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How to Take Your Toddler to Their First Movie



Date night used to mean grabbing a bite to eat and heading to the movie theater. Ever since my son was born, most opportunities to go out now consist of just food because there is no way I’m staying up late enough to see a picture. Still, I miss going to the theater, especially with all of the Summer blockbusters coming out. Now that my 2-year-old is old enough to enjoy TV shows like Thomas and Friends, I figured why wait for a date night when I could take him to the movies instead.
Despite my willingness to get out of the house, the prospect of taking a child so young to the movies for the first time seemed a little daunting. Mostly my reasoning for going was because I wanted him to have fun, and if I got to eat a little popcorn while I was at it, that was fine too. The last thing I wanted was to be one of those parents who let their kid scream the whole time, especially since I wanted him to feel comfortable and excited by going to the movies. Using a lot of forethought and learnings from our little adventure, I’ve devised a plan of attack for any parent who wants to take their toddler to the movies.
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Research the theater. One of the reasons I’m lucky to live where I do is there are so many theaters within a relatively close proximity. As such, I had the opportunity to be very selective about where I took my son to watch his movie. The one I decided to go to had “baby friendly” showings, which meant that the lights were a little brighter and it was generally acceptable for a kid to walk around if they needed to and no one was going to give me dirty looks if he talked. Even if your theater doesn’t have this option, try to find a theater that is aware that children exist and that sometimes they make noise. Some theaters show older movies at a discount rate, and since kids don’t care when a picture was released, these might be better and cost-effective options.
Pick your movie well. As much as I would love to take my 2-year-old to see Wonder Woman, there was no way he was going to sit still for that long and it would probably scare the bejesus out of him. By picking a children’s movie, like any of the Pixar and Disney features, I knew that it would be appropriate for his age group. Take into consideration your child’s interests. While my son loves music, I decided instead to take him to Cars 3 because if there is anything he can watch for hours on end, it’s cars. Getting your kid excited is key, and they’ll be much more inclined to be thrust into a new situation if you’re also excited.
Bring reinforcements. I went to the movie with my mom in tow, in part because she wanted to watch him experience his first big-screen show, but also because I wanted the help. My son is super energetic, and I knew that any extra help I could get would be useful. If I could do it again, I probably would have also invited some of his friends and their moms because children tend to behave better when they can see what other children are expected to do. Maybe if he had had his buddies with him, he might have been able to last longer than he did.
Manage expectations. I would love to say that my son lasted the whole movie and applauded at the end begging for more, but that would be a bold-faced lie. We made it about 45 minutes into the film, but plus the additional 20 minutes of trailers, that to me was a successful visit. When planning your trip, it’s important to keep in mind that this is a very new situation to thrust your children into: the screens are huge, the sound is loud, it’s dark, and even with their favorite characters to watch, it can be very scary.
Skip the trailers and (if possible) pick your seats. I am #blessed to live near theaters that let you pick your seats ahead of time. This allowed me to pick chairs near the exits in case it all went south, and it gave us time for him to walk around and explore this new room without the risk of losing our coveted spots. However, by getting there early, we wasted a lot of his energy on the trailers. Although I normally love seeing what kind of exciting new pictures are coming soon, I had never realized how amazingly loud and long trailers can be. What made the situation worse is that one of them was clearly designed with a much older kid in mind and suddenly I had a terrified 2-year-old in my lap. I had to keep him calm with Sesame Street on my phone for about 10 minutes before he was willing to sit in the chair again.
Bring a lovey. The next time we go to the movies, I’ll be sure to bring Roosevelt, his favorite stuffed bunny. If he’d had his lovey, I believe he would have been more calm and able to enjoy the movie more than he did. A little extra comfort can mean the difference between getting to finish the movie and having to leave early.

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Bring or buy their favorite snacks. Sneaking food into the movie theater, while not necessarily allowed, is a common practice for most moviegoing audiences and practically a necessity for toddlers. I’m not ashamed to admit that I may have brought an apple and some peanut butter crackers because having copious snacks was very helpful to maintain his attention and reduce the risk of tantrums. We still bought from the concessions, though, because who doesn’t love a little movie popcorn?
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