Building my toddler’s social skills when going to the movies or to a show

Your toddler has been insisting on seeing the latest movie that just came out, and even though you know how much your kid loves those characters, you wonder if he or she is old enough to sit through an entire movie at the cinema. Maybe you’re wondering if attending a theatrical play or a live show will be simply too much and too soon. Our in-house experts share some insight about this decision.

Most child psychologists and parents agree that somewhere between 2 and 4 years old is a good time to introduce your little one to the cinema or the theater, accorded that the film or show in question is age-appropriate for your child. Nonetheless, how cinema-ready a kid might be will ultimately depend on his or her individual characteristics at the time. So as always, it’s important to neither rush, nor pressure your kid into it just because you’ve heard of other 2-years old that actually look forward to staying put in a seat for 120 minutes. It might hold true for some kids, and not so much for others.

To help you weight discern, here are some aspects to take into consideration:

  • Your son or daughter’s capacity to sit still for longer than 30 min at a time and be happy about it.
  • Your kid’s usual attention span.
  • Your kid’s tolerance for noise, dark places or loud sounds- it can be an overwhelming experience for some kids that aren’t used to or aren’t interested in such activities.
  • According to Brenda Nixon in The Birth to Five Book: “Any noise that registers 90 decibels or higher can hurt a child’s hearing”, and some movies can measure up to 130 decibels.

How to make it a good experience for everyone (not only for you and your kid, but for other kids and adults sharing the space):

  • Always choose child-friendly shows. There’s a better chance a matinee or kid’s show will be a positive experience than a weekend-night opera or ballet-presentation. Your child and the rest of the audience will be far happier if you arrange for a sitter while you go ahead and watch that drama movie with your partner.
  • Knowledge is power. Even if the movie or show’s intended audience is children, make sure to know the content of it beforehand, so you can have an idea of what to expect (flashy lights, action scenes, loud music, etc.) and compare those features with what you know your kid can tolerate and enjoy.
  • Communicate that cinemas and theaters are quiet places. This might be a tricky concept for some toddlers, but the key here is being both understanding and disciplined about it with your kid. It’s important to help him or her understand that there are places where you can have lots of fun if you listen and watch, and that they can of course laugh and ask you things but using a quiet voice so that other people can still hear the show.
  • Try to find a sitting place near the exit, and not too close to the screen. This way, it will be less complicated to exit suddenly or to make an unexpected restroom break with your kid.

Every child is inevitably going to go through a learning curve regarding sharing social spaces with other people. Activities like going out for a movie or play are good and fun opportunities to help your kid work at being increasingly more masterful of his or her impulses, delaying gratification, and thinking about what other others might be feeling. Although it might appear like a small feat, conquering small outings like this can help your little one develop his or her socio-affective abilities!

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