What Disney Characters Want

I’ve been debating whether to write this post as I know there are quite a few similar posts out there but I felt its information that as many Disney guests as possible need to hear. Visiting Disney theme parks is a lot of fun and meeting the famous Disney characters is a favorite activity for many children and adults alike. Having worked in Walt Disney World entertainment for seven years, I’ve seen plenty of the good and the bad. My experience is from Disney World so there might be some procedural differences in other parks but I’d be surprised if a lot of it’s not the same for all the Disney theme parks. Also, of course I can’t speak for every single character performer but this information is based on my own experience as well as many conversations with other performers. Without further ado here are some tips from a former performer to make character meet and greets go smoothly and be more enjoyable for you and the character.

The biggest most important thing Disney characters want is the same thing most everyone in the service industry and really everywhere wants. And that’s simply to be treated with respect. I hope most of you are thinking “duh” (or whatever the current head smacking slang is) but you’d be surprised how many people don’t show basic human decency while at a theme park. It’s pretty simple. Be polite and don’t crowd, grab, hit, kick, step on, pull at, pick up, poke, jab or grope any part of a character. Contrary to popular belief characters can be physically injured by your actions and even if something doesn’t hurt that doesn’t mean it’s not annoying and rude. Also, don’t encourage or allow your children to do any of the things on that long list either. Most characters aren’t going to care much if a two-year-old hits them because they know kids that young don’t know any better but they aren’t going to be happy if that toddler’s parents don’t intervene or worse look on and laugh or encourage the bad behavior. (Is hitting, pulling, poking etc things you want to teach your child anyways)? Don’t make inappropriate comments about a characters tight or revealing apparel. They will not think you are witty or cute, they’ve probably heard it 10 times that day. The first thing I listed in the don’ts was “crowd” which I think many people don’t think about. Characters are there to be hugged but when you’re approaching a character, particularly in a large group or family try to give them a little personal space unless your hugging or posing for a picture. I think I only heard one mother ever say “don’t crowd him” (referring to Friar Tuck) and I wanted to hug her, I was so happy. My next point is less important as it is really unintentional and characters are very used to it but characters are often touched in uncomfortable ways or handled roughly by very nice people with the best of intentions. It’s nice to be mindful of where your placing your hands during photo and hugs, the characters anatomy doesn’t always line up with the performers. Usually higher up on the back or resting on their shoulder are safe places to put your hands. Also, remember many performers are very petite. It’s common for larger framed (mostly men) to get excited and playfully rough house a little. Just remember a 5ft 85lbs girl probably does not want to be bear hugged by a 6ft 200lbs man. Most characters will take these unintentional small things in stride but it’s nice if you keep them in mind.

Now that we’re treating characters with respect, which I hope is a given to most of you, let’s treat them each like the character they are. Performers work hard to bring a character to life and give people some magic and joy (at least if they’re doing it right). So go ahead and scratch Pluto behind the ear and tell him he’s a good boy. Bow to princesses. Salute Captain Hook. Feel free to ask simple, easy to answer, appropriate questions that are in character to answer (yes or no questions are great). Do not ask the performer questions about themselves. Nothing is more annoying than hearing “are you hot in there?” (Yes). “Are you a boy or a girl? Where do you see out of?” (Doesn’t matter). Always talk to the character and not the performer. They will not think you’re clever for figuring them out or for knowing some bit of information you heard from your friend who was on the college program. They will however appreciate their hard work in staying in character being recognized by you treating them exactly how you would the character you see in front of you. (Except don’t kick villains or anything).

Here’s a scenario many of you may be familiar with: you’ve waited an hour to see the Mouse himself and upon getting to the front of the line your child screams and cries in utter terror. I know that is beyond frustrating but please don’t just drop your wailing kid up there by Mickey so you can get a picture. As my husband pointed out childhood memories are preferable to childhood trauma.  So what can you do? I recommend trying to see a character with a shorter line to test things out before waiting in a humongous line. If you do find yourself standing in front of Goofy with a scared child it’s okay to take a moment to try to coax the child into meeting with the character. Let the character do their thing, they are often good at winning scared children over. If  your kid’s not in complete hysterics you can try carrying the child up and staying up there for the picture. Would you rather have a picture with you in it or no picture at all?

