Highly Sensitive Kids

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Disney World with Sensitive Kids

Podcast Episode Recap with Put On Your Travel Ears

Are you planning a trip to Disney World with sensitive kids?

I had an amazing opportunity to be a guest on a podcast Put On Your Travel Ears, hosted by Gina and Sarah. They are two wonderful Disney mamas and co-owners of The Charming Travel Co travel agency. 

We got the chance to discuss some tips when it comes to going to Disney World with highly sensitive kids. The episode starts with some general news and updates about Disney World, and we start talking about this topic around the 6:55 minute mark.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure for more information.

Why I started the Moms Make It Magical blog

Both of my children have some characteristics of being sensitive. While I was planning our trips to Disney World, I wished that there was one website or blog to get all the information I needed. 

I was totally that Type A mom who was watching all the Youtube videos of the rides and restaurants, reading Disney fan forums discussing ride experiences for non-thrill seekers, and watching room and resort tour videos. I wanted to be fully prepared to avoid the things that would trigger sensory overload meltdowns. And I wanted to choose activities that would be enjoyable for them. 

And I realized that this information could be really helpful to other families out there who have similar challenges. A Disney World trip with highly sensitive kids might not look the same as everyone else’s, and that’s okay. Disney World is for everyone, and can accommodate all sorts of different needs. 

What is a sensitive kid?

When I talk about a sensitive kid, or a highly sensitive child, I am not referring to someone who just cries a lot. It’s a personality trait, defined by the psychologist Dr. Elaine N. Aron, and she talks about this in great detail in the book The Highly Sensitive Child. 

It is a trait that you find in about 15-20% of the general population, and it is NOT a diagnosis. Some of the outward behaviors of being highly sensitive—such as being cautious, not enjoying surprises, having heightened emotions, being afraid of loud noises—can overlap with some diagnoses. Common ones you’ll see some overlap with are sensory processing disorder, autism, ADHD, anxiety and OCD. 

But it is totally possible to be highly sensitive without any kind of diagnosis as well.

Related: 7 Signs Your Child is Highly Sensitive

Best Tips for going to Disney World with Sensitive Kids?

Prepare Beforehand

The most important tip for going to Disney with highly sensitive kids is to prepare as much as you can beforehand. Do as much research you can about the rides, restaurants, and your hotel, BEFORE ever getting on that flight or in your car. Be aware of what kinds of things trigger overwhelm and overstimulation in your children. It can be completely different for each individual kid. 

Not only should you prepare as much as you can ahead of time, involve your kids in the planning process. Get their input on what attractions or activities they’d like to participate in. 

While there are many families who like to do that last minute “surprise” vacation for their kids as they drive up to Disney World, I strongly discourage doing that if you have extra sensitive children. The more familiar they become with all things Disney, the better it will be for your kids. 

Related: How to Prepare Your Highly Sensitive Child for Your Disney World Vacation

Become Familiar with Characters

We like to get our kids familiar with the characters by reading lots of book. We especially love this Disney Junior Encyclopedia, which provides a profile and explanation for more than 150 Disney & Pixar characters. Disney movies can be really hard for highly sensitive kids for a variety of reasons—conflict, death or loss, constant visual stimulation, scary villains, or loud and sudden noises. There are also a lot of fun Disney-themed board games like Color Brain or Eye Found it, which can help build familiarity at home before ever setting foot in the parks.

Don’t Rush!

Another tip for going to Disney with sensitive kids is to slow down! It’s so important to be okay with not rushing through the day. Highly sensitive kids do so much better when they can take it slow, because it takes a lot for them to process everything going on around them. It’s essential to schedule in days where you’re NOT going to the parks, especially if your trip is at least 4 or 5 days long. And even on the days that you go to the parks, build in time to take breaks.

