Toddlers at the Movies

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If you’re the parent of a baby or toddler, it may seem like centuries since you’ve seen the inside of a movie theater. This winter, the movie industry happened to release several kid-friendly motion pictures at just the same time when I needed to add some new ideas to the list of indoor activities I’d exhausted. I looked at my almost 3 year old and thought, “Well, we’ll see how this goes!”

Not every kid is ready for the movies at the same age. Some young children can sit still and stay quiet much earlier than others, and some may be afraid of the dark much later than you’d think. But given the right movie and the right setting, many kids can enjoy this new experience in toddlerhood.

At almost 3, my son was game. It’s been a gradual learning experience for us both, but we’ve become pretty frequent movie-goers since his first flick and now we love it. It’s a new adventure for him and an old one for me that feels new again!

The first movie we saw was “My Little Pony: The Movie.” It was the only pick for little kids at the time, and Jack was familiar with the ponies already. We chose a noon showtime at a new theater and it was practically empty which was great. We talked about what to expect before going.

The movie was not a great one, and had some scenes that were about dark and weird. Since this was Jack’s very first time at the movies, he was a bit scared of the dark theater and the volume. We stayed about an hour when he told me very confidently that he wanted to leave. So we left.

Afterwards, we talked about our first time at the movies and I commended Jack for staying as long as he stayed there. We agreed we’d try again when the next kids’ cartoon came out a few weeks later.

We saw “The Star” on opening day and it was a much better experience. The movie was fantastic and not scary at all, and Jack already knew what to expect at the movies. We stayed for the WHOLE film, and I made a huge deal out of this accomplishment afterwards!

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Jack was excited for the Olaf short that we being released at Thanksgiving before “Coco.” While I didn’t think he’d be comfortable with the Coco animation, I figured we’d just stay for “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” and then leave if he wanted. I was so pleasantly surprised when Jack wanted to stay even after Olaf finished… and stayed for such a long movie!

Our most recent holiday movie was “Ferdinand,” which was very cute and not scary either. We enjoyed this a lot and by this time Jack was so used to the movie theater that leaving early wasn’t even something he asked about. Clearly, Jack had gradually become more comfortable at the movies and some of the things we had talked about were working.

Here are some of the ideas I used to ease my toddler into going to the movies:

  • Keep in mind that going to the movies is a big thing for a little kid. It’s full of lots of new things that can make them hesitant… the dark, the noise, the new surroundings, and rules.
  • Pick a daytime show during the week if possible. The least crowded the better!
  • Talk, talk, talk… before! Talk to your kids about what to expect (lights going off, whisper talk, etc) and what the expectations are of movie goers (see below!)
  • Don’t go if you’re not prepared to possibly leave early. Give it their best shot, but if they’re not doing well there, offer the option of leaving… after they’ve given it a try! If you tell them this from the door they won’t try to stay. As long as you keep an open mind this is doable! Remember you can always try again next month when another movie opens!
  • The movies can provide little ones with a good learning experience about rules and respect for others. Explain to them that you want them to have fun but talking during the movie or getting up too much distracts other people from enjoying the movie. If you find that your kids can’t do this once you’re there, give them a little chance to settle in. If they’re causing a disruption, do take them for a walk and give them a break outside… and if that doesn’t work, do leave early. We had very disruptive kids (older than Jack too) at “Ferdinand,” and I was annoyed that their mothers didn’t do anything about their behavior. Yes it’s a kids’ movie and yes kids aren’t expected to be perfect, but respect the other people who paid a small fortune to be there. Respect is a life lesson!
  • Plan your arrival time based on your individual child. The previews are almost 20 minutes long and louuuuuud. If you have a kid who doesn’t sit still long, go inside a little late to avoid the previews. BUT, if your kid is afraid of the dark, consider going in before the previews. The theater is still bright and he can see the room with the lights on as they dim, which you should explain beforehand too.
  • Bring whatever toys or familiar items (sippy cups, blankets, etc) that may comfort your little one and make this new experience easier.
  • If you can, bring your kid to his first movie at one of the dine-in theaters. It’s more of an experience and the food, dessert, waiters, etc add some interest to the trip which helps keep little ones entertained. Plus the seats are always bigger and comfier! I love bringing my son at lunch time so we can eat and enjoy the movie.

Remember to ease into the movie-going experience and have fun. You can create a great memory for you and your child! 😀

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