If you really want things to go smoothly be aware of the characters limitations and aware of their and the other guests time (I’ve lumped these two together because a lot the same advice applies to both). Disney entertainment cast members have to constantly balance quality verses quantity. Every guest who has a meet and greet with a character deserves a meaningful interaction. At the same time there are a whole lot if people wanting these meaningful interactions. Characters would much rather spend the few moments they have with each guest giving high fives, hugs, kisses and having fun than fumbling with autograph books or posing for excessive pictures. If you ask a Disney performer what their least favorite part of the job is you’re likely to get “signing a million autographs a day” as the answer. That’s not to say you can’t collect characters autographs, just be smart about it. Have your autograph books and pens open. It can be hard to open books with paws and always takes up extra time to find a page. Also if you hand a character a closed book, even if they are capable of opening books, they will open it to any random (hopefully blank, if they can see well enough to tell) page and sign. So your signatures will be spread through the book all willy-nilly (madness, madness I tell you). This can be hard for kids but it’s a nice touch if you hand the book right side up to the character which is up side down to you. Pen lids are very difficult to get off, click pens are preferable because they’re very easy to use, still they should already be clicked open to simplify things. Offering the character a normal sized to a little oversized (gigantic pens are as bad as tiny ones) pen is very important. An autograph written with a golf pencil probably isn’t going to look very good. The absolute favorite of 9 out if 10 characters (I made that statistic up) are the full-sized Sharpies that click open. They are easy to grip, open and write beautifully. Do not get the mini Sharpies, they are very difficult to grab. When handing a character a Sharpie be careful to give them somewhere to grab that won’t get marker on them. A character will always use one pen from your group or family, no matter how many books you have. It is hard and time-consuming to grab a different pen for each book they sign. Explain this to children so the don’t get mad when Mickey doesn’t use their pen. If there’s more than one character standing together, Chip and Dale for example, and you have more than one autograph book, give them each a pen and book to so they can sign at the same time. Really you should only need two pens since it is rare to find more than two characters standing together. In my opinion if a child isn’t old enough to understand the autograph book it’s really a waste to get them one, unless you are going to use the signatures in a scrapbook or something. If you really want to get your 6-month-old an autograph book, go for it but baby won’t care one way or another. Time to tell a cute story to illustrate this point. Friar Tuck was visited by an adorable 2 to 3-year-old boy. The Friar knelt down and showed the boy as he signed the autograph book. The boy shook his head as he watched and said “Oh no! Don’t do that.” Then snatched the book back and ran to his dad with the indignant proclamation “Look! He scribbled all over it!” It’s also common for toddlers to refuse to hand their book to the character. It just makes more sense to save autographs till closer to pre-school age. It can also be fun to have other items signed by characters, like shirts, hats or stuffed animals. Just know that things like that are hard to sign and the signatures may not be pristine. If you want a shirt signed it’s best to be prepared with something flat to stretch it over, like a book or rigid price of cardboard. This will make it much easier and your autographs will look much neater. Also bring a Sharpie or marker, not a pen for anything but paper. (There are certain things Disney characters can not sign which I will list later).

Of course you’re going to want to take pictures with characters and posing for pictures is one of the most important parts of their job. However, you really don’t need 20 pictures with each character. It’s just rude to the other people in line. It’s totally okay to take a couple of pictures, for instance one with just the kids and one with the whole family. Or give a kid (or adult) a picture alone with his or her favorite character. But it’s really not necessary to get a picture of the kids, then a family picture, then a picture with each child individually, then a picture just with the kids and Grandma then a picture with Grandma and Mom then a picture with each kid and Dad…you get my point. And I’m not making this up there are really people who do this. And after the first few Minnie Mouse will probably just be holding the same pose (while an unseen performer rolls her eyes) as each new grouping of your family runs up for another picture. If you want to see characters but don’t want to wait in line, character dining can be fun but you may not get much time with each character as they usually have a lot of tables to see in a very short time. There are a few locations that are often less busy, Chip and Dale’s Garden Grill at Epcot is usually not too busy (usually is the key word, it sometimes gets busy particularly around Christmas).