Read Ride/Restaurant/Resort Reviews

I would also recommend checking out the inventory of ratings for Disney World rides, restaurants, and resorts that I am working on building out on this blog. Everything is broken down and scored according to the level of overwhelm and overstimulation it might be for a highly sensitive child. 

Gina shared about an experience with a client where character dining ended up being something their kid absolutely hated. It can be so helpful to work with a travel agent in situations like these, because they were able to have all their dining reservations changed to account for their child’s preferences to not do character meals!

Set Clear Expectations with Your Kids

Sarah also discussed how important it is to set expectations with sensitive kids. This is so they know exactly what their day is going to look like. She had a client whose daughter had SPD (sensory processing disorder), and they learned that she did really well as long as she knew what to expect that day. Knowing when and where they’ll be having their meals, when they’ll take a break, and when they get pool time, set her daughter up for a smoother and more magical experience at Disney World.

Use the DAS Pass!

Another tip is to utilize the Disability Access Service Pass (DAS Pass) if your child has difficulty waiting in a traditional queue. Maybe it’s due to anxiety, autism, or ADHD. Whatever the reason, this is a great resource for families with neurodivergent kids. No, this doesn’t mean you get to skip the line! When you go to the attraction you’d like to ride, the Cast Members there will scan your magic band and give you a return time. This allows you and your family to wait somewhere else than the typical line.

Related: 18 Essential Items for Highly Sensitive Kids at Disney World

Disney World Fireworks with Sensitive Kids?

Fireworks can be so tough for highly sensitive kids! It is not only loud, but you can sometimes even feel the “boom!” of the explosions in your body. Plus you’re often in the midst of the large crowds, all eager to see the fireworks display. So much of this can be overwhelming for highly sensitive kids.

Step 1: Watch videos at home

I would suggest to watch videos of Disney’s fireworks shows ahead of time, way before your trip. I honestly don’t know how I would prepare for Disney World without the endless visual resources on Youtube! But anyway, this helps your child get used to the visuals, the light projections, and the music. Obviously it won’t be nearly as loud as it is in person, but it’s a great starting point.

Step 2: Watch fireworks from OUTSIDE the parks

If that goes well, I would choose to watch fireworks from a spot that isn’t in the parks. For the Magic Kingdom fireworks show, some great options are the Contemporary Resort, the Ticket and Transportation Center, or the beaches at Wilderness Lodge, Polynesian or the Grand Floridian. You’re able to get more exposure to the fireworks, but with enough distance to feel safe. For Epcot fireworks, you can see them from the Boardwalk Resort, Yacht & Beach Club, or even the new Riviera Resort. 

Step 3: Watch fireworks from a spot with an easy out

If your child is willing to watch from INSIDE the parks, choose a part of the park where you can have an easy out. So if you’re in the middle of the show and your child is starting to lose it and melt down, you can easily get out of there. At Magic Kingdom, that might mean watching from the train station near the entrance of the park. Choosing a spot like this also helps avoid being stuck in the post-fireworks crowds of people trying to get out of the park at the same time.

Use a Stroller

I also highly recommend bringing a stroller, even if your child may be a little older. It builds out a little safe space for them, where they can go in and hide if things feel too overwhelming.

In our case, my daughter was almost 6 years old at the time. On our 3rd trip to Disney World, she finally gave us the go ahead to try watching fireworks from inside the parks! She sat in our stroller, with her noise canceling headphones on, clutching a little lovey for the majority of the show…until she crawled out to see the final 5-10 minutes when she felt ready. This felt like a huge win for us. Previously, we were THAT family that was always rushing out of the park to get AWAY before the fireworks started, while everyone else was rushing IN to to try to get a spot for the show.

They Might Hate Fireworks No Matter What

But it is also possible that your children, no matter how much prep you do, will just not like fireworks. Ever. And that’s okay. It can feel disappointing as the parent, especially if it’s something that you wanted to experience for yourself. But our kids have their own preferences and tolerance levels, and we also have to respect how they feel. If watching fireworks is really intolerable for them, is it really worth it to push it?

