How To Take Your Toddler To The Movies (And Not Get On Everyone’s Nerves)

August 2, 2019  |  
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taking your toddler to the movies

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We’re smack in the middle of summertime in the City Of Philadelphia and since May weeks of rain have been punctuated by the occasional sunny day. When you’re indoors with an excited four-year-old for the day, by lunchtime you’re secretly wishing the Cat in the Hat will walk his ass through the front door, tip his hat and keep your toddler entertained. So a few weekends ago I decided it was time for a new experience as a family and took my daughter to see her first film in a theater.

That Sunday afternoon we settled into our seats to check out at Secret Life of Pets 2 and, honestly, I may have been more excited than she was to see Kevin Hart voice a fluffy bunny named “Snowball” who’s convinced he’s a superhero. A half-hour in my four-year-old had her eyes glued to the screen with a mouth full of pizza. Most importantly I proved my spouse wrong about how our daughter would react. Earlier that morning, he had prepped for breakdowns, a tantrum, and embarrassment as pictured us escorting a frantic preschooler through the aisles and out the door mid-movie. I initially predicted that as long as she was well-rested she would need a moment to take in her new surroundings, but ultimately would relax and take to the behavior of other kids who were focused on the film, and not tuning out and turning up.

As much as you may believe your toddler is a three-feet-tall threat to society, our job as parents is to teach our children how to conduct themselves socially. So as embarrassing and random as our mini-me’s can sometimes be, they want to go out and explore all the world has to offer too. And you can only give them a chance to practice those skills by allowing them to interact with the world. Less than six years ago, I was a child-free twenty-something judging parents over my popcorn wondering why in the hell anyone would bring their three-year-old to date night. Now with my own child, I still wouldn’t bring her to opening night, but before Netflix keeps us permanently handcuffed to our couches, I figured my baby deserved the experience of seeing a Pixar film in a theater. If you’re thinking it’s time for your kid to see their fav character on the big screen, here are some tips on keeping a trip to the movies pain free for both you and your fellow patrons:

Empty Cinema with Empty seats

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Make it a matinee.

Children react in different ways to too much external stimuli. Too many people yelling in a crowded theater, long lines, sticky floors, and the concession stand running out of peanut M&Ms may be too much for your child to take in. They will either shut down and be totally unable to enjoy the experience or be influenced by the chaos and start working your nerves and those of your fellow patrons. Matinee shows are not only more considerate of your pockets, but they also tend to be a slower part of the day for movie theaters, meaning less distractions and more screen time.

Shocked girl eating popcorn while watching thriller movie in cinema hall at theater

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Snacks = silence.

Whether you’re sneaking goldfish and gummy bears in your purse or you do a full-on dining experience in the theater, if your toddler is chewing they aren’t crying or having a whole conversation with their teddy bear during the open credits. Food usually is a great way to keep your toddler seated and their hands occupied so they’re not exploring the melted Junior Mints on the floor or playing Dance Revolution on the back of the seat in front of them. 

Multi-ethnic audience watching movie in theater

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Avoid opening weekend.

Clearly, opening weekend on a Friday night for an anticipated hit like Toy Story 4 is not just asking to be annoyed by your own child but a bunch of other kids as well. Like I mentioned earlier, too much external stimuli will either have your child blasting off like Buzz Lightyear or totally shutting down.

'The Secret Life Of Pets 2' Australian Premiere - Arrivals

Source: James Gourley / Getty

Choose the right movie.

No lie, while on a date night this past weekend I saw a family stroll in confidently with popcorn in one hand and a pair of pre-schoolers in the other ready to take in 90 minutes of Annabelle Comes Home. Needless to say, the children didn’t get past the first time that demonic doll popped up out of the basement. There were screams and then tears before they shuffled out. Interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time I’ve witnessed this scenario. It’s like some parents like wasting time and money. My daughter once saw a creepy commercial on Adult Swim and now runs out of the room whenever she hears the “Family Guy” theme song. I’ll be damned if I think she’ll keep her cool when some demons hit the screen. Do yourself a favor and wait until Annabelle hits On Demand and just get your kids geared up for the live action Little Mermaid instead.

Family buying movie tickets at cinema hall

Source: Klaus Vedfelt / Getty

Set expectations early.

There’s a reason why your mom warned you that you weren’t touching anything before y’all walked in the store. What seemed like a threat was actually her old school way of setting expectations. We can’t expect children to know the rules of social conduct if we never tell them.  The day before the movies, I sat my daughter down and told her we’d be in a big room watching a movie with other people, so it’s important we didn’t speak too loudly so everyone can hear. Before you expect your children to play their part, make sure they have their lines.

African American Family Watching Movie

Source: JasonDoiy / Getty

Relax: You’re not the only one with a toddler who’s a pretzel bite away from going buck wild seated next to you.

The great thing about seeing an actual kids movie with your kid as opposed to Midsommar or Child’s Play is that there will be plenty of other kids screaming for popcorn, bathroom runs and frustrated parents who will be just as exhausted and over it as you. I witnessed one mom proceed to serve her children fries and chicken fingers and she spent most of the movie with her back to the screen. I can’t promise taking in a flick with your kids will be as fun for you as it for them, but at least you’ll have some awesome Disney songs playing while you proceed to clean popcorn out of their ears.

Toya Sharee is a sexual health expert who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.

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