Another tip that should be obvious, just wait your turn. I’ve seen families standing off to the side of the line trying to sneak their kids in between other families for longer than it would have taken them to just wait in line. It’s understood that young children will sometimes run ahead and hug a character before they can be stopped. In that case they expect they’ll receive a pat on the back and be gently turned around to go back where they came from. It can be hard to tell if children have gone up to a character with the wrong family, even if the kids look very different from each other, we live in a beautifully diverse world. It is totally within your rights to politely alert a character if there are kids with your family that shouldn’t be. A simple “Oops Pluto, that ones not with us” and the extra child should be kindly ushered away so you can get a lovely family photo. Don’t try to talk your way to the front of the line (everyone knows you don’t have a flight leaving in two hours) or try to stop characters from going in at their scheduled time. There is always “one more” family or group that wants to see them. They’re not being mean and picking on you, they have to go in. Nearly everyone has come from far away and there’s hundreds of birthday boys and girls in the park everyday. The only good reason why people get let to the front of the line or have characters stay out past their scheduled time to see them is if they are with someone who has extreme special needs or is with a wish granting organization like The Make a Wish Foundation (and are probably staying at Give Kids the World). And trust me when I say you wouldn’t want to trade places with one of those families just to avoid lines. (If you are with Give Kids the Word or something like that. Please ignore what I’ve said about not taking too much time and take all the time you want). If you see a character walking don’t try to stop them or shove your stroller or child in front of them unless you want your child stepped on because Piglet can’t see very well. Do wave and say “hi” or hold your hand out for a passing high-five. If you want to meet with this character ask or watch where they ware going, they are very likely walking to a line waiting for them which you can join or if they’re leaving there is a good chance they will be back in two or three minutes. You will usually see someone with the character who you can direct questions to.

Now all that’s left is making sure you know some of the rules Disney characters are held to. They can not sign money, flags (from any nation), clothing someone is wearing at the time, advertisements or anything inappropriate (like a hat with swear words). I’m probably forgetting a few things, so feel free to remind me if you think of more taboo items. They cannot take pictures with inappropriate clothing in view. If you are wearing a shirt with inappropriate material on it characters can refuse to take the picture or pose on away that covers the possibly offensive material. Is it really a good idea to wear your naked lady shirt to a family theme park? Last but not least characters may not hold or pick up babies or children for safety purposes.

This may seem like a lot but really the most importance thing (besides the respect part) is to have fun! That’s what you’re there for, right? So give big hugs, pose in fun ways for pictures, tell Pluto he’s your favorite (he is right?), take pictures to remember your awesome vacation. Take a deep breath and don’t worry so much about seeing and doing everything and enjoy what you’re doing. If you are polite and fun to visit with I can guarantee you will have a better experience. Even though performers are trained to be kind to everyone, its human nature to treat people better when they are treating you well.

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Do What I Say Not What I Do

I’m going to start this post with a disclaimer right away. I think one of the biggest problem with being a parent today is all the judgement we receive. No matter what we do someone will judge us for it and although I try not to judge, I’d be lying if I said I never, ever do. I really don’t want this to be a judgmental blog however. (Most of my posts seem to end in everyone holding hands and singing Kumbaya). The purpose of this post is to defend my parenting and not to judge individuals for their own choices. I will be writing negative things about other parenting styles in order to show why I make the choices I do but this is not meant as a personal judgement on other parents.

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If that meme was more honest it would say “Once upon a time parents beat the crap out of their kids and those kids grew up emotionally stunted and took their bottled up anger out on their own children by beating the crap out of them.” Okay, that might have been a little harsh. In all fairness the meme doesn’t actually mention physical punishment but I think it’s implied as “once upon a time” corporal was the punishment of choice. It’s also important to understand I am not against discipline. Discipline is absolutely essential to raising children, they need firm boundaries. What so many people don’t seem to realize is that spanking does not equal discipline.

It seems lately my Facebook newsfeed has been bombarded with pro-spanking memes making ridiculous claims. (Oddly enough, I had trouble actually finding most of those memes while writing this. So I apologize that I don’t have as many examples as I would like). As fun as memes are, they also really annoy me. People take them so seriously even though they often aren’t based on any fact or research or logic at all. Any idiot with an Internet connection can make a meme.

