Parent’s Guide to Preparing Kids for Their First Roller Coaster Experience

Are you a parent who’s also a big roller coaster fan?  Are you looking forward to someday taking your kids to tackle the “Disney Mountain Range,” or are you excited to test out the new Verbolten roller coaster opening this week at Busch Gardens Virginia?  How do you know when your kids are ready to take on a roller coaster’s thrill and excitement?  Our friends at LEGOLAND Florida have provided some tips below that’s a must read for any roller coaster parent.

Technic Coaster photo by Chip Litherland courtesy of LEGOLAND Florida, Merlin Entertainments Group

All photos by Chip Litherland courtesy of LEGOLAND Florida, Merlin Entertainments Group

The 2012 summer travel season is here and theme parks from coast to coast are rolling out all-new, ever-daring thrill rides.  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 they encourage, bribe or shame their kids into facing their fears?  Or let them decide for themselves?  This summer, LEGOLAND Florida, Central Florida’s newest theme park, is helping families deal with Veloxrotaphobia, or fear of roller coasters, by arming parents with “Roller Coaster Readiness” tips.

Leadership at the park reached out to nationally-recognized psychologist and award-winning author Dr. Susan Bartell to create tools for both guests and employees to help parents manage these challenging situations.

“Our junior roller coasters offer just the right blend of speed and thrill that make LEGOLAND Florida the perfect spot for kids to ride their very first roller coaster,” says Adrian Jones, LEGOLAND Florida general manager.  “But because we know the ‘pink knuckle’ nature of these attractions doesn’t mitigate a first timer’s fears, we wanted to provide resources to parents as well as our model citizens to ensure that every first plunge is a positive experience for the entire family.”

According to Dr. Bartell, there are a host of mistakes parents commonly make when it comes to handling their child’s fear of roller coasters.

“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.”

Brochures featuring the tips will be available online and at the front gate and include things families can do before they leave home and during the day, as well as ways to manage a melt-down and ways to celebrate at the end of the day.

Before Your Trip

Dr. Bartell suggests starting at home with these tips before leaving on the trip.

  • Learn Online Young children (especially those who are anxious), don’t like surprises.  So, visit the theme 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.

What to do 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.

As the Day Continues…

  • 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.

Thanks to LEGOLAND Florida for providing some good, basic tips to help children make that first roller coaster ride the most fun it can be.  Please leave a comment below with some of your tips and strategies you’ve used or plan to use in your family.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.