How to Survive Taking a Child to Their First Movie

I took my son to see his first movie when he was three. Every detail was planned in advance. Yet an impending sense of doom plagued me as we stepped up to the ticket window. The trip went well, though it wasn’t without issues. A decade and dozens of subsequent trips to the movies has taught me some hard lessons about taking a young child to the movies.

Movie Selection

Put some thought into selecting a movie that is age-appropriate and will interest your child. Does your child like fairy tales with princesses? Action-packed adventures? Maybe a movie adaptation of a favorite book? You will be setting yourself up to fail if you don’t pick a movie that will interest them. And don’t forget to take length into consideration. Most young children (and me) have short attention spans. It’s tempting to take them to a G or PG movie that you’ve been wanting to see, but don’t do it unless you are reasonably sure that they will like it is well. Unless you’re cool with them staring at you for the last half and repeatedly asking if it’s almost over. Just saying…


Selecting a Theater and Time

Avoid the local teen hangout unless you want your son or daughter to pick up some colorful new vocabulary. Pick a place that is family oriented and consider going to a matinee. Matinees tend to be less crowded. The less crowded the theater is, the better. There will be fewer distractions for your child and fewer people for them to distract. Bonus: matinees are usually cheaper.

Prep Your Child

Let your child know ahead of time that you will be going to the movies and what to expect. Explain how it will be the same as watching a movie at home and how it will be different. Make sure that they know that they will be expected to stay in their seat and speak in a whisper. Don’t forget to warn them about the volume of the movie and that the lights will be turned off.


At the Concessions Stand

No trip to the movies is complete without a stop at the concession stand, but choose your snacks wisely. If your toddler spends the previews shoveling down Sour Patch Kids, they will be hitting a sugar high just as the movie starts.
The other dilemma is drinks. It’s tempting to forego them, but this will just lead to repeated complaints of thirst by your child. The choice is yours, you really can’t win here. Either way it’s a good idea to have a game plan on how to handle bathroom breaks.

Bring Reinforcements

Having another grownup or a teenager along makes things run more smoothly. They are another set of hands to carry snacks that are mammoth even when supposedly proportioned for children. They can stay behind and guard said snacks in the event of a bathroom break. They can help sooth the child if they become upset and keep them focused if they become bored.

Don’t Expect too Much

Relax and remind yourself that this is for them. Mentally prepare yourself for the possibility that things may not go according to plan. A young child may not be able to sit through a whole movie. They may need a bathroom break (or three). They may even spill their soda all over the place.

But the odds are that will basically be fine. My son’s first trip to the movies didn’t go as well as I hoped, but it went better than I feared. We saw Horton Hears a Who one Saturday afternoon at a local movie theater. We each had a small diet soda and shared an order of pretzel nuggets. He was well-behaved until about ten minutes into the movie. A family came in late and sat down two rows ahead of us. They stood at their seats getting situated for a long time and finally my son called out, “Sit down! I can’t see!” I was half horrified and half amused. They sat right down.  My little hero!  Fortunately, the rest of the movie passed without incident and we have been enjoying them (mostly) incident free ever since.
If you have any survival tips of your own, feel free to share them in the comments below. Don’t forget to subscribe if you’re interested in reading whatever random post I write each week.