If you have small children, you have no doubt wondered when the right time is to start taking them to the movies. A movie can be an excellent source of entertainment for a young child, and family movie trips can be a lot of fun. On the other hand, your kids have short attention spans (like all children do) and you don’t want them to disturb the moviegoers around them. And with as much as a trip to the movies costs these days, you probably don’t want to chance having to leave in the middle of one because your child can’t sit still, won’t keep quiet, or is frightened by the larger than life picture and surround sound. So how do you know when the time is right?
The truth is that there probably is no surefire way to know when the time is right. You really may end up having a false start (or two) where you have to leave the theater early. You can increase your odds of a good first experience at the movie theater, but as with so many parenting issues, there is no real guarantee.
For the best results, you’ll need to rely largely on your knowledge of your child. Does she startle or cry at loud noises, scare easily, or get overstimulated quickly? If so, she may not be ready for the dark movie theater with the loud sounds and the very large on-screen characters. How about sitting still? For a preschool aged child, you should probably start with a shorter movie – two hours is a very long time for a child that age to be still and quiet. You should also avoid movies that are likely to be upsetting: if your child is terrified of witches, Snow White may not be the best movie to start with.
You can probably expect that at some point during the movie, your child is going to talk, or want to get up and move around. At a movie aimed at young children, it’s doubtful that anybody is expecting perfect silence, so this is OK. Instruct him ahead of time to whisper if he needs to ask you a question, and gently remind him if he forgets. If he feels the need to stretch his legs halfway through the movie, then it may be a good time to take a bathroom break.
If you’re really concerned about possibly having to leave the theater early, you may want to start with a discount theater, so that it’s not such a loss if it does happen. Many areas have theaters that show slightly older movies for a greatly reduced ticket price. Also, some big theaters will do free or low-cost matinees during the summer, where they show older children’s movies. Check into what’s available in your local area. If you want to take your child to the movies and you know they aren’t ready for the theater yet, you may have other options. Check with your local library to see if they have a regular movie showing in the children’s section, or see if your town ever has Movie in the Park events. These are low pressure (and low cost) ways to get her used to the idea of a theater-style movie watching experience. Before you know it, you’ll be able to go enjoy the new family movies without fear.