Deciding the right age to take your child to the movie theater is a common question that doesn’t necessarily have a right answer. There are many factors that contribute to the answer, such as parental discretion and the child’s temperament. Taking a child to the movie theater can also bring up discussion about movie theater etiquette, meaning being able to share a cinematic experience with your child without disturbing others. Navigating these questions can often be difficult, so these tips might help make the decision a little easier.
Dr. Susanne Denham, a developmental psychology correspondent for BabyCenter.com thinks children will “probably start [appreciating] short children’s films starting around 2 ½ or 3,” others, such as myself, agree that 6 years old is an approximate proper age to start introducing your child to the movie theater. The conflict is all a matter of attention span and the film’s content; you certainly wouldn’t want to put your preschooler through a two-and-a-half hour showing of Captain America—not only would the content be immensely disturbing, but they would be otherwise unable to simply pay attention for a fraction of the time.
Through the end of their Kindergarten years, it might be appropriate to stick to the On Demand section of your television or revisit those old DVDs and VHSs—after all, no one should begrudge their child the original Toy Story. The child will be more comfortable enjoying age-appropriate films from the comfort of a familiar environment, and these options allow you to pause, rewind, and come back to them when your child starts to get restless.
When you finally decide it’s time to take your child to the movie theater, use these helpful tips to avoid disrupting other theater patrons and optimize the experience for your child:
- Consider a weekday matinee. The theater will be significantly less crowded and will be populated with groups of people more inclined to accept children in this environment: fellow parents and seniors.
- Choose an aisle seat close to an exit. If your child starts to cry or become agitated, it’s best that you remove them from the situation as quickly as possible. This will also minimize the distraction to others. Make a run to the restroom, whatever needs to be done to calm them before going inside again.
- Research the movie you’re seeing. See what others are saying about it. Movies with loud, startling noises could scare your child, and worse, damage your child’s sensitive ears. Also, just because it’s an animated Disney flick doesn’t mean it’s childproof—Hercules has some pretty frightening, nightmare-inducing scenes. Closely consider the narrative and, if your child is confused or scared by something, comfort them and explain what it means for a story to be fictional.
- Realize your child might see things they don’t yet understand. Death is a common theme in many movies, even children’s movies, and it can be confusing and deeply disturbing for a child to witness a character dying and not recovering. It takes time for a child to understand death, so again, explain what makes the story fictional and answer in a way that coincides with your belief system.
- Snacks are always pacifying. Raid the pantry and bring their favorite snacks. This will keep them from becoming restless and rowdy, as well as deter any crankiness from hunger.
The movie theater can be a learning experience for both the child and the parent. Children will learn manners, how to behave in a public environment, how to sit still for a prolonged period of time, and how to respect others in a controlled setting. As a parent, you’ll be able to teach your child these skills, see how well they’re able to present themselves in front of others, and have a bonding experience you can relive well into their adulthood.