It’s getting close to Summer. That means your little ones will be free from school, the sun will be shining, temperatures warmer, and thoughts will turn to your favorite
theme park. What could be more fun? Some exciting rides, some friendly characters and mascots, and snacks galore…

But just as traveling with an infant is an adventure in preventative packing – taking children to a theme park requires some strategic planning.

Having a good day in a theme park starts before you leave the house. In a perfect world, your day is going to be sunny. You’re going to need sunscreen. And you’ll need more after spending some time in the park. You’ll also need walking shoes, and if you don’t relish the idea of carrying a sweaty toddler, that means for everyone. But emergencies happen.

Don’t get us wrong – your chance of becoming sick or injured in a theme park is slim. But it does happen (like the woman struck with an errant cell phone while enjoying King’s Dominion). To minimize that risk, follow the rules. This means the rules you’ve set for being in a public place (stay together, walk – don’t run, and don’t eat that unless you know where it came from), and the rules established by the park. If it says “You Must Be THIS Tall” to ride that ride, make certain your rider IS THAT Tall. If a sign says to stay behind a certain line, stay behind the line. If something does happen, most every theme park has two areas you should identify on arrival: A First Aid Station and a station to meet the missing member of your party. If someone from Disney sees your toddler wandering alone along Main Street, USA, they’re trained to take them somewhere special. Your kids should also know what to do should they become lost. A great first step is to find someone in a uniform.

What if your child has different needs?

Theme parks used to be off-limits for those with mobility or emotional needs. Times have changed, and most parks have wonderful plans in place to make your day enjoyable for everyone. Kings Dominion, for example, has tools for those with hearing impairment, special access and services for those in wheelchairs, and programs for visitors with service animals. Walt Disney World has a host of services catering to those with emotional needs. If your child can’t stand to wait in a line, they offer advanced tickets, Rider Switch (one person waits while the other waits with the visitor not riding – then they switch), and “break areas” for folks who may become overwhelmed. Rest assured; planning your day at the park isn’t as worrisome as planning your first ascent of Mt. Everest. It should be a day of enjoyment, laughter, and happy memories. At the end of the day, you’ll hopefully have a wonderfully tired child, free from scrapes and sunburns.

The little steps will make that a certainty.


I bet you can’t think of anything more smile-making than a baby smile.  It makes you smile; it warms your heart; it makes you forget about worries and strife.   As a pediatrician I get to see baby smiles every day. I’m spoiled and sometimes forget how life affirming it is, but then I see those beautiful ear to ear grins and it always makes me smile both outside and in.

How do baby smiles start?  Babies don’t smile right away but I always tell my new parents at their baby’s two month visit that things are going to get a lot more fun from now on.  Let’s face it, the first two months are pretty tough: sleepless nights, constant feeding, completely mysterious crying. I sometimes refer to it as the “crying, sleeping, pooping, growing phase.”  Sometimes you get a random smile, sometimes they focus on you, but then some distant neuron doesn’t fire quite right and they’re looking off at some random spot on the wall. Don’t be fooled. You may not see it, but millions of neurons are connecting, talking to each other, taking control.  

It’s mind boggling how complicated it all is.  Neurons have to make the right connections to other neurons; different neurons have to connect to muscles; electrical discharges change calcium concentrations in muscle fibers, and so on and so on.  Then those muscles have to be coordinated in order for anything to actually move. The whole process is something you learn in medical school and makes you start believing in a higher power. How could all this work?  There are so many things that need to happen or could go wrong and yet, it almost always happens perfectly.

At first, your baby knows how to cry (no kidding !), swallow, breath, etc, but when born, it can’t yet truly smile.  Yes, sometimes they smile when they’re sleeping, or farting, or who knows what, but true social smiling takes some time.  It’s a natural process, but you are very important to this working out right. Your holding them, your talking to them, your touch, your feel….all of this is important (and they can’t get this from an iPhone….just sayin’!).  You can’t spoil them at this age, but if you don’t talk to, hold, rock, and yes, smile at your child it’s going to slow this wonderous process.

It’s a social thing.  It’s what makes us human.  There’s now evidence that smiling is not uniquely human, but so what.  It’s so important to us as a species that it happens very quickly. It’s definitely a survival technique for babies because it helps mom and dad bond so that they want to take care of them.  But it is so much more than that as we all know. And after those first two or three months of talking and cooing and smiling with no real response, all of a sudden they break into an ear to ear smile and your heart just melts.  There is no way you can resist that.

Yes, babies are unknowingly looking out for themselves, but when you see that glorious baby smile you know they’re looking after you too.