Theme park guide: Kid afraid of roller coasters? Here are tips

Published Jun. 1, 2012

By Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Times Staff Writer

For parents hoping that this is the year their child musters the courage to take that first roller coaster adventure, it's a tough call: Do you encourage, bribe or shame the kids into facing their fears? Or do you let them decide for themselves?

Legoland in Winter Haven sent out an interesting guide they've come up with to help families deal with veloxrotaphobia, or fear of roller coasters.

The park asked psychologist and author Dr. Susan Bartell to offer some suggestions.

To make that first plunge a positive experience for the entire family, Bartell says, there are a host of mistakes parents commonly make.

"Dismissing a child's fear, comparing them to a sibling or friend, bribing them with gifts and money, or labeling a child with a negative name based on their reluctance won't make them any braver," says Bartell. "In fact those strategies often cause greater anxiety and resentment and make them more reluctant, not to mention ruin what should be a great day for the family."

Here's her suggestions on how to manage a melt-down and celebrate at the end of the day:

Before your trip

Learn online: Young children (especially those who are anxious), don't like surprises. Visit the park's website with your child and look at the different attractions, discussing how much fun each one will be.

Tell a story: Talk to your child about fun roller coaster experiences that you and other people had when they were kids. Be as animated, silly and positive as possible.

When you get to the park

Focus on fun: As you arrive, review the park map and point out all the fun attractions, not just the roller coasters.

Take it slow: Invite your child to pick which attractions she most wants to experience. If she is reluctant to try the roller coasters, begin with at least a couple of her choices.

During the day

Watch and learn: When some people in your party are eager to try a roller coaster, don't split up. Rather, watch the roller coaster ride with your reluctant child, all the time commenting excitedly about how much fun it looks and how happy and excited kids are as they come off the ride. Point out that kids coming off the ride do not look scared and are not crying.

Nervous is normal: Explain that while riding a roller coaster, it is normal to feel a little nervous, scream, close your eyes and squeeze someone's hand – in fact, it is part of the fun. Explain that feeling a bit nervous doesn't mean you are too scared to go on the roller coaster.

At the end of the day

No regrets: If your child expresses regret that he didn't try the roller coaster, don't make him feel bad. Now that the day is over, it's easy for him to "be brave." Instead, remind him there is always a next time, and that he should focus on the rides he enjoyed and the fun that was had by all.

The park will be handing out her advice in fliers and online, and the staff has been trained as well.

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Sharon Kennedy Wynne