Here are my 15 Tips to Help a Child with Anxiety on a Disney Vacation. My oldest daughter has to fight a lot of things. She has ADHD, she has anxiety, allergies and a few other odd ailments that make up her personality. The truth is she’s a great kid, enthusiastic, fun, and has a great imagination. But when it comes to travel her anxiety can get the best of her. As a matter of fact we’ve even just sprung trips on her at the last minute because of the lack of sleep and anxiety it would cause her before the trip!
This last time around we tried a different tact. Instead of surprising her with a trip we decided we would tell her waaaay in advance. So not only did she have time to adjust to the idea, but also prep her for it and was able to deal with her anxiety in a healthy way. Here are my tips that I’ve found helped my kiddo have a good trip, keep anxiety to a minimum and let everyone have a magical time at Disney. Keep in mind that what works my child might not work for yours – but hopefully you’ll find some ideas to make your vacation happy!
Things to help your child with anxiety before the Disney vacation:
1 – Have a conversation about the Disney trip:
Ask your child things that they do and don’t like about traveling. What are some of the things that they worry about? Do they understand the travel process? What do they like and not like about the coming trip? This will be able to help you better address any possible problems or pitfalls that may occur.
2 – Do your research
Part of combating anxiety is having answers to questions to help them face their worries. So look up information on the web, make a few phone calls so you can provide answers and have a plan for your child. For example, know if your airline has individual screens for passengers or not. If not, know that you’ll have to provide an iPad or other entertainment for your kiddo.
3 – Plan it all out
One of the great things about a Disney World trip (or not depending on your personality) you can plan out each and every day of your trip well in advance. That means you’ll know what day you’ll be at certain parks and where you’ll be eating. Once you have it all planned out you can tell your child exactly what they’ll be doing each day and what is expected of them. With Disneyland you can’t pre-plan as much with Fastpasses. But you can make restaurant reservations and come up with a plan on how you want to attack the park. Get Away Today is great at helping you plan your vacation and answer any questions you might have regarding your trip.
4 – And give the kid an outline
Once I had everything planned I gave my children a full blown booklet with an itinerary of what we would be doing each day. It contained info on where we were eating, what fast passes we had and what other rides we might like to try in the park. That way my anxious child could go over it (and over it) so she felt comfortable about what was going on.
5 – Know that Disney caters to food
One of the things that can set off my daughter’s anxiety is her food allergies. She’s allergic to milk, eggs, and needs to avoid gluten (rough right?). One of the great things is that Disney caters to allergies. By explaining this to her and showing her where we were going to eat, it eased her mind.
6 – Give the kid a goal
One of my favorite things we did for this last trip is that we told the kids over half a year in advance so they could save their own money for purchases of Disney merch. It was good thing for them to focus on, and since we gave them plenty of time to work and save they had a nice pile of cash and something to focus on before the trip. It helps with leaning work ethic, teaches them budgeting and helps them plan. It also helps them know what to expect when it comes to purchasing items – their budget, they are in control. You can learn how to make your own Mickey (or Minnie) money jar here.
7 – Help the child pack
Help the anxoius kid and make sure that they have everything that they need for their Disney Vacation. Give them a packing list to follow and review their bag with them. I like to make little toiletry kits (using items from the dollar store) to make packing a toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, etc easy. Go over it with your child the night before the trip. As the mom, I handle any medications that are needed, so the kids only need to focus on clothing and toiletries. To keep things even simpler I mad a bunch of fun shirts for us to wear as a family on the trip to eliminate clothing choices.
8 – Role Play it
If this is your kid’s first time on a plane, or standing in a long line this next concept is key. Hold a family meeting where you role play these scenarios. For example, set up chairs like an airplane is laid out and walk them through what happens on the plane. Same goes for airport security. How to deal with standing in a long line for a ride. Going over these things to give your kid with anxiety an idea of what to expect will help them cope when faced with the real thing.
9 – Make them a travel kit
To make the kids’ travel more pleasant I like to give them a kit. Not only is this kit good for the plane ride but it’s also nice for the hotel and down time. The great part about this kit is that it has soothing things in it for my children. Their favorite gum, a new book, coloring, a fun treat or two. If your plane has screens be sure to include headphones that fit your child’s head (our family loves this brand) If you’re traveling on a red eye a tiny fleece blanket and pillow is also a good idea. Basically the bag has some small comforts to distract your child.
Once you’re at the Disney park:
10 – Make them the navigator
Once in the park give the kid with anxiety the map and the itinerary. Let them feel in more control of the situation. Give them the occasional choice so they feel like they have options. If it helps them have them navigate using a park map (only if this helps them – some it might make them more anxious).
11 – Give them a time out
Having anxiety can be exhausting. Even if they’ve done really well in the park, it’s a lot of stimulation and a new environment. It’s a good idea to take a break from the park in the late afternoon. This can include a little quiet decompression at the hotel. If that isn’t an option. Find some quiet air conditioned restaurant and take a snack break. Also there are several quiet benches and spots where your kid can take a break, drink some water and regroup.
12 – Dealing with Lines
Heads Up is a great app that you can download on your phone and a great way to pass time while you’re waiting in line. I like it because it involves several people and not just one person staring at a device. You can even download a Disney deck for free while you’re in one of the parks! I spy is another classic. Plus standing in line is a just a great chance to talk to your kids and catch up with them.
13 – Give them some space (literally)
This is something that my dad does for my mom. She doesn’t always do well with crowds so he will stand behind her in line and give her a few extra feet of space so she doesn’t feel so crowded. This can help your kiddo too, if they don’t do so well with crowds. Stand behind them and give them a few more feet to bounce around in so they don’t feel so penned in while waiting in line.
14 – What if your child can’t handle lines
Disney is well known for it’s DAS (Disability Access Service) card and being able to accommodate those who can’t stand in line due to a disability (including non-apparent disabilities). You can learn more about the program on this page, and you can even email them directly to see what can be done to help your kid.
15 – Understand that anxiety will come no matter what
Even with all of the prep anxiety will still happen. It’s just a matter of making it manageable. Remind your kiddo that it’s ok to take a break. They have control of the situation and they can see what is happening next. With a good Disney vacation it’s not always doing ALL of the rides, it’s about having fun! Focus and quality not quantity and the Disney vacation will be much more pleasant.
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