If you have taken little kids to spend a long day at the park, you've probably been there. One of your little guys gets worn out, hot, and hungry. Then something sets them off. Some disappointment just befell this poor child and that was the end of the sanity. The meltdown begins.
Teenagers who haven't had much experience with children gawk in horror and confusion, "What are they doing to that kid?"
Young couples who don't yet have kids, look at each other in fear. They hope that is never going to happen to them.
Older married couples, like my wife and me, smile knowingly. We've been there before. We're sympathetic, we really are. It is one of those parts of the child-rearing years that is most memorable. We remember our little ones going into a red-faced screaming fit. It usually occurs in the 2-4 year old range. If you want to observe one, just sit at the tables between the fountain and Skyline on International Street around dinner time on a busy park day. You probably see several in one sitting.
One of the most memorable we saw during the 2016 season, was a little boy who was subbornly holding his ground in front of Starbucks on International Street. He was screaming at the top of his lungs. The moment before his dad advanced on him, to scoop him up and drag him to the car, he threw his shoe! That was the pièce de résistance! This screaming kid, with messy hair and tear-streaked cheeks, dropped to the ground in front of Starbucks and threw his shoe at his parents. It was epic!
Breaking down the problem
The main reason for this is that the child is over-tired. They've been at the park all day. They are exhausted. They are probably hot. They've likely been drinking soft drinks and eating park food all day.
Little kids can't sustain the level of energy a larger person can. We grown-ups have reserves of stored energy. We're also more in tune with our physical condition. We know when were thirsty and tired. The little ones just know something dissappointed them to the degree that it is now the end of the world.
Something was denied them, maybe it was a treat they saw in a window. Maybe the souvenir they wanted cost too much. Judging, with the park map in mind, from the location where I most often see them, they probably wanted to go back to the Planet Snoopy area, but were just told that it was time to leave.
An Ounce of Prevention
Throughout the book, I point out the advantages of making shorter visits to the park, more frequently. That is arguably the greatest benefit to the Gold Pass. You can stay for a little while and leave without feeling like you have to get your money's worth out of the one day cost of park admission. Visiting the park for stays of only four or fewer hours, is almost never going to get you into tantrum territory.
If you are doing a big, full day visit to the park, then you need to plan ahead and monitor your kids' energy levels throughout the day.
Rest Time - A good stroller is one of the best tools for bringing kids to the park. It serves as a home base for carrying diaper bags, water bottles and changes of clothes. If you have one with a good shade and a seat that lays back, you have a mobile napping place! Pick a time between lunch and dinner to give your child some quiet time. You can take them on a long walk on the quiet paths between Planet Snoopy and the Soak City water park. This shady path is a great place to just walk for 20-30 minutes. If your son or daughter successfully falls asleep during the walk, you can also find a quiet table or bench around the outer edges of the park to rest your own feet. This doesn't have to be a long nap. Usually a nice drink of water and a 20 minute nap is all that is needed for happy evening hours at the park.
If you have trouble getting them to relax and nap, an alternative would be to take them to a show. There are a few outdoor performances around the park, most offering shade and a place to sit. The best show to rest in is the dark, air conditioned Kings Island Theater where the fantastic acrobatic shows, like 2016 Origins, are offered several times on various days of the week. The performances are very entertaining. The music is a little loud for the purpose of rest. If you think you can get them to nap here in the dark, you might ask the ushers if you can sit toward the back or outer edges to improve your chances. The show lasts about 20-25 minutes. But you can go in and sit about 30 minuted before the scheduled show time. Your child might even get the rest they need before the show starts!
Two more ride options that are good for a brief rest are the Kings Island Railroad and the Boo Blasters dark ride.
Hydration - Just because the souvenir cups are refillable, doesn't mean you should keep pouring sugary, caffeinated drinks into your kids. Switching to water every other refill or keeping water bottles on hand will help keep your child's temperature regulated. Even if they insist they are not thirsty, you need to continuously keep encouraging them to take drinks.
You could even make a game out of it. One thing I used to do at EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World, was to stop at the drinking fountain for a sip of water EVERY time I passed one. It was a silly thing at first, but later in the 90° day, I realized I'd never felt so good at the vast Florida park. My energy was constant all day and I didn't feel hungry or tired.
Food - Similar to the hydration ideas above, you have to encourage little snacks at frequent intervals for the smaller children. The park rules state that you should not bring in food. I don't think they enforce this rule when it comes to snack items for little children. You can also hold on to a pack of oyster crackers that you get at Skyline. Those have saved our skin a couple times. The idea is to get them a little extra fuel about half-way between meal times. You can have an ice pack in a bag with some apple slices or carrot sticks. A piece of fruit and granola bars could be the difference between a 7:00pm melt down and a beautiful evening looking at the park lights and staying until the fireworks display.
What do you do if the meltdown has begun? Most parents angrily storm toward the car, cutting the day off early. Here are a few ways to help stop the madness. There are counter-measures you can take to help rescue the evening hours of your visit.
Immediately try to provide calm, water and shade. If you can cool them off, get them to drink water and into a quiet different place to try to restore calm. A change of scenery is a surprisingly effective help. If your kids have been under the blazing sun, you could take them to a show, as mentioned, or walk them around a gift shop. International Street has several stores that connect. That is a fun, long meandering walk that is a good way to cool off and change the mood.
If you want to bring this change of scenery idea to the next level, between Memorial Day and Labor Day you have the option of taking advantage of the other park, Soak City! If you have little kids in diapers, it is always a good idea to bring a swim diaper along with your backup supply of regular ones. When you use a ticket to Kings Island, you are entitled to also visit the water park, Soak City!
Even if you don't want to make it a full waterpark visit with swimsuits, this can be a great way to break up the day. You can have your little ones splash around for 30-60 minutes in one of several wading areas around. If you're wearing shorts, you don't need a swimsuit. Just take your shoes and socks off and wade right in with them. The cool water will make your feet feel refreshed. The undulating wave motion can help your sore, tired legs recover. In the shallow fountain area in one of the wave pools the kids may need to use one of the provided life jackets.
Once you've finished with your little break, just hop on the train and it will take you right back into the River Town section of the park, near the Beast and Planet Snoopy. It wouldn't hurt to have one small towel along. But if you don't, you can just walk barefoot as you leave Soak City. When your feet are dry, put your shoes and socks back on before you resume your visit to the main park!