Learning Moments

One thing I’ve realized about myself as I’ve planned Disney trips for my family, and any type of family outing is that I would subconsciously place pressure on my kids to have fun. It sounds kind of silly, but it’s totally true. 

Adjusting My Own Expectations

Sometimes we, as parents, plan these vacations or outings and EXPECT our children to enjoy it and react in a certain way. If they don’t react in the way we imagined, it’s easy to feel frustrated or even resentful. It’s like, why would they rather spend time at the pool? Why don’t like any of the treats? Why don’t they appreciate this epic trip I planned? I’ve learned that I need to adjust my own expectations of how my children react to their experiences at Disney World or any family outing. 

For my highly sensitive daughter in particular, she is often very expressionless in new and stimulating situations. She’ll have that deer-in-headlights kind of look, and it’s hard to know if she’s really enjoying whatever we’re doing.

Even from infancy, she was a serious baby who rarely laughed and was always intensely observing everything. It’s actually quite normal for highly sensitive kids to take time to process things.

So while it’s really hard to tell in the moment, she’ll usually talk my ear off later about what she felt, what she liked, and what she didn’t like. I often have to remind myself that just because I think they will like something, doesn’t mean THEY will actually like it.

Birthday Gift Phenomenon

Gina mentioned the birthday gift phenomenon. Sometimes you, as the parent, put so much time and thought into THE perfect gift for your child’s birthday. And then they end up having more fun with the box than the actual gift itself. But it’s another reminder to be able to see through my children’s eyes, even if it’s different from my perspective or expectations.

Don’t Feel Pressure to “Do It All”

Sarah discussed how they, as travel agents, always send thorough itineraries for each of their families. They include lists of things they think that family would enjoy. But Sarah emphasized that the major caveat here is that you should NOT have to feel like you have to do it all. There is so much you’ll miss if you feel like you’re trying to fit it all in and rushing from one activity to another. There are so many magical moments, that are often totally unplanned for and happen in the spur of the moment. 

Did any of this resonate with you?

If you’ve realized you have highly sensitive kids AND you’re planning a trip to Disney World, come check out my Facebook group! It’s a great way to connect with other families with similar challenges, to share experiences, ask questions, and get advice. The information you find there could also be helpful for adults who have anxiety, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), or other challenges that require a little extra planning.

Connect with The Charming Travel Co.

Gina and Sarah are travel agents and co-owners at The Charming Travel Co. They want to change the world one family vacation at a time! Tune into their podcast PUT ON YOUR TRAVEL EARS, as they put out new weekly episodes about Disney, Universal, all-inclusives, and cruises. And follow them on Facebook here.

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18 Essential Items for Highly Sensitive Kids at Disney World

Are you trying to figure out what are essential items for highly sensitive kids at Disney World? The last thing you want to do is haul everything in your house for a family vacation. I have to admit, I tend to be an overpacker because I want to be prepared for all circumstances. But after multiple trips to Disney World with my highly sensitive kids, I have figured out a list of must-bring, essential items that you ABSOLUTELY need.

If you’re not sure what highly sensitive means, read more here.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure for more information.

1. Noise Canceling Headphones or Ear Plugs

Highly sensitive and sensory sensitive kids startle easily from sudden noises. And constant auditory stimulation is so overwhelming for them. My kids will sometimes complain that their ears hurt or that they have a headache after being exposed to lots of loud noises. So, how do you prevent your highly sensitive kids from sensory overload due to the loud sounds experienced at Disney World?

The answer is noise canceling headphones or ear plugs! We have two pairs of these headphones, which has a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 25 dB. The NRR measures how effective the device is at reducing noise levels. Any product rated in the mid-20s and low 30s is considered pretty good! There is a different model of these headphones which have a slightly better NRR at 27 dB.

For the littler ones, we love Baby Banz. My son outgrew his about 2.5 years old, but it was so comfortable for him even as a baby.

