If you have taken little kids for a long day at the park, you’ve probably been there. One of your little ones gets worn out, hot, or hungry. Then something frustrates them, which sets them off. That was the end of the sanity. The meltdown begins. We’re going to look at some tips for avoiding tantrums during long days at the park.
If you haven’t experienced it directly, you may have observed a screaming fit in the parks and wondered, “What are they doing to that kid?” Young couples or individuals who don’t yet have kids or lack experience around them may not understand.
Experienced married couples, like my wife and me, smile knowingly. We’ve been there before. We’re sympathetic. We really are! It is a moment during the child-rearing years that is most memorable. We remember our little ones having a red-faced screaming fit. It usually occurs in the 2-4-year-old range. If you want to observe one, just sit near the exit around dinner time on a busy park day. You will probably see several in one sitting.
One of the most memorable we saw during 2016, was a little boy who was stubbornly holding his ground in front of Starbucks on Kings Island’s International Street. He was screaming at the top of his lungs. The moment before his dad advanced on him, to scoop him up and carry him to the car, the kid threw his shoe! This screaming kid, with messy hair and tear-streaked cheeks, then proceeded to turn his legs into jelly, dropping to the ground. It was epic!
Breaking down the problem
The main cause is that the child is over-tired. They’ve been at the park all day. They are exhausted. They are probably hot. They’ve likely been drinking soft drinks and eating high-calorie park food all day.
Little kids can’t sustain or stabilize their energy the way a larger person can. We grown-ups have reserves of stored energy. We’re also more aware of our physical condition. We know when we’re thirsty and tired. The little ones just know something dissappointed them to the degree that it is now the end of the world.
Something was denied. Maybe she was told “no” about a treat they saw in a window. Maybe they felt they needed another souvenir. The fit is not really about the thing they are screaming about. That thing was just the catalyst… the straw that broke the camel’s back.
An Ounce of Prevention
I like to point out the advantages of making shorter visits to the park, more frequently. That is arguably the greatest benefit to living close to a park and having a season pass. You can stay for a little while, then leave without feeling like you have to get your money’s worth. Visiting the park for stays of only four or fewer hours is almost never going to get your kid into tantrum territory.
If you are doing a big, full-day visit to the park, then you need to plan ahead and monitor your kids’ energy levels throughout the day.
Rest Time – A good stroller is one of the best tools for bringing kids to the park. It serves as a home base or mothership for carrying diaper bags, water bottles, changes of clothes, snacks, maps, hats, sunscreen, etc. If you have one with a canopy and a reclining seat, you have a mobile napping place! Pick a time between lunch and dinner to give your child some quiet time. You can take them on a long walk on the quiet, less-populated paths.
Kings Island has a shady path between the main park and Soak City, the water park that is a great example. You can just walk there and back for 20-30 smooth and quiet minutes. If your son or daughter successfully falls asleep during the walk, you can also glide gently to a stop at a quiet table or bench to rest your own feet. This doesn’t have to be a long nap. Usually, a healthy little snack with lots of sipped water, plus a 20-minute nap is all that is needed to achieve happy evening hours at the park.
If you have trouble getting them to relax and nap, an alternative would be to take them to a show. There are a few outdoor performances around the park, most offering shade and a place to sit. Dark, air-conditioned theaters are the best. King’s Island has its namesake theater where they often have fantastic acrobatic shows offered several times on various days of the week. The performances are very entertaining. The music may be a little loud for naps. If you think you can get them to nap here in the dark, you might ask the ushers if you can sit toward the back or outer edges to improve your chances. The shows last about 20-25 minutes. But you can go in and sit about 30 minutes before the scheduled showtime. Your child might even get the rest they need before the show starts!
Two more options that are good for a brief rest are a park’s railroad and dark rides.
Hydration – Just because the souvenir cups are refillable, doesn’t mean you should keep pouring sugary, caffeinated drinks into your kids. Switching to water at least every other refill or keeping water bottles on hand will help keep your child’s temperature regulated. Even if they insist they are not thirsty, you need to continuously encourage them to take drinks.
You could even make a game out of it. One visit to EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World, I decided to stop at EVERY drinking fountain for a sip of water. It was just to be silly at first. Later on that 90° day, I realized I’d never felt so good during a long day at the vast Florida park. My energy was constant all day and I didn’t feel hungry or tired.
Food – Similar to the hydration ideas above, it helps to encourage little snacks at frequent intervals for the smaller children. Many park rules state that you should not bring in food. I don’t think they enforce this rule when it comes to snack items for little children. You can also hold on to a pack of crackers that you get at a restaurant. The oyster crackers from King’s Island Skyline Chili locations have saved our skin a couple of times.
The idea is to get the little kids a little extra fuel about half-way between meals. You can have an ice pack in a bag with some apple slices or carrot sticks. A piece of fruit and granola bars could be the difference between a 7:00 pm meltdown and a beautiful evening looking at the park lights and staying through the fireworks.
What do you do if the meltdown has already begun? Most parents angrily storm toward the car, cutting the day off early. Here are a few ways to help stop the madness. There are steps you can take to help rescue the evening hours of your visit.
Immediately try to provide calm, water, and shade. If you can cool them off, get them drinking water and moved to a quiet place. A change of scenery is a surprisingly effective help. If your kids have been under the blazing sun, you could take them to a show, as mentioned, or walk them around a gift shop. International Street and Main Street are two examples of parks with several stores that connect so you can browse them all without going back outside. A long meandering walk is a good way to cool off and change the mood.
If you want to bring this change of scenery idea to the next level, throw the kids in some water! Many parks have an included water park. Your hotel or resort may also have a pool. If you have little kids in diapers, it is always a good idea to bring a swim diaper along with your supply of regular ones.
Even if you don’t want to make it a full waterpark visit with swimsuits, this can still be a great way to add a break. You can have your little ones splash in a wading pool up to their knees for 30-60 minutes. If you’re wearing shorts, you don’t need a swimsuit. Just take your shoes and socks off and wade right in with them. The cool water will make your feet feel refreshed. The undulating wave motion can help your sore, tired legs recover. In the shallow areas of wave pools, the kids may still need to wear the provided life jackets.
Once your feet are dry, put your shoes and socks back on before you head back to the park refreshed and recharged!
>> Do you have any secrets your family has learned for avoiding tantrums during long days at the park?