October 31, 2012

Top 10 Tips for Introducing Children to Character Meet & Greets

Today's article comes from guest blogger, Sarah. She's got some helpful tips for parents whose children may be fearful of meeting Disney Characters.  Thanks for sharing with us, Sarah!


Character meet and greets are just as much a part of the Walt Disney World experience as riding Dumbo and the Tea Cups. And for some children a trip to Disney World wouldn't be complete without that hug from Mickey. But what if after planning your dream vacation your child takes one look at Mickey and screams in terror... now what!?!

The most important thing to remember is you need to go at a child's pace when meeting characters. Every child is different (as any parent with more than one child knows). Some children love characters, some children are ok with the characters, and some children just do not like them at all. If your child is nervous about meeting a character there are ways to help. Here are my top ten tips for helping your child overcome the fear of meeting a character...

1) Prepare your child before you even go on vacation.
There are many websites out there with lots of character pictures from Disney World (or even a friend on facebook may have a full album of pictures from their last trip). Show your child the pictures (focus on pictures that have children standing next to and hugging the characters) and point out how tall the characters are. This may help when they see them for the first time in real life. Don't be surprised though if they are overwhelmed by the size of the character. Some characters can be quite large and tall. As well, some characters have a more friendly appearance than others and because of this they may only want to see certain characters. 


2) Don't force your child to meet the characters!
I can't stress this one enough! You would not believe the screaming and crying children I have seen next to a character while mom and dad take a picture. I don't think that is the precious vacation memory you want to look back on five years from now?

3) Give your child time to adjust to the vacation and the idea of meeting characters.
On Day 1, he may not even want to look at a character, on Day 2, he may be blowing kisses, and by Day 4, he may be throwing his arms around them. Give them time to "warm up" to the characters. Let them observe other children meeting characters as well. Maybe after they see a few children get a picture with a character and come out of it alive they may be ok with the thought.

4) Introduce characters in a non-meet & greet setting first. 
Try some live shows (the Castle Stage show, Festival of the Lion King, etc.) or parades that have characters in them . Don't forgot to wave, blow kisses, or say "hi" from a distance.

5) Set an example.
You, yourself go up and meet the characters, and give them a hug or high-five. If your child sees you being friendly with the character it may help him overcome his fear.

6) It doesn't have to be intimate.
Not every interaction with a character has to include a full body contact hug. (Hugs are after all reserved for the special people or animals we know and love in our life, I can certainly understand a child not wanting to give out hugs to every "Mouse" he comes across!) Maybe your child would prefer just a high-five or to hand over the autograph book.

7) Be by their side.
Some children are more comfortable to meet a character if a parent or significant other goes with them. It's easier to smile for the camera if mom is holding their hand too!  Bringing a plush toy or doll along can help as well.  Characters love to interact with stuffed animals.

8) Try face characters.
What is a face character? Just that, a character which has a human face showing. These mostly include the Princesses but you have others like Aladdin, Peter Pan, etc. Some children find it easier to meet these type of characters instead of the full costumed ones. They can actually have a conversation with these characters and that can be a draw for some children. And don't shy away from the Princesses if you have a boy, they can be quite engaging for "knights in training".

9) Give them a purpose to meet the character. 
Get them to hand the character the autograph book or tell the child you need this picture for grandma because this is her favorite character. You'll be surprised how quickly they can change their mind if they think they're helping you!

10) Prepare the character ahead of time.
When your turn comes and as you approach the character it is perfectly okay for you to speak up and say, "Mickey, he's a little nervous today!" (or something along those lines, however I try to avoid the word "scared"). This helps the character to greet your child appropriately. Instead of holding out their arms for a big bear hug, they may hold out their hand or blow a kiss. The characters are very well trained!


And last but not least, don't stress about it! (I said I had 10 tips but I guess this is number 11!) Your child may never warm to the characters and that's okay. On the positive side you get to spend more time on all the attractions that Disney World has to offer.

Children change over time as well and if you have the luxury (like I do) to visit the Walt Disney World Resort multiple times your children may learn to love the characters in the future.

Just relax and enjoy your trip to Disney World... and if you do get in line to see Mickey say "hi" to him for me!

Sarah Barnes is a stay at home mom living in Newfoundland, Canada (a.k.a she's a Newfie).  She loves warm weather and is convinced she was born in the wrong climate. When she's not homeschooling her two children she spends her day thinking about, talking about, and planning her next trip to Disney World.

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