We used noise canceling headphones ALL the time on our Disney trips. Parades, shows, rides, and even the bathroom. Those notoriously loud automatic flushing toilets at Disney World can scare any newly potty-trained kiddos.

This is why this is an essential item for highly sensitive kids at Disney World.

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How To Prepare Your Highly Sensitive Child for Disney World

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure for more information.

If you are planning to take your highly sensitive or sensory sensitive child to Disney World for your family vacation, there are many ways you can prepare them. 

You might be wondering why you need to prepare them anyway.

Highly sensitive or sensory sensitive kids don’t do well with surprises and are easily overstimulated. Vacations in general can be tough because it’s such a big change from their regular routines and familiar surroundings.

Disney World vacations can be even more challenging due to the overwhelming amount of sensory and emotional experiences. 

This is why it’s all the more important to prepare and plan ahead of time, before you ever get on that airplane or in your car.  You can truly minimize (though not completely eliminate) the sensory overload meltdowns, and maximize the magic and fun for your highly sensitive kids.

So now that we understand WHY we need to prepare them, let’s think about HOW we can prepare them. Read on to find 11 strategies to prepare your highly sensitive child for their Disney World vacation.

Become Familiar with Disney Characters
Become Familiar with Rides
Become Familiar with the Hotel
Prepare for Loud Noises
Prepare for Crowds
Bring Other Items to Reduce Stimulation
Discuss General Expectations of Them
Find Things They Love
Get Walking
Make a Countdown
Adjust Your Expectations

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Why You SHOULD Take Your Highly Sensitive Child to Disney World

7 Reasons Why You Should Take Your Highly Sensitive Child to Disney World

Have you considered the reasons why you should take your highly sensitive child to Disney World? It’s true that highly sensitive people, especially children, are easily overwhelmed and get overstimulated quickly. 

It might seem like it makes no sense to go to Disney with highly sensitive kids (or even adults!). It’s hot. It’s crowded. There’s endless visual and auditory stimulation. I’ve even shared an article discussing 14 reasons why a Disney vacation can be hard for highly sensitive or sensory sensitive kids.

But I want to pivot a little, and think about 7 reasons why you should still take your highly sensitive child to Disney World anyway!

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Top 14 Reasons Why Disney Can Be Hard for Highly Sensitive Kids

Are your kids easily overwhelmed? Do they get overstimulated quickly? Are they prone to meltdowns when their routines are out of whack? Do sudden noises and big crowds bother them? And… are you planning a trip to Disney World?! 

The most magical place on earth can feel like one of the most overwhelming and overstimulating places to visit, even for those who don’t identify as highly sensitive. It might not seem like the best idea to bring your highly sensitive child to Disney World, but it can be 100% doable once you have a better understanding of why Disney can be hard for them. 

Here are the top 14 reasons why a Disney vacation can be hard for highly sensitive or sensory sensitive kids. 

7 Signs your child is highly sensitive, list.

7 Signs Your Child is Highly Sensitive

How do you know your child is “highly sensitive”?

Your Disney trip with your highly sensitive child deserves to be magical, and you can work on minimizing the meltdowns by planning ahead. But what does “highly sensitive” really mean? 

The word sensitive can have a negative connotation. Some stereotypes include: someone who is too emotional, has no coping skills, is fragile, weak, uptight, and has no “thick skin”. 

A more positive way to frame being highly sensitive is to say they are highly aware. Because of their heightened awareness, there is way more sensory input coming in via touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste than for your average child.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure for more information

Here are 7 signs that your child might be highly sensitive or highly aware:

1. Loves routines

Highly sensitive children thrive with predictable schedules and routines. Since they tend to startle easily and don’t enjoy surprises, it is helpful to have a clear plan. K loves knowing our weekly schedule and discussing the day ahead. Now that she understands the days of the week, she feels more in control of what’s happening.

