Handling the terrible 3s at WDW

My husband and I are taking our DS7 and DD3 to WDW for the first time this month. We’re all super excited but I am so nervous about my little one. She can be the sweetest, cutest little thing but the moment something doesn’t go her way or if she’s the slightest bit uncomfortable she turns into a screaming banshee! She cries and whines and is just a nightmare to deal with. This morning has been particularly challenging and all I can think to myself is what will we do if she’s like this at Disney? We have a 3-4 hour break scheduled every afternoon for her to nap (fingers crossed) and I’m really going to try to pick my battles with her. But I know when there are rides her brother can go on that she can’t or if there’s a toy she wants that we can’t get she’s going to lose her mind. Has anyone traveled to WDW with a difficult toddler? Did their behavior magically improve once they got there? Any strategies for keeping the tantrums to a minimum?

Our youngest turned 3 in the parks back in 2004. She was not a high-maintenance kid, and she was generally sweet and compliant. However, we learned the hard way in WDW that toddlers can only handle so much. The first day was fine. By the second day she was tired of sitting all day. She was either in her stroller or in a high chair. We had seriously over planned. From that experience, this is what I would recommend.

  1. Don’t over plan, allow time to get from one place to another.
  2. Let her run around in less crowded areas as much as possible. The playground in Animal Kingdom was a big hit.
  3. Afternoon nap sounds great. Maybe one of you take her back to the room for the nap while the other takes DS7 around the parks. Alternate days doing that.
  4. limit the amount of time you spend in shops.

I tell my kids ahead of time that I will buy them one toy at the end of the trip so we don’t have to deal with “Can I have this? Can I have that?” every time we exit through the gift shop. It has worked really well, and my younger daughter was 3 the first time we went. I have bumped it up to one toy and one t-shirt, but same concept.

I made sure we had plenty of snacks on hand. Meltdowns due to tiredness might be unavoidable, but meltdowns due to hunger are completely preventable.

Know when to say when. You know the signs that your kids are near their limit. If you’re planning on staying for the fireworks but the kids are clearly approaching their limit, just go.


DD was 4 at the time of our 2.5 weeks in DisneyWorld.

It was a REALLY hard trip on her. Don’t get me wrong, she enjoyed every minute but got quite crotchety and snappy while we were there.

We found that she would be prone to just flaking out with the heat, walking and sensory overload of the parks. She really didn’t like walking at all by a few days in, so it was all attempts to ride on my shoulders etc. I’m so glad we had a stroller to put her in for the trip. It would have been hell without it.

We did something similar with the ‘you can buy toys’ by giving her money to buy things with and taking photos of things she liked and flicking through them towards the end of the day and letting her choose what she wanted to buy. That way it placated the ‘I want, I want’ and didn’t make her feel like she wasn’t going to get something. Plus we have a tonne of really cute smiley pictures of here with a tonne of Disney stuffed toys haha.

With her flaking out at the park in the stroller we found that we didn’t need to go back to the hotel as much as she would flake for 2 or so hours while inside the park meaning we didn’t miss out on things like we would have with the travel back to the hotel and sleeping time. It ended up being a good time to go and do the boring grown up stuff that she wouldn’t really have enjoyed looking at.

Snacks, drinks and carry with empty water bottles were a great thing to have too as we found that the food options at the park didn’t agree with her and she would waste food we would purchase in the cafe’s and eateries.

We found by the end that distractions were the best, looking at things while you make your way from point a to point b and pointing things out that she might not normally see was a great way to keep her interested and not fidgety and cranky. The more you rush, the worse they get!

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We are taking our almost 3 year old in October and are beyond nervous. We have been many many times but this is the first time with a toddler and I just don’t know what to expect. Thank you everyone for the suggestions.

OH! And make sure the stroller you have is easy enough to fold up and down. You’ll end up doing a lot of it if you use the public transport and being able to carry bags, stroller and hold a toddlers hand around crowds/transport is a must.


Behaviour will not magically improve there. It will be amplified by all the stimulation and excitement. We’ve been with our two high maintenance kids at ages 1/3, 2/4, 3/5, and 4/6. But with planning, you will have a great trip. My suggestions:

  1. Do some rehearsals at home. Pretend play doing fun things, but also pretend play big brother getting to go on a big kid ride and having to pick something else to do, and seeing a toy that you like but hearing no and having to find something else to do because you have to pick just one toy for the whole trip.
  2. Pick battles carefully. Don’t battle over food, that one’s just not worth it at Disney. Mac and Cheese 5 days in a row? Sure. But give in once to buy a toy you didn’t plan for and you’ve just taught her to cry and whine every time she wants something for the rest of the week and it will drive you crazy. (Spoken from experience, learn from my mistakes…)
  3. Know when its time to call it a day. You may find it easier with two kids and two adults to divide and conquer sometimes. We often left at noon and never returned, or returned without a plan just to stroll for fun. Addendums to this: Don’t be afraid to abandon the plan, and don’t worry about trying to see everything.

