A parents' guide to helping your kids learn to love roller coasters
By Robert NilesAs we move into the off season for theme park fans who don't happen to live in Central Florida or Southern California, I'll be writing more pieces about planning for next year's theme park visits and vacations.
Published: November 10, 2009 at 10:04 AM
Let's talk to the parents today. How many of you are in this situation? You're a roller coaster fan, but your kids, who are elementary-age, look at roller coasters like they would a live dinosaur - they're awesome, but terrifying enough to fuel parent-waking nightmares for weeks to come.
Not much of a choice there, eh? Skip your beloved coasters, or welcome the bawling kids into your bed every night at 1 am. How do you get your kids to share your love for roller coasters?
Ultimately, all my advice reduces to one suggestion: patience. Push your kids to try a ride they're not ready for, and you're just asking for a hysterical child who will demand to be taken home right now - no matter that you paid $70 per person for those theme park tickets.
1) Stay positive
You can suggest rides, but the ultimate decision to ride must be your child's. Whatever decision they make, it's the right one. If they say no to something, don't try to talk them into it; offer a suggestion. If they say they want to go on a specific ride, work it into the itinerary and tell them what a great idea they had.
You want the entire visit to become a positive experience. A) It's the best way to ensure that your kids keep wanting to come to theme parks, and B) that's the surest way to ensure that you get your money's worth.
Remember, the point of the visit is not to bag the largest number of rides - it is to have a good time. And if your kids aren't having a good time, trust me, they will ensure that you aren't, either. If that means letting your third-grader crawl around the kiddie playground, so be it. Fun = value.
Don't get passive-aggressive, either, overly complimenting older siblings who agree to join you on coasters or thrill rides, while not doing the same for younger kids' choices. The younger kids will read that as criticism of their choices, as they should. And they'll soon be taking you on a side trip into Miseryland.
On our summer roadtrip, my 12-year-old fell in love with coasters. But my nine-year-old wasn't ready yet. That's fine. He became my go-to critic on 4-D shows (which he loved), as well as my assistant photographer, snapping some great shots that I later used in several TPI reports, while Natalie and I or Natalie and her mother rode the coasters.
2) Start small
When you were a kid, theme parks didn't have floorless dive coasters. Or inverted coasters with seven loops. You didn't fall in love with coasters riding those behemoths. And your kids likely won't, either.
Start smaller. Don't introduce your kids to roller coasters by adding a day at Universal's Islands of Adventure on next Orlando trip. The child who rides Incredible Hulk or Dueling Dragons as his first coaster is a person who will never again utter the phrase "roller coaster" without preceding it with the word "emotional."
Your kids are keeping a list of everything you make them do which ticks them off. And payback's coming when they hit puberty. :-) No need to add roller coasters to that list.
Let your kids decide when they are ready for the kiddie coasters, and ride with them without complaint. In fact, praise their bravery each time. Again, stay positive.
3) Work your way up
Let your kids see you riding bigger coasters, and having a great time on them. But also let them see you having just as good a time riding on attractions with which they're comfortable.
When they express interest in riding with you on the bigger rides, be careful which ones you ride with them on first. I steered my daughter along a deliberate procession:
4) Did I mention staying positive?
Remember, sometimes kids regress, and decided they want to move back down to smaller rides for a while. Again, that's a great idea! Even if you kid decides to bail out at the load platform, after an hour-long wait, stay positive. Sometimes a few minutes watching trains go from the child swap wait area is enough to allow a kid to build up the confidence to go. But if not, that's great, there's plenty of fun stuff to do elsewhere in the park. Look forward toward that, not backward at the hour wait.
The more positive and comfortable you make kids' days, they more likely they are to catch your love for theme parks... and thrill rides.
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