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See, I made that, it only takes a few minutes. My point is just because it’s on a meme doesn’t mean it’s true and I’m sick I being told I’m a bad parent because I choose not to spank. Particularly since the vast majority of experts and research back up my choice. Parents who don’t spank are blamed (in meme at least) for all of societies problems. Which is interesting since there are way more parents who spank their kids than who don’t. The statistics vary (all say spanking is most common) but one I saw repeatedly was that 94% of 3-4 year olds were spanked in the last year. So are those 6% of kids not getting spanked the cause if all our societal woes? If you really believe that the younger generation are mostly entitled spoiled brats yet most of them were spanked as kids, how can not spanking be the cause? There’s also this assumption that there was some magical time when all people were decent, hardworking people and everything was perfect. Sorry to burst your bubble but that’s complete bull. There has always been violence and other negatives in every society and the older generations have always scowled at the younger. Yes the world has changed but in good ways as well as bad.

I acknowledge that a lot of people have gone too far the other way and fail to discipline their kids at all. Being an over-indulgent permissive parent isn’t good for children. I think many parents who don’t give their kids enough discipline have decided not to spank but don’t know how to discipline without spanking. I mostly just feel sorry for these parents. Being an overly strict militant “because I said so” type parent doesn’t benefit children either. The assumption that if you don’t spank your children that means you don’t discipline them is completely false. The most important part of discipline isn’t punishment, it’s teaching. Any punishment (especially physical punishment) given without a talk about why the child is being punished and the reason why that behavior is wrong is completely ineffective. So, little Sally does something wrong and is spanked without discussion. All little Sally has learned is “If Mom or Dad sees me do this I get spanked. So I better not let Mom or Dad catch me doing that.” It doesn’t teach a child what they’re doing is wrong or why, only not to get caught doing it. Some parents do use explanation and other discipline in conjunction with spanking and I can respect that, even though I choose to use other methods.

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This was one of the most ridiculous memes I found but not the only one making claims that kids who aren’t spanked will end up in prison or as a criminal. There’s no evidence whatsoever that this is true. The evidence actually points the other direction. There have been numerous studies connecting spanking to aggression as well as substance abuse, anti-social behavior and these are just the problems linked to spanking that are likely to land a person in jail. If there has been a study revealing the percentage of prison inmates who were spanked as children, I couldn’t find it. However, 80% of prison inmates were physically abused as children (some states consider spanking with anything other than an open hand abuse). Which clearly demonstrates that lack of physical discipline is not the problem. Or maybe the other 20% of prisoners are these horrible people who weren’t spanked that I keep hearing about.

My parents philosophy was to only spank (just a couple of swats over the pants) if we (their three children) put ourselves in immediate physical danger. If I was ever spanked or threatened with a spanking I don’t remember it. So I don’t consider myself someone who was spanked as a child. The main reason I don’t spank or plan to spank my daughter, although most experts back me up, comes from my own observation. The old saying “do what I say not what I do” just doesn’t work well with kids. One of the main ways children learn is by modeling or copying their caregivers actions and behaviors. If you swear in front of Little Billy it doesn’t matter how many times you tell him not to say those words, as long as he hears you say them he will too. Same goes with “please” and “thank you” it’s great to tell kids to be polite but seeing their parents be polite is the quickest way the learn it. I see my daughter copying my words and actions on a daily basis. A couple of months ago she picked up  a bag, put it over her shoulder like a purse and exclaimed “I’m going to Zumba!” As a child I was told at school and church and by my parents that it was good to give to charity. But what really sticks in my head, the real reason why I give to charity is because I saw my mom physically putting money in the Salvation Army drive bucket. The examples we set as parents make ten times the impression on children than what we tell them. So (logic alert) then how can we hit a child (spanking is hitting) and expect them to learn not to hit. It’s a prime example of “do what I say not what I do.” Several studies have linked spanking to increased aggression in children. The most in-depth and comprehensive study I read about found that children who were spanked more than twice a month** at three years old were more aggressive at age five. I’ve gotten in more than one discussion about spanking with people who are adamant that it worked so well to keep them in line as children. Then in later conversations they would tell me stories about all the crazy bad things they got away with growing up. Stuff I would have never dreamed of doing. One coworker who fervently endorsed spanking even told me about the horrible fights he got into with his brothers, one of them beating him badly with a golf club. I always wondered how these people didn’t see the connection and would yell about how well spanking worked and then laugh about how aggressive and misbehaved they were as children. Of course all children are different and some are naturally more difficult than others. And even the best parent in the world can have an unruly child or one that grows up to have severe problems. Parenting can only go so far and adults are responsible for their own decisions.

