This is a two part series on developing your child’s good mental health while traveling to the Disney parks.

Ever consider how a trip to a Disney Park can help develop your child’s good mental health?  Traveling to a Disney park provides an excellent opportunity for parents and adults to help develop and fortify a child’s mental health.  Families can focus on each other, and the parks provide an ample supply of healthy learning experiences when children are highly motivated. The National Institute of Mental Health provides an outline of the signs of good mental health in children.

A child’s mental health is probably good if he or she usually:
•    is interested in other people’s well-being and treats them with respect
•    treats animals with kindness
•    seems to feel safe and comfortable rather than fearful
•    can “bounce back” from disappointments or frustrations
•    can show anger without hurting self or others
•    chooses to act in ways that are safe
•    uses positive ways to get attention
•    stands up for himself or herself
•    gets involved in activities at home and in the classroom
•    is willing to try new things (activities, foods, friendships, etc.)
•    will persist when trying a challenging task
•    can express feelings to some trusted person, instead of keeping them “bottled up”
•    shows a range of emotions, both positive and negative

Ever imagine that a long line at Disney could be beneficial? Lines provide many opportunities for families to discuss thoughts and feelings about the anticipated attraction, to help plan the next activity, to learn to be polite to others and respect their place in line. Waiting in line for that favorite attraction helps children learn to delay gratification.   Psychological research attributes the ability to delay gratification with the development of impulse control, and such delay may enhance academic achievement and life success. This strategy may be especially helpful for children with ADHD and impulsivity.

What better place to teach children about animals than at Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Animal Kingdom teaches conservation and animal protection in an exciting setting mixed with fun activities and shows. Animal Kingdom offers an incredible way to learn about the importance of conservation and preservation through animal trails, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, or through the lessons learned about loss and extinction when riding through time on Dinosaur. Who can help but love an animal like Pumba from the Lion King?  Treating animals with kindness can help children develop empathy for others, especially those more vulnerable.

As with life, the parks come with their share of disappointments, but did you stop to consider what a child learns when they bounce back from disappointments and frustrations?  Whether a long line in the heat, missing your favorite character at a meet in greet, or even arriving at Disney after a much anticipated wait and travel only to find your favorite ride is being refurbished, one is bound to experience disenchantment amid the enchantment. However, Disney provides so many other opportunities to seek and explore, who can stay unhappy for long?  Life is filled with disappointments, and learning to cope may help your child’s resiliency for future losses.

Vacations can be stressful, and fatigue brings a variety of negative emotions. Prepare for stress and fatigue when traveling and use this opportunity to work through a range of emotions. Learning to grow and enjoy family and friends, we often feel a wide variety of emotions including empathy, compassion, cooperation, and forgiveness. It’s human nature, and children should learn that no one, except maybe Figment, is happy all of the time.  Figment, after all, lives in a world of imagination. Children will want and need to shed tears and express their anger. While excessive drama is not necessary, let your child express his or her feelings in an appropriate setting.

Look for part two in our series on your child’s good mental health and the park!

Contributed by: Beth B. (NDM #226) Beth is the DDL Special Needs Blogger. She is also a contributor at Mouse-Aid.

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