A Trip to Disney May Help to Enhance Your Child's Mental Health
Beth Blancher, MA
Ever consider how a trip to a Disney Park can help develop your child’s good mental health? Traveling to a Disney park provides an excellent opportunity for parents and adults to help develop and fortify a child’s mental health. Walt Disney World, a place where families can focus on each other, provides an ample supply of healthy learning experiences when children are so highly motivated . The National Institute of Mental Health provides an outline of the signs of good mental health in children.
A child's mental health is probably good if he or she usually:
• is interested in other people's well-being and treats them with respect
• treats animals with kindness
• seems to feel safe and comfortable rather than fearful
• can "bounce back" from disappointments or frustrations
• can show anger without hurting self or others
• chooses to act in ways that are safe
• uses positive ways to get attention
• stands up for himself or herself
• gets involved in activities at home and in the classroom
• is willing to try new things (activities, foods, friendships, etc.)
• will persist when trying a challenging task
• can express feelings to some trusted person, instead of keeping them "bottled up"
• shows a range of emotions, both positive and negative
Did you ever imagine that a long line at Disney could be beneficial? Lines provide many opportunities when families can discuss thoughts and feelings about the anticipated attraction, help plan for your next activity, learn to be polite to others and respect their place in line. Waiting in line for that favorite attraction helps children learn to delay gratification. Psychological research attributes the ability to delay gratification with the development of impulse control and may enhance academic achievement and life success. This may be especially helpful with children with ADHD and impulsivity.
What better place to teach children about animals than at Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Animal Kingdom teaches conservation and animal protection in an exciting setting mixed with fun activities and shows. Animal Kingdom offers and incredible way to learn about the importance of conservations and preservations through the many animal trails, Rafiki’s Planet Watch or through the lessons learned about loss and extinction when riding through time on Dinosaur. Who cannot love an animal like Pumba from the Lion King? Treating animals with kindness can help children develop empathy for others especially those more vulnerable.
As with life, the parks come with their share of disappointments; but, did you stop to consider what a child learns when they bounce back from disappointments and frustrations? From a long line in the heat, missing your favorite character at a meet in greet or even arriving at Disney after a much anticipated wait and travel only to find your favorite ride is being refurbished one is bound to experience disenchantment amid the enchantment. However, Disney provides so many other opportunities to seek and explore who can stay unhappy for long? Life is filled with disappointments and learning to cope may help your child’s resiliency for future losses.
Vacations can be stressful and fatigue brings a variety of negative emotions. Prepare for stress and fatigue when traveling and use this opportunity to work through a range of emotions. Learning to grow and enjoy family and friends we often feel a wide variety of emotions including empathy, compassion, cooperation, and forgiveness. It’s human and children should learn that no one, except maybe Figment, is happy all of the time and Figment, after all lives in a world of imagination. Children will want and need to shed tears and express their anger. While excessive drama is not necessary, let your child express their feelings in an appropriate setting.
Disney provides a safe environment filled with fantasy that sparks the imagination. Safety, high on the hierarchy of needs, can be reinforced on scary or thrill rides or learning to greet a character that seems massive and strange. Take this opportunity to insist that your child act in ways that are safe by wearing the seat belts or keeping their legs and arms in the vehicle and all other safety precautions. If your child is frightened of rides or characters take this event to build trust and encourage them to take a chance accompanied by you. Take this chance to remind them that you would not put them at risk. Prepare your child for what’s ahead. If the ride is dark then tell them so and let them hold your hand or sit close. Holding your child close in a doombuggy and keeping the haunts at bay can strengthen trust with your child, trust that is invaluable when they are teens and you want them to come to you with problems or trouble. Remind your child that Mickey wants them to remain safe too and that he will keep all pirates and ghosts out of harm’s way. Seize this opportunity to allow your child to express their emotions. Take pride that your child trusts you enough to say “I’m scared” rather than embarrassed because they are fearful of the Haunted Mansion. The benefits of teaching your child to express fears like “I’m afraid to ride Dinosaur or the Haunted Mansion is scary far outweigh teaching your child to “bottle up” emotions. A child who learns to express their emotions freely may be more apt to express their fears to a parent.
While many children should not be forced onto rides they fear; not all children have to avoid a potentially frightening ride. With encouragement many can learn to challenge their fears with your help and encouragement. A Disney vacation offers many challenging tasks from swimming across a resort pool, approaching a character for the first time, standing in a long line or facing a dark ride. Opportunities to help your child learn and grow seem endless. A day in a Disney park and resorts is filled with exciting challenges.
A trip to Disney allows ample opportunities for a child to stand up for their needs. Let all members of the family share in the planning and state their desire to ride a favorite ride. Small children are often difficult to spot at a snack counter so if you allow your child to purchase a snack and make sure they are seen and able to voice their needs politely and effectively.
Children often grab our attention with negative emotions; but, in the parks take advantage of the many opportunities to share quality time with your child. It’s not hard to lavish your child with quality attention as you ride Dumbo together, take a memorable family photo, or laugh while you share a quickly melting Mickey ice cream bar. Take this opportunity to try new activities, foods and friendships. World Showcase, filled with new countries, cultures and foods to explore, provides an excellent area for trying new things.
Taking a vacation from appropriate communication and behaviors may result in taking home more than souvenirs and wonderful memories. While thinking of your child’s good mental health may be farthest from your mind on vacation, striving for your goals with your child’s mental health may seem like magic while children in the park are highly motivated by the next attraction or character. Make it an adventure.
The opinions and resources provided on Mouse-aid Web site are intended for informational purposes only and are not intended to take the place of medical or legal advice, or of other appropriate services. We encourage you to seek direct local assistance from a qualified professional if necessary before taking action.