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Aug 03 2013

How to take super sensitive kids to a theme park and still be sane at the end of the day

theme park

This morning I posted the following over at the Laughing at Chaos Facebook page:

Taking the boys on a long-promised trip to Six Flags Great America today. I’m trying to be excited about it, but I’m not really looking forward to this. We’ve been burned far too many times with fun outings and sensory overwhelm.

I am proud and relieved to announce that not only did we survive the outing, but had a fantastic time and are all still on speaking terms. This is a big step for those of us here in Chez Chaos. Tom and I are still feeling the effects of a 2005 Disney Land trip, one that occurred before we learned of A’s sensory issues. Short version: it was ugly and is why I believe Disney Land needs to have quiet spots for parents that have bungee cords for the kids and margaritas for the adults. But today! Today was good. And high on the relief coursing through my body tonight I shall share Jen’s Tips for taking super sensitive kids to a theme park.

1. Get cheap tickets. Free is the best kind of cheap, so snag some of those if you can. J got a free ticket through the park’s Read to Succeed program; A and I got free tickets through the Read to Succeed homeschool program. So I only had to get a ticket for Tom ($17 off when bought online!) and pay for parking (holy hell $22 is a bit extreme). Four people to a theme park for cheap is the way to go.

2. Set out detailed expectations in advance. We warned the boys that if they wanted to get a souvenir, they had to take money because it wasn’t coming from us (they opted to each take $10, and bought a little bicycle name license plate as we left at the end of the day). We were to stay as close to a real food diet as possible; this meant food dyes, excess sugar, and “what the hell is in this?” was off the table. No one would be forced to ride a roller coaster, you could always change your mind, but once you were in line you were going through with it. No games, no arcade, don’t even try to argue. And just in case it was too crazy to handle, A’s ear filter for his central auditory processing disorder was in the bag (never needed it).

3. Go on a perfect weather day. We just lucked into one today. Upper 70s, sunny with passing clouds, little breeze. Bliss.

4. Say yes as often as possible. You’re at a theme park. Relax a little. Today the boys essentially said what they’d like to do and we just followed along.

5. When a child eats a slice of NYC style pizza the size of a dinner plate, find the nearest bathroom post haste, for you can see in his eyes that he’s fighting the urge to enjoy it a second time. Celebrate when the moment passes and the pizza continues its one-way trip.

6. Divide and conquer.  After his very first coaster, J was done with them so Tom and I took turns riding coasters (and the log water ride, where I nearly lost my glasses, which would have made this week an extreme sport) with the boys. It was awesome spending a little fun time one on one with my boys.

7. Do something you really, really don’t want to do, so the boys can see that you’ll suck it up for them. I am generally ok with heights, just not heights where there’s nothing under my feet. Sears Tower I’m ok; the St. Louis Arch makes me lightheaded. Walking down Chicago streets I’ll knock people over to avoid walking over the grates in the sidewalk. Great America has a big stick in the ground with a rotating capsule that goes up and back down and that just did not sound family friendly in the slightest. I agreed to go on it and of course we ended up exactly halfway across the capsule, directly across from the exit doors. Doors. In front of me. On a capsule that was going infinity feet into the sky, rotating all the way. I just grabbed onto a pole and didn’t do anything but breathe until that damned door was back on solid ground and open in front of me. Sprinted right on out of there. It was J’s favorite ride of the day. It was also the last time I’m ever getting on it.

8. Don’t go for the whole day. You got cheap tickets, remember? You’re already ahead of the game! We were there a grand total of six hours. Finally got into the park at 1:00, left at 7:00. Perfect amount of time. I used to go with friends for a solid 12 hours, but that was 25 years and two children ago.

9. Lower your expectations. Lower. Even lower. Call the day a win if you leave with the same number of children you brought into the park. Double points if they’re the actual children you brought into the park.

10. Find some down time, somewhere, somehow, if only for a couple minutes. We watched extreme coasters from a few side walkways where it was slightly quieter. J and I rode the train a loop and a half.

11. Do not try to do it all. Don’t even try to do half of it. We only rode a few rides (waiting in line is a WHOLE other issue, and I totally credit my boys getting older for being able to handle it) and we were good with that. We live close enough that going more often next year is possible. This year, this close-to-free visit, was reconnaissance. See what we liked and what we didn’t and what we could do differently in the future. See also #9.

12. Go home, feed everyone something healthier than what you found in the park, take a handful of ibuprofen, and call it a night.

13. The next day, do as little as humanly possible.

I’m thrilled today went so well, and relieved we’re not going back again this year. Even though the boys were fantastic, it still takes a lot out of me to go to a theme park like Great America. Disney World has many more low key areas; today there was music blasting and sound effects and sensory overload everywhere. My boys were rock stars today, and we have told them that several times over. We can’t get over how much fun we had, and that there was not a single problem all day. Not. One. Not an argument, not a whine, not a problem. That may be a record here.

May this be the first of many more pleasant outings for us.

Comments

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5 comments

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  1. Kathryn

    Double points if they’re the actual children you brought to the park – excellent!

    And nice work conquering the seemingly impossible.

  2. My Kids Mom

    You forgot my favorite: have hubby take the boys while you stay home to “get things done.” My kids (and free tix) and hubby (1/2 price tic) spent Saturday at Six Flags over Georgia. We all had a great time!

    1. Jen

      I really gotta get “everybody out of the house but ME” happening more often. I sense more of that this winter, just so I can have a wee bit of sanity under my own roof.

  3. Christy

    I really like your points 4, 7, and 9. Too often on things I get caught up in the idea that I have to meet way to high of expectations in order to justify things.

  4. April

    EXCELLENT post!! Congrats on a successful outing! I especially love #7 (yep, that’s me!! How’d you know? for me it was that darned rope bridge in California Adventure in the Redwood forest area) and #9 (I ALWAYS bring an easy knitting project tucked into my backpack and find some time for it for me even for a row or 2)

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