I apologise in advance for the length.
Tldr; go in armed with a plan that everyone is committed to.

I’ve always been pretty firm with my kids, and despite this my youngest still had what looked like explosive tantrums (ASD meltdowns) right up until he was 9. He turned 10 last week.

First, before anyone says anything, I KNOW a meltdown and tantrum are different, however after seeing my brothers with ASD as adults after having their condition used as an excuse, my DH and I decided from the beginning that yes, the explosions were likely to happen, but that they weren’t going to be accepted without consequence.

We have rules at home. We make sure we tell the kids before we leave that the rules don’t change on holiday. When they were littler like yours are, it was more constant reminders about what the rules are-both before and during the trip.

Consequences are given when the rules are broken. It might be missing a treat, not getting a toy, or for big ones like tantrums, leaving the park. If you say you will do something, follow through. It needs to be appropriate for each child and should sting a little. It’s a deterrent after all! For my youngest, taking away his books is the most severe consequence we can give. It wouldn’t bother my older boy and so wouldn’t be a good consequence. Always follow up after to talk about why and a reminder that we do this because we love you.

Yes, we do remind or give warnings (only 1 each!) , and make sure they know what the consequences will be prior to giving it, if possible.

Adult actions need to be considered too. Sometimes our poor choices cause the kids to not cope. That doesn’t make a tantrum OK in our family, but the consequence is measured against all the information.

Reward the good! Our boys don’t get many extra treats, toys or sweets at home. If they’re behaving and getting along well on our trip I’m happy to get them an extra ice cream or a small toy or something- and tell them why they’re getting it!

At the end of the day, I’d rather spoil them a little for being awesome superstars and behaving themselves, than have them act out and not have a consequence. I am far more concerned with raising kind and decent human beings than anything else in life.

This is what has worked for us, and I find the boys are actually best behaved when we holiday. We spent two weeks crammed (half buried under gear in the back seat) in my lancer on a camping roadtrip, and they didn’t argue once.

But it only works for us because it suits our family dynamic, everyone knows what to expect, what is OK and what is not, and everyone is committed to following it. Every faculty is unique and you will need to find what works for your family.

The big key for us is to have everyone on board. It doesn’t matter what the plan is if someone isn’t committed.


We just traveled to WDW in May with DD3 and DD6. My three year old sounds similar to yours. She’s super sweet and funny, but man can she melt down when things don’t go her way! She’s a pretty intense, stubborn kid and we’ve had our share of “challenging” times.

I can honestly tell you that we had an absolutely amazing trip! We had one major episode on arrival day when I lost track of time and tried to rush everyone out of the pool for an ADR, but other than that, DH and I were constantly looking at each other, like, “is this our child”?!

Things that worked for us:

  1. We didn’t push rides. It was clear on our first park day that she was not a fan of most (any?) rides. On our first MK day she almost had a meltdown in the PP FPP line because she didn’t want to ride so I took her out of the line, and that was really it for rides. She did enjoy the safari, IASW, and she absolutely LOVED all of the characters!

  2. Pool/rest time every day and early bedtimes. We made it for RD every day, but were generally back at AKL by 2-3 ish. Both DDs loved the pool and we spent a ton of time there! We actually didn’t make it back to the parks in the evening because both kids were wiped by 7-7:30.

  3. Stroller! We rented a double City Mini and it was a lifesaver. DD3 doesn’t use a stroller at home at all but she really needed it in WDW. It was a great way to get her out of the sun and she actually napped in it on two days which was amazing! It was super easy to fold for the buses.

  4. Giving notice for transitions. Just like I try to do at home, I’d do the “10 more minutes in the pool”, “five more minutes” etc. This is really necessary for us with DD3.

  5. We didn’t spend hardly any time in the stores so we avoided those meltdowns pretty well. When she did see something she wanted that she couldn’t have, I was usually able to distract her pretty easily. There is so much to see!

Good luck! I’m sure you’ll have an amazing time!


Love the idea of taking photos of the toys that catch their eyes so they can decide later which they want.

Your parenting style is almost exactly like mine- except I have 1 daughter. We always tell her that every action has a consequence- both good and bad. We have done this since the beginning of her time. She is 10 now and a warning is good enough to curb bad behavior.

I’m aiming for decent and caring too.

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A ton of great advice above (we’ve taken DS3 twice already, and followed a lot of the same advice above). Just a few bullets on what helped us:

  • We prepped our son well, well ahead of the trip (I’m talking months) by watching YouTube clips of the crowds, rides, etc. in the parks. Visualization is a powerful tool in helping our kiddo feel prepared and less stressed…and it’s kinda fun! We also wrote a “social story” about the trip (Google “social story” - used a lot in the ASD community, but helpful for every kiddo, IMHO. Our son doesn’t have ASD, but it helps him a ton).

  • By giving our son warnings about transitions (i.e. “Ten more minutes in the play area,”) we avoided meltdowns about leaving areas.

