Are you looking to build good character in your children? Pluto, Goofy, Mickey, Merida, Cinderella…. No, not that kind of character – I mean character, as in, the positive qualities and values that make you who you are. Or perhaps you are trying to reconcile some guilt about taking your kids out of school for a trip to Disney by making the trip a tad educational. Either way, I’m going to share a few ways to teach some “life lessons” on your next family vacation.
1. Value your family
It’s okay to be”goofy” with your family. No matter how cool you are in the real word (I’m talking to you, dad- not just your preteens), you’re not too cool to put on some Mickey ears and fully embrace your Disney vacation. No matter your station in life, it’s important to remember that you are never too old, too cool, too important, too rich, or too popular, to appreciate the people you love and have fun with them.
2. Go the extra mile and mind the details
Walt Disney World is a fantastic showcase for the importance of attention to detail. Mr. Disney left a legacy, making sure everything is just so. This can be seen in all of your travels throughout the park- on the costumes, in the attractions, and even in restrooms. Details make the Disney experience rich, and set it apart from other theme parks. Just take a look at the Rapunzel themed courtyard between “it’s a small world” and “The Haunted Mansion”. That’s a restroom area, and yet it is one of the most beautifully themed areas in the park. Help your children develop a discerning eye that can not only appreciate details in Disney, but in art, music, and in their daily lives. What if Walt didn’t think about how many trash cans would be needed in a park? What if the Imagineers didn’t make the queues (the waiting areas for rides) so interactive and interesting? Kiddos can apply this kind of “go the extra mile” mentality to their schoolwork and in their creative and athletic endeavors.
3. You can’t always get what you want
When children in the schools where I work insist that they really want something and don’t take “no” for an answer, I am always reminded of the great Rolling Stone’s tune (and to their dismay, I usually sing it to them and explain the meaning). Disney is a magical place, but it’s also a place full of temptation. That Mickey plush toy? I want it. This t-shirt? I want it. A third Mickey ice cream bar? I want it. The bottom line is, unless you want to go broke, you can’t buy everything for your children. If we cave in, we teach our children that if they beg long enough, we will give in. Trust me, this is a lesson we do not want to teach our kids for our sanity’s sake for the next 10-20 years of our life. Either set a budget for your child to stick to, or simply say “no” sometimes and stand your ground. Explain to children in advance that there will be many fun things available to buy in the parks, and that sometimes you may say “yes”, but sometimes you will say ”no”, and that “no” is the final word. Sticking to your “no” a few times should be plenty for your child to know you are serious.
4. Appreciate culture, diversity, and differences
Your child will see many different types of people at Disney – people of different nationalities and religions, as well as people with differing physical and mental abilities. Depending on where you hail from, this may be typical for your child, or it may be an eye-opening experience. Set an example for your child. Do not shy away from or avoid people who are different from your family. If you child asks a question about another person that may be dressed differently than they’re used to seeing, respond to them quietly or tell the child you will answer them later in private. Expressing to our children how Disney World is a place that people from all over the world enjoy and though they may be different from us, speak another language or have some sort of physical issue, they’re valuable individuals worthy of respect and kindness.
Another fun way to help your child appreciate culture- enjoy a few hours in the World Showcase in Epcot. Adults love the World Showcase for its food and drink, but there are actually some fun kids’ activities such as collecting passport stamps and coloring Duffy bears in each country. As you walk through the countries, show your children some of the recreated landmarks, talk with cast members from different countries (they’re happy to answer questions about their homelands), and share some tasty international treats with your kids.
5. Patience is a virtue
Waiting is a part of life, and your children might as well learn about that in Disney. You might want to explain waiting to your children in advance. Your family will have to wait a lot- for rides, for character meet and greets, for food, for shows to begin, for busses to arrive. Setting an example that a positive attitude makes waiting more pleasant is the best thing you can do. There will be no FastPass+ options at the DMV, post office, or grocery store, so help your kids become patient waiters by setting a good example!
6. How you treat others matters
Why do you feel so magical when you are in Disney? I think it has a lot to do with how the cast members treat Disney guests. Where else in the world do you receive consistent, friendly service with a genuine smile and eye contact? Have your kids take notice of how the cast members use manners and respectful behavior, and how nice it feels to be treated that way. The world would be a better place if everyone who visited Disney came back acting like a cast member!
Whether you intended to make your trip educational or not, I hope that you’ve gotten some ideas about how to open a dialog about good character with your kids on your next trip to Disney. You don’t have to make your kids write an essay or talk the topic to death. Just remember that the most important thing you can do is set an example in the way you act and comment on things during your trip.