Example: Sunday is church. Monday afternoons is ballet class. Thursday after school is swim class. If there are any changes, she copes much better if we give her a heads up instead of springing it on her at the last minute.

Related: 18 Essential Items to Pack for Highly Sensitive Kids at Disney World

2. Notices Any Change in Odor

I am often getting dinner prepped in the late afternoon while J is napping and K is playing in her room. When she comes down the stairs, she is amazingly accurate with identifying what I cooked that day. She is the first to point out if something is stinky or if something smells delicious.

Highly sensitive children often have a stronger sense of smell and have the potential to be bothered by it more than your average child.

3. Prefers Quieter Environments

Loud, noisy, chaotic places can be too much for highly sensitive children. K is usually so busy taking in everything around her that it becomes really hard for me to even get her attention! She hears conversations around her, notices the crying babies, hears the slamming of doors, and recognizes songs playing in the background.

It is hard to focus in environments like this, and after being exposed to a high level of noise for awhile, highly sensitive children need a bit of a break.

Related: How to Prepare Your Highly Sensitive Child for Disney World

4. Is a Perfectionist

Because K is so aware of everything, she also notices any “mistakes” or anything that is “out of place” in her mind. This makes her very particular about how things should be. It is a way for highly sensitive children to feel a sense of control, in a world where there is so much that is unpredictable and unknown. 

5. Has a High Level of Empathy

Highly sensitive children not only have a heightened “sensory” experience, they are also very attuned to others’ emotions. K is the first to notice if someone is hurt or upset, and she feels things very deeply. Even when watching TV shows or movies, she will get tears in her eyes if someone is sad, and she will cringe and turn away if there is a lot of conflict or fighting. Not only that, she will ask me a million questions afterwards to help her “process” what she experienced.

Related: 7 Reasons Why You SHOULD Take Your Highly Sensitive Child to Disney World 

6. Is Cautious and Takes Time to Process Before Making a Decision

Trying new things is hard for highly sensitive children. They need to observe other kids doing it first, think carefully about the pros and cons, and if they decide it’s something they want to do, they will proceed slowly and carefully. 

When we first started swimming lessons for K, she was not very excited about it. It took her months before she would even put on her goggles. And even more before putting her face in the water. Swimming was a new experience with so many unfamiliar sensory sensations. But with patience and continued exposure, she became more confident and eventually was able to swim the length of the pool with no flotation device! Proud mom moment.

Related: 14 Reasons Why Disney World Can Be Hard for Highly Sensitive Kids

7. Notices Subtle Details

Highly sensitive children will notice the subtle details that most others will miss. It could be things in their environment; they will be the first to know if something was moved to a different spot in a room. 

They also pick up subtleties in other’s reactions, whether it is a change in facial expression or tone. K was the first to ask about a scab on her uncle’s knee–something no one else saw. 

She is also the BEST at the game Color Brain (we have the Disney version), which is a game where you have to answer fun Disney questions with the correct colors. The color of Elsa’s cape during her coronation? The color of Buzz Lightyear’s hood? The color of Prince Philip’s cape? She got it all! Clearly, it is a game made for kids with great memory and who notice all the little details.

 

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Now that you know and understand some of the signs of a highly sensitive child, you can better prepare for your Disney vacation. You can try to accommodate some of their needs into your vacation plans, so that your kids will, not only tolerate, but ENJOY their trip to the most magical place on earth!

Less emotional and sensory overload equals fewer meltdowns. And fewer meltdowns means less stressed parents and families. A win for everyone!

If you’d like more information, you can find a simple “test” to see if your child might identify as highly sensitive right here.

Do you see any of these signs in your children? Have you heard the term “highly sensitive” before?

If you’re planning a trip to Disney World with your highly sensitive kids, you are NOT alone. Join me in my private Facebook group for exclusive tips and freebies, and find community with other Disney-loving families who have highly sensitive children.