  • We wrote him his own touring plan using Google Slides. Each step has a picture of the ride entrance, a picture of the ride vehicle and the name of the attraction, as well as if he would be sitting with one of us or a grandparent waiting (for rider swap attractions). That became a story he liked to look at, and I think also helped with visualization/preparation.

Good luck! Remember - you’re the boss. :wink:

Our daughter (almost 3.5) has been three times, once when she was 3 months old, again when she was 2.5, and last time she was just over 3. She’s not high maintenance in any way, but we still tried to make sure the trip was as easy as possible for her.

When she was 2.5 she was far less interested in the rides than I’d anticipated, so a lot of my plans had to be trashed. She loved the resort pool, so we did mornings in the parks and returned for a few hours pool time every day. It was actually really nice and relaxing. Evening entertainment was out of the question, and probably still will be for our October trip. Last time she was much more into the rides, and wanted to go on 7DMT, Splash and Soarin’ again and again…

Food wise, we’d made one ADR for each day when she was 2.5, thinking it would be nice to sit down and relax away from the heat and the crowds. This didn’t go down too well with DD, who much preferred to eat QS meals. Again, I cancelled most of the ADRs and we did QS for lunch every day instead. We had to eat earlier than I had anticipated, around 11am. She also needed two snack times between breakfast and lunch, rather than the one she has at home. We brought snack packs with us (things like grapes, apple slices, raisins, goldfish crackers and Gerber puffs) and also bought veggie sticks in the parks (she discovered hummous on day two and wanted this every day). Needless to say we made sure she was really well hydrated all the time - dehydration will make anyone cranky. We did go for dinner at Disney Springs a few times and just let her fall asleep in the stroller, but we were staying at Saratoga Springs so had an easy walk home with no bus transfers to worry about. Worked out great! Last trip was better with TS meals, but she still preferred QS meals.

As far as shops, we’d agreed beforehand that she could buy one princess dress and one doll. Every time she said she wanted something I asked her if she really wanted that instead of her princess dress? The answer was usually no. She did find a pack of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs figures which she did want instead of a doll. We bought it and she never mentioned the doll again. We bought her a doll anyway, which she got when we got back home for being such a good girl on the trip.

So, what worked for us was:

  • Keeping plans loose and flexible
  • Lots of downtime
  • Frequent snacks and lots of water
  • Very limited table service meals
  • Setting expectations as far as toys went, and allowing her to swap for something else if she really wanted to

Not sure if that helps in any way. You’ll have a great time! :slight_smile:


I always have a variety of snacks on hand, lol, I know it’s not parenting at it’s best to quiet a child with bribes, but hey it’s my vacation and I’d prefer happy kids, lol. And keep plans flexible, last trip I kinda let their moods lead the way and I was so very lucky that my kids (4 and 20months at that time) were willing to do it all. This time they’ll be 5 and almost 3, so I have faith that they will be the same way but if not I will have snacks and flexibility lol

I absolutely LOVE this idea!

i think there are lots of good ideas here!
this will be the third trip for my newly 4 year old daughter. I cant stress enough some of the above advice
• snacks!
• flexibilty
• planning in rest time
(meanwhile right now shes spitting at me and i want to cancel the trip)


I have two boys, the first one was so easy. The second has needed a lot more guidance and teaching, but he’s getting there. God bless anyone who raises girls- there is no medal big enough for those who survive the teenage hormonal years with their relationships in tact. Or still having hair!


@esmith2003 (for some reason i cant like or reply directly)
id never actually threaten to cancel a disney trip because id never really do it :slight_smile:
mostly i just smother her with hugs and kisses when shes rotten. then she runs away. so at least shes not spitting anymore :joy:

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hahahaha I’m glad she’s not spitting

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Sounds like my daughter. We also do the pictures of souvenirs thing, we even do it with Christmas and Birthday lists, but for the most part I avoided the gift shops. Of course you have to walk through them from time to time, but no reason to stop and browse. It was easier for me to say no gifts till the end then try to explain sometimes yes-sometimes no. I also quit asking for her opinion. Before we left I let each kid pick 3 rides for the day. That’s it. The rest of the day I just told everyone what we were doing and reminded the ride each person had picked. When I tried asking what everyone wanted to eat or who wanted to ride a certain ride, it was a recipe for trouble. But if it was known that everyone had their picks for the day and I was just getting us there, it eliminated a lot of trouble. I even quit asking what she wanted to eat. I know what my kid likes so why open the door for more problems. It wasn’t that she was being bratty, it was that she was completely overwhelmed and even simple choices were difficult. Taking that pressure off of her made everything smoother. Also, if I saw the “warning signs” sometimes I would take her off with just me to get a little snack/break while everyone else was in line. That calm one on one time helped. I hated missing the ride but found that I enjoyed down time with a happy child more than any ride and line with a cranky one. She’s 8 now so we have gotten past the in park toddler tantrums but she is still my most challenging. Last trip we were BOTH stomping and throwing “temper tantrums” in the hotel room trying to get dressed/ready. I had to recognize sometimes what the child needs is a different parent/person. Sometimes Daddy could work things through better than me and I needed to just do that.