The excuse I’ve heard most often for spanking is  “I was spanked and I turned out okay.” Well, guess what? I wasn’t spanked and I turned out okay too. For one thing “okay” is relative and I’ve heard some very not “okay” people say that. But mostly just because something didn’t horribly damage you doesn’t mean it is the only or even best way of doing things. It used to be common place for women to drink and smoke during pregnancy and most babies turned out okay. That doesn’t mean I’m going to knock back some beers the next time I’m “in the family way” (okay, I don’t actually like beer but I won’t drink any cocktails either). I never once wore a helmet while riding my bike when I was a kid and I turned out okay. But I sure as hell make my daughter wear one. Those may be extreme examples but still relevant.

Another reason I often hear for spanking is that kids need to fear their parents to respect them. Fear and respect may overlap sometimes but they are not the same thing. I fear serial killers, I do not respect them. I respect my husband, I do not fear him. I can’t even imagine how sad it would be to grow up afraid of your parents. Yes, if your child is terrified of you, they will probably behave but that’s not way for a kid to live and kids also won’t go to their parents with their problems if they’re afraid. Fear based discipline may be easier and get quicker results but it is not good for the family dynamic.  I’m glad to say my daughter doesn’t seem to be the slightest bit afraid of us. She knows the “I mean business voice” but I wouldn’t say it scares her. You may be wondering what my un-spanked toddler is like. I have to say, I think we have been lucky to get a naturally, relatively easy toddler (if you can call any toddler easy). But I think we deserve a tiny bit of credit as parents. Of course she misbehaves sometimes, she throws tantrums and gets into things she shouldn’t but for an almost two-year old she’s comparatively good. I can’t tell you how often we have servers at restaurants or random people at the store comment on how good she is.

Okay, I’m going to briefly mention some really uncomfortable things that I feel should be touched on but I don’t want to dwell on. First, spanking can lead to actual abuse. As a child gets used to being spanked parents sometimes escalate the corporal punishment until the child gets really injured. Second, on rare occasions a child can associate the pain from spanking with love and even sex (remember spanking occurs on an erogenous zone) and it can lead to sexual deviance as an adult or possibly worse cause them to seek out abusive relationships. With all the reasons not to spank and many alternative forms of discipline. I choose the alternatives. Trust me, most kids today would rather be spanked than have their PSP or iPod taken away for a week. Can I say for certainty that I will never, ever under any circumstances spank a child? I really can’t, but I hope I never do.

I did find a minority of experts who say an occasional spanking (over the pants, open hand) in conjunction with other discipline can be beneficial to children. And I honestly don’t believe if you spank your children you’re a bad parent. I have known many great parents who spank their children. So, if YOU want to spank YOUR children that’s your choice. (Although, I urge you to research the subject and not just do it because that’s what you’re used too). But please for the love of all that is holy please stop blaming me and those like me for all of societies problems. And please, please stop posting stupid memes about what a terrible parent I am for doing things in a way that is different from you and possibly a way that is harder but the way that I am sure is best for my family.

* If you would like to discipline your children without spanking but don’t know how or are having trouble there are a lot of great resources. For toddlers The Happiest Toddler on the Block has really helped us. If you need help finding resources, I would be happy to oblige.

** I originally posted “year” instead of “month” accidentally. My bad.

Sources

(I was really lazy and didn’t follow proper bibliography format this time but it should be enough if you want to find out more or check my info).

“Is it Okay to Spank?” by Kitty O’Callaghan. CNN.com

http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org

“Spanking Teaches Kids All the Wrong Lessons” by Laura Berman. Chicago Sun-Times.

“Pro/Con: Spanking” by Jessica Pauline Ogilvie. Los Angeles Times

“Spanking Can Make Children Aggressive, Study Says” by Pohla Smith. Post-gazette.com.

“Spanking Children: A Guide for the Science Minded” by Gwen Dewer P.h.d. Parenting Science.

“The Influence of Corporal Punishment on Crime” by Adah Maurer P.h.d. The Natural Child Project.

“Plain Talk About Spanking” by Jordan Riak http://www.nospank.com

I also used general information from my college human development class, most of which was verified by other sources above.