Big roller coasters, little spinny rides, water slides with lots of twists.
Amusement park rides can be lots of fun, but sometimes kids are a little hesitant to give a ride a try. Okay, more like a little hesitant to an all-out FREAK OUT about riding something new to them. This summer, we took a mini-vacation up to Williamsburg and hit both Busch Gardens and Water Country USA. And that’s exactly what happened.
My kids were scared of way more than I expected. I’m not even talking about big, crazy roller coasters. Even some of the small, gentler rides. The ones you know they’d just love if they’d try them.
By the end of our trip though, they made progress and each rode at least one thing out of their comfort zone. Here are my favorite tips for encouraging your kids to try new rides (and what to do if they don’t):
1. Point Out Kids Coming Off Rides Laughing and Smiling
A friend on Facebook shared this tip with me and it does help to ease their anxiety! We did this with everything from small rides to water slides. Knowing that other kids their size were enjoying the ride can make kids feel more at ease with getting on a new ride.
Just be sure to frame this positively, versus acting like those kids are brave and your kid is not. Remember you can still have a great time at the park without going on all the rides!
2. Try Smaller Rides First
I know that’s kind of like “duh,” but remember that a kid isn’t going to conquer their fear of rides with the blink of an eye. Marathon, not a sprint and all that. Head straight to the main kiddie ride section and let your child try some of the miniature versions of the bigger rides.
At Busch Gardens, we made a beeline to the Sesame Street Forest of Fun and spent a good half hour or more riding things like a mini roller coaster, mini pendulum ride, and mini drop tower. My five-year-old Ethan was eager to try the mini roller coaster but was white as a sheet after it. However, he LOVED the drop tower (Elmo’s Spire) and rode it about 5 times!
The eight-year-old Noah loved BOTH the roller coaster and the drop tower. He didn’t go on the grown-up drop tower, but he DID try a grown-up roller coaster. (No he didn’t like it — see #3 — but he went back to ride the one in the kids’ area. I call that progress!)
3. Know What the (Big) Rides Are REALLY Like
If you’re hoping your kiddo will ride something with you, but he’s unsure, try riding it first if the lines permit. Or at least pick a coaster or ride where you can see the entire thing so you can point out what the ride does. Many amusement parks will let you do parent swap, meaning you can ride, then switch parents and go to the quick queue or fast pass type line. Lots of times this is so each parent can ride with a child if another child can’t/won’t ride, but we also did this with just the adults (i.e. hubby rides a coaster, then I do). Saves lots of time.
I speak from first hand experience about testing a potentially scary ride first! When we were at Busch Gardens, I tried to research which roller coaster would be a good one for my eight year old to try. From the pictures on the website, one particular roller coaster looked tamer than the others. Even in person, it looked tame. BOY WAS I WRONG.
My oldest son went on with his dad and came off shaking his head at how horrible it was! LOTS of dark tunnels with creepy eyes and the worst… an 88-ft drop in the dark. The website said “plunge” but I pictured a roller-coaster-like plunge, not a oh-my-gah-my-heart-stopped drop. Oops. (It’s Verbolten, in case you’re wondering.) He didn’t ride a big roller coaster after that (but he DID conquer his fear of the carousel-style swings).
4. Understand What They Are Fearing (in some cases it has nothing to do with the ride… AND it’s not even fear)
When we were at both Busch Gardens and Water Country USA, there were times when the five-year-old started crying that he didn’t want to ride something. We stayed in line and starting probing to see what was up. Turns out one time he just wanted some popcorn, and in other cases, he was just being a typical impatient kid and didn’t want to stand there and wait. In those cases, we were able to move past the “issue” and he LOVED the rides.
5. Point Out the Safety Features
Kids are often scared because they don’t understand how the rides work. My oldest asked me how the roller coasters stay on the tracks so I pointed out how the coasters are connected to the rails. I also explained how the harnesses lock so you can’t fall out. The kids had ALL sorts of questions about the roller coaster my husband and I both rode. I mean just look at the thing! Answer the questions as best as you can. You never know if it might help ease their anxiety about a ride.
6. Nudge but Never Force
I can’t stress this one enough! You DON’T want your kid’s memory to be of you forcing them on something that scared them to death.
In one case during our trip, we got right up to the top of a water slide — almost ready to get in a tube — and my five year old was squealing and pitching a fit. He had just gone down a similar slide, but he wasn’t having any of it. Knowing the ride DID have some dark tunnels and was mostly enclosed, I didn’t force him on the ride. I didn’t want to be THAT MOM. Instead, I walked him all the way back down and let the other my hubs and older son ride it.
There’s a difference between nudging a child and forcing one. Knowing when to back down can be the difference between a happy memory and a not-so-happy one.
My five-year-old was also hesitant to get on the Sky Ride that transports you from one part of the park to another. He’s been on ferris wheels before so I KNEW he’d be okay once got on. We talked about all riding it together and it would save him from walking. By the time we got to the front of the line, he was ready to get in… and getting a green bucket to ride in was icing on the cake (his fave color). He loved it and was bummed when we had to get off.
7. Revisit the Idea Later
Like I said, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. As the day (or days) go on, your child might decide they want to try a ride they were once too scared to go on. The more you’re at an amusement park, the more the newness wears off and they become more comfortable.
The eight-year-old didn’t want to go on the big carousel-style swings at first. He was willing to go on the kiddie ones but there was one problem… he was too big for them! So the little guy happily rode those.
Seeing his younger brother ride the little ones, I asked if he wanted to try the big swings and suggested we could ride in the double seats. It was a go! Turns out to be a favorite ride (and he rode it twice)!
We also found the kids had less fear overall with the water slides at Water Country USA than the rides at Busch Gardens.
8. Let It Go
Take it from Elsa. There’s something to be said for encouraging your child to conquer a fear, but you need to be the ultimate judge and know when to back off. Some kids might get to a place where they enjoy the faster rides. Other kids? Never.
There are still plenty of other things to do at amusement parks beside the rides!<
How Does Your Kid Like Amusement Park Rides?
When it’s all said and done, some of these might work and some might not. Each child is different and some have an easier time conquering fears than others.
Above all, remember these two words: PATIENCE and FUN. Have patience while encouraging them at the same time. And above all, you can all still have fun without riding a lot. Fun shows, sugary snacks, train rides, games… there’s still a lot to do at an amusement park.
I’d love to hear your experience with your kids at amusement parks!