Soon after I found out I was pregnant, I had beautiful thoughts of my baby’s first trip to WDW! Taking him to my favorite spots, the cute little character photos of him waddling up to Mickey and giving him a big hug…In all those magical thoughts, NEVER did I EVER imagine that he would be AFRAID of the characters! This thought never crossed my mind…until it happened AND it does happen a lot!! Our first couple of encounters were not terrible, but there wasn't the big hug moment either. When he was about 2, he realized he didn't love these guys up close!
I quickly learned that you cannot force a kid to LOVE characters but there are a few tricks learned that helped!
Waiting in long lines knowing that there is a character at the front only made things worse for us. Character meals have been the best way to ease us into characters – but my son is still not a fan, but he does tolerate them for Mommy’s sake!
With character meals, the kids can watch the characters from a distance and see how they interact with other kids. When a character is approaching, I always get up first for a hug and picture so my son can see it’s safe. Then, I let the character or handler know that my son is a little nervous and standing behind him for the picture is fine….no sudden movements, please!! This method is pretty successful since the character never gets in his face.
We also make a game out of it…”Let’s see how long it takes you to smile…1,2,3…" or "when you smile, the character will see the camera flash and they will leave!” This usually gets us a pretty quick smile!
We had a surprisingly fun experience with Pluto at ‘Ohana! I shared with Pluto that my son was nervous BUT he was his favorite character. Pluto made it his mission to make sure my son loved him even more by the end of breakfast. He sat with him, hugged him, held him, came back to be sure he was eating, brought him a log for fetch. I wasn’t sure how my little guy would react but he handled it well and made my day!!
For outside meet and greets, I will stand in line and my husband and son will wait where I will be exiting from - this helps tremendously because there isn't that build up of fear prior to reaching the front of the line. I let the cast members know who they are and we attempt to get them in the picture.
On a recent visit, I was taking a picture with Goofy and Pluto at Animal Kingdom and my son didn’t want to join me. She had my husband join me in the picture and asked my son to stand with her. She showed him the camera she was using and the button she would be pressing and asked for his help. He was eager to be her assistant. She needed to move him up closer and over in the center and allowed him to take the picture. She then gave some high fives and thanked him for being such a good helper! She asked if he would do her another favor….Turn to face her, grab her hands and close his eyes. Then, she backed him up for a hug from Mommy. She asked him to smile and open his eyes…he did and he was in our picture!
As he gets older it has been a little easier each time and I’m hoping that our next visit gets us even more time with my favorites!
I think the worst thing you can do is to pressure your already frightened child to stand alone with a character. Let them take their time and ease into it. Character meals are a great way to start and gauge their reactions.