Taking your child to a movie theatre for the first time

Girls Sitting
Image by Pezibear from Pixabay

Going to the movies with your child for the first time is a milestone to be cherished and celebrated. While many movie-loving parents can’t wait to get there with their 2-year-old, it might be wise to grab an aisle seat for an exit strategy if you do go with a child under the age of 3. 

I took my twin nieces to a movie theatre for the first time to see A Bug’s Life when they were only 2. They were wide-eyed with excitement, taking in all the lights and sights and giant candy boxes. Once the movie started, they were enthralled with the animation and giant screen, but it didn’t last; unfortunately, we had to bug out of there mid-movie because it was “too loud.” With hands clasped over their ears, they couldn’t take it anymore, no matter how dazzled they were by the brilliant animation.  

According to Common Sense Media (CSM), many kids are ready for their first movie by age 3; others, not until age 5 or 6. Gauging a child’s readiness depends on your own child’s attention span, sensitivity to noise, and any particular fears that might be triggered by the movie (or even by the dark theatre itself). According to Instructions for Pediatric Patients, written by pediatrician Barton D. Schmitt, M.D., young children can develop symptoms resembling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if they see something extremely scary and shocking in a movie. A child could have nightmares or fixate unnaturally on the movie for days and even weeks afterward. The witch in Snow White shook up a friend’s daughter so much that she resisted going to bed for about 3 months. 

Preparation is key when going to the movies for the first time with kids

Due to the pandemic, many parents have not yet been able to take their children to the movies for the first time. Now that movie theatres are reopening across the country, parents are anxious to introduce the movie theatre experience once again and lose themselves in the wonder and greatness of a fