? We've got a few tips that can help ease the fear of a child afraid of Disney characters.
Even children who’ve made repeat visits to the parks can get "shy" or scared as they progress through different developmental stages. Some children never warm up to the characters. Even though Lily has been to Disney a few times in her short life, she seems to have a different reaction to the characters each time we visit. While I think we’ve made it past the stage where she avoids eye contact with the face characters, there are still times when I can’t get her to sit with a character without me holding her and getting into the picture too (not that that's a bad thing).
It's pretty easy to see how small tadpoles might fear the characters—some of them are more than twice their size! It seems like the villains are even taller! Even I'm a little intimidated by Jafar. You will often see characters kneel down to a child's level and this helps, but sometimes it's not enough.
Here Are a Few Tips to Help Ease a Child Afraid of Disney Characters!
- Let your child see the characters in action ahead of the trip! Introduce the characters to your child by watching videos of them together. Tad has filmed a ton of the character meet-and-greets that are up on our YouTube channel.
- Don't make a character encounter your first stop. It’s true that the lines can get very long for the most popular characters (here’s looking at you, Rapunzel), but it’s very easy for a child who’s never been to Disney World to get overwhelmed. Unless she immediately shows interest in seeing the characters, let her take in the sights and sounds a bit first. You don't want her to spend her whole day in fear!
- Start with a face character. There are two types of characters in the park, those who wear face-covering headpieces (such as Mickey and Goofy) and those who resemble the character and thus don’t need a headpiece (Cinderella and Snow White). Because they speak and are adult size, children tend to be less afraid of the Disney face characters, particularly the princesses.
- Let your child "warm up" to the character. Sometimes it helps if one parent greets the character first and the other stays with the child at a comfortable distance, so that she can see that it's safe. We grownups know that Pluto (who likes to hang out at the Town Square flag pole) won’t bite, but your child does not! Siblings can also be great helps in these situations. Tad has gone first a number of times, and it really helped.
- Hold your child during the meet-and-greet. If a child knows Mom and Dad are going up to meet Mickey with her, she may be open to at least a photo. As I mentioned, this has been one of my tactics with Lily. Putting yourself between your tadpole and the character can also help a child afraid of Disney characters.
- Schedule character dining for later in the vacation. Instead of risking a bad reaction early in your vacation, make your dining reservation for later in the trip, so that if your little one is truly afraid of the Disney characters and there is no hope, you can at least cancel the reservation.
- Never push a character encounter. If your child is adamant about not wanting to get near a character, don't force it. It won't help at all and can ruin the whole day. Give her some time, and try again later.
While these are our best tips for helping a child afraid of Disney characters, we bet you have even more. Please share them below!