I’m often asked how I get my very young kids to ride roller coasters.
When Lucy was literally 3 years old, she was tall enough for Space Mountain…and LOVED it. Loved. (Honestly, I think back to how young she was and even I’m surprised.) (For those of you interested, here is a video of the ride taken using night vision…because it’s pitch black in there besides tiny specks for stars.)
Henry cried…CRIED…when he wasn’t tall enough to ride California Screamin’ (pictured above)….and now that he is finally tall enough, rides it a minimum of three times per day that we are at the park. (Lucy pouts because she’s still an inch too short.)
Not only do they love them, beg to go on them, whine a bit when we have to go on “little kid” rides (yes, because 5 and 7 are SO grown up), but they even put their hands up at the biggest drops. Henry is asking to go to Six Flags for his birthday in June.
BECAUSE THEY CRAY.
That, and we really really REALLY work hard to foster a sense of deep security for them. And I truly believe that when combined with their adventurous spirits, and checking their emotions, they’ll be powerhouses in life. Even if their knees are quaking in the beginning.
Let me start by being very clear: 99% of this is their nature. One of the most fascinating things, especially now that I’m a mom, is seeing how THEY COME OUT LIKE THIS. So much of who my kids are (the good stuff and the bad stuff) is very much how they were born. It is just their personality. Not a one of my kids is what I would describe as Cautious. Most times this is a good trait, but it can also be a terrifying trait for a parent (especially when you find yourself near strangers that they are happy to chat with). But much of that is how God made them to be, and has nothing to do with my parenting.
That being said, I also know that Nurture plays a huge role in our lives and shaping who we ultimately become, so this is how I capitalize on my kids’ already thrill-seeking spirits, and some ideas for how you can approach “scary” situations with your own littles…even if they might be very firmly entrenched in the Cautious Camp:
Yes, even little Jilly gets in on the action. She looks like she’s about ready to crap her pants, but she LOVES Splash Mountain. Claps and cheers. Once she’s done crapping her pants.
Ask them why they FEEL scared. Not why they are scared, but why they feel that way. “Is it because you’re afraid you’ll get hurt?” “Do you think you’ll get sick on it?” Find out what it is EXACTLY that makes them feel scared. I believe that this is a critical life skill to be learned…hashing out the whys from the whats. Being able to pick out the reasons, rather than leaning on the emotions. GETTING THEM TO TALK ABOUT THEIR FEELINGS.
Reassure them. “I get that it seems scary, but do you think Mommy and Daddy would ever, ever, EVER let you do anything unsafe? Mom and Dad’s job is the protect you and care for you. We would never encourage you to do something that was truly dangerous. We love you far too much to put you in a situation that we thought could truly hurt you.” We don’t paint them as cowards, or call their sibling brave. It’s not about doing it because everyone else is…it’s about doing it because…why not?
(Disclaimer: my definition of dangerous might be different than yours. For Andy and I, we mean life threatening, really. Because we “let” Henry skateboard…which could break a bone…and our kids climb trees…which could result in a fall…and we let them cut vegetables with butcher knives…which could cut a finger…and all sorts of other situations where they could actually get hurt. While I would be so sad if my kid broke a bone, that’s mostly a big bummer than an event that I would consider life shattering. Epilepsy changes your perspective, I guess.) (And yes. Of course. There have been cases of ride failure. But for real. If that was how we operated, my kids would never leave their perfectly sanitized bedrooms.)
We make them try it once. AND they never have to go again if they hated it. Now when I say I make our kids go on a coaster the first time, I mean it in the same vein as how we make our kids at least try a food before they proclaim they don’t like it and will puke it all up because BRUSSEL SPROUTS. We aren’t man handling them onto the ride…screaming and kicking and causing a scene. (Not to mention that the ride operator probably wouldn’t allow that anyway.) I simply mean we say “Look. Just try it. Go on it ONE time. If you hate its guts even after going on it, that’s totally fine and you never have to go again. I just don’t like that you are making a decision about something you know nothing about. Right now, you are maybe missing out on something really fun and cool because you are scared. That’s not the best way to live.”
Keep your word. You know all that stuff about reassuring your kids that you’re a parent they should trust and feel safe with, back when you were convincing them to try it? Well, you gotta keep it up. The first time Henry went on Tower of Terror (an elevator ride that has several free fall drops), he was nervous but promised to try. When he got off of it, he said he hated it and never wanted to go again. “Okay. No problem. I’m just glad you tried it, so now you know. Totally fair.” Later that same day, Lucy begged to go on it again. Henry opted to sit out. “Please come with me Henry….come on Henry…” “Lucy, STOP. Henry tried it and he said he didn’t like it. That’s it. If you’d like to go with Daddy that’s fine, but Henry said no already.” And then we sat on the brick ledge with the littles and hung out. We didn’t talk about it. I didn’t ask him questions. No prying. No coaxing. No trying to change his mind. We just people watched and talked about anything but Tower of Terror and the fact that he wasn’t on it. I was holding up my end of the bargain. Fast forward to the next day, he said he wanted to ride it. “You know, when I think back to it, it really wasn’t that scary. Actually, it was kinda fun. I mean, it was scary, but a fun scary. I’m gonna try one more time and see if I change my mind, okay?” “Whatever you want to do, Buddy.” He’s now ridden it at least 67 times.
I know this post is technically about roller coasters, but really it’s not (and it is, because we really do do these things).
Obviously, doing each of these things is no guarantee your kid will actually get on the ride. But it’s a good conversation to get used to having. We can’t not have Big Talks when they are little, and then be surprised when they clam up as teens, you know? Big Talks should be commonplace and totally normal. Even at theme parks.
I truly want to raise my children to have good decision making skills. I do not love the idea of them consistently making decisions based on HOW THEY FEEL. We’ve found that roller coasters, in all their seemingly sillyness, have proven a good Teaching Moment. It’s those times when you deposit little life lessons and truths to your kids and hope that maybe they’ll stick and be resurrected 20 years from now…when they are considering a career change, whether or not to go on a missions trip, who they choose to marry, whether they’ll start a business (or pull the plug on it!), and all those other millions of times in grown up life when you’re scared and it’s easiest to sit out and let someone else ride.
I want my children to navigate life using both their heads AND their hearts, and I want them to think through times their initial reaction is to say no…in relationships, in jobs, in opportunities. Don’t lean on No. Don’t let Fear make your decisions for you. You can still come to the same conclusion, but you have to at least think it through, and if you can, give it a chance.
Don’t let Fear rob you of Joy*.
*And now for the next Teaching Moment where we talk about trusting that little whisper in your heart, and how it plays compliment to your head. This parenting gig is HARD.