Parenting: Going to the movies with kids

It was not much of a surprise that he was anxious to get our son to the theater. We had evidence to suggest he was ready though. He is a huge fan of Toy Story 3, which he has renamed "Woody on the Train," for the opening scenes. But was he really ready for the full-on dark theater, surround sound experience?

We got our chance to test the waters this past weekend at a screening of "Ice Age: Continental Drift." My first sense of how different this was for him was his reaction to the start of the previews. Most of us love the enveloping sound and sharp graphics, but he immediately insisted "That's too loud. Turn it down!"

I also discovered that previews don't always match children's movies, showing adult or more complex fare that he is quick to dismissively label "Mama TV." It's also a moment where kids can detach and lose interest in the main feature. Then came a Simpsons short, which made the adults laugh but was definitely over the head of my almost three year old.

Finally the movie started. For a while our son seemed to do okay, even if he kept pulling off his 3D glasses. He was enjoying his popcorn and only randomly interjected "Why he doing that?" or "Where he going?"

About two-thirds of the way in, we could tell he was getting antsy. We left the theater, just for him to declare he wanted to go back. Then five minutes later he stood up, pointed at the screen, where the movie continued to run, and declared: "It's finished!" So we gathered our things and assumed the wooly mammoths reunite and the saber tooth gets the girl.

So what should parents do to get their kids introduced to the theater?

Some just get lucky, getting kids who adore movies and show great comportment or at least choose to go to sleep early on.

Here's some help for the rest of us:

  • BabyCenter wisely advises don't assume that just because a movie is animated that your child will be a fan. Double check the length, keeping to something that is at least 90 minutes, and preferably closer to 60.

  • Be sure the film is actually aimed at kids and is not a film full of tongue-in-cheek jokes and situations meant to soar over little heads and get guffaws from teens or adults.

  • Ask other parents or check out websites to discover if there are any scary characters. Even movies labeled "G" can have characters or situations that are frightening to little kids, like characters being wounded, losing a parent, being chased or even dying.

    A factoid I learned in this research: Kids can't really grasp death and its finality until around five. If it comes up in a movie you take them to when they're younger, don't be surprised if you get questions or distress over why a character doesn't reappear or just get up and keep going.

  • A blogger for also recommends taking your own snacks and sippy cups of water and juice, lest you be left with nothing but candy and soda to offer your child. And be careful about popcorn - it can be a choking hazard for children who are too young, especially as they distractedly scarf it down in the dark. The site also suggests using the preview time to take a bathroom break.

  • A number of sites recommended looking for special "Mommy and Me" screenings. Outbursts and walks around the theater are par for those courses and the facility helps you out, taking steps like turning down the volume. A reader also mentioned that these screenings also allow for things outside the norm, like finding a corner or the front of the theater and spreading a blanket. Kids can have a place to play, sprawl out, even nap of they feel the need.

  • The site also suggests you talk to your child beforehand about the fact that the theater will darken and that he/she can talk to Mommy and ask questions, but in a super indoor whisper.

  • And, as always, the best thing you can do is be patient. Sit near the door so you can take a walk or short break if you need to and be ready to leave and catch the end of the movie on pay-per-view later.

    Soon enough, you'll be the one trying to hold your attention span and refrain from crying as you sit through the latest tween fare!

    Read more Parenting Perspective blogs by visiting the Parenting Channel on

  • Copyright © 2021 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.