Imagine waking up your kids the day of your trip. You've been keeping it a secret, and can finally let it out. "Come on kids, we packed your bags, today we're going to Walt Disney World!"
Your children are jumping all over the place. This is their first trip to Disney, and they have been watching Disney Junior for years, and can finish the words for half of the Disney movies. This is going to be a trip of a lifetime!
You board the Magical Express, get dropped off at your hotel... first stop, Magic Kingdom! Hey, look, there's Crystal Palace! We have the a dining reservation for half an hour from now. Let's stop and eat before we hit the parks! And then the magical vacation quickly takes a turn-
AHHHHHH! Its.... WINNIE THE POOH (Not Ursula, no Scar... Not a witch or Cruella Deville.. It's the willy nilly silly old bear)! This doesn't have to be you! There are some steps you can take to prevent/ease these situations.
There is an age somewhere around one and half-two, that children start to understand the giant characters as being giant. Most babies are happy to slobber all over a person dressed in a furry suit. That's when parents are most hit with the problem- hey, my daughter let the furry guy at the baseball game hold her when she was a baby, what happened!
There are two routes kids can take when they hit this point. They can be amazed and delighted, or fearful and no longer sighted (because they are running away!).
Here are some tips that may help you as you plan a Disney trip:
1) Go to a local sports game or where you know a mascot will be. Let your child interact with the mascot, and try to take a picture. This is a good place to get a barometer of how your child currently feels. Note- try to have an idea what the character looks like ahead of time. Avoid the scary monster looking ones. Have you seen the mascots for the London 2012 Summer Olympics? They may not be Beast, but they are most certainly strange.
One looks like a giant can opener, and the other one looks like a spork with shark hands. I guess you can't underestimate sporks-you never know when you need a fork to work like a spoon.
2) Explain to your children that Mickey and Friends will be big. I'd ask my daughter, "Do you want to see Mickey?" Of course she'd say yes. Then we'd tell her, "Mickey will be big, but he's nice." I believe doing this multiple times helped, and she expected Mickey to be large. I was able to do this with my daughter, and she's two.
3) Watch Youtube videos of Disney World/ Disney Land Characters. Hopefully, they'll be able to see what the characters look like. The more exposure you can provide, the better.
4) When you're at the park, and are getting ready for a character dinner, tell your child/children that "Donald will be inside," and so on and so forth. It's fun for them to be surprised- but it's just as much fun for them to be excited and to look for them once they get inside.
It's not the same visiting the characters in a restaurant versus seeing them in the park for the first time- they can safely see the characters from the distance. Which brings me to my next tip....
5) Have your child approach the characters slowly. Be sure to point out the characters, so your child can spot them, and they don't just pop up. Tell them that "Tigger is going to come say hi to us at our table." There are plenty of times my husband has scared an adult just by tapping them on the shoulder- once they turn around, they are in for a surprise. Now imagine that being a 3 year old child- it'd scare you too! Note- he doesn't do this with children. That's one way to scar a kid for life!
6) Stay with your children. Don't unbuckle your children out of the stroller, and nudge them toward the character. They feel as if they are all alone. It's ok if they want you to hold them. Go with them, let them "pet" the character, or touch their hand. Tell them that it's ok, and he/she is nice. Sometimes kids will want to run right out of your arms, and that's fine. Sometimes they want to stay by your side, and that's ok too. If you have an experienced performer (and all at Disney parks are) then they know what to do- maybe play hide and seek, or cover their eyes and reach out their hands. They can recognize scared children, and won't force their way to your child.
7) Don't get frustrated. Sometimes, your child just might be frightened. I've seen it on numerous occasions. My daughter was still scared the first time she saw my husband in his character when he was at a game, and not our living room. With age, repeated exposure, and a little patience, she got over it. Just have patience, and listen to your child's needs. If they are scared, try to comfort them, and tell them that its ok. If they remain scared- don't overdo it. You'll be sure to have a chance to see another character soon.
One strategy I've heard is to tell your kids, "it's ok, it's just a person in there!" One problem with that is the magic is now gone. It's no longer Mickey Mouse-it's Uncle Joe, or some other guy. Mickey would kind of lose his magical touch. I'd advise to avoid this, if at all possible, for that reason.
Above all, just relax and have fun. If they don't want to see the characters, then you can laugh about it the next trip you take.
Try to follow the steps I mentioned above. If you have any tips yourself, please feel free to leave them in an email or comment below. Look at how scared this child is of Eeyore!
Again, contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org- I can help you plan a magical vacation, from park tickets, dining, transportation, to handling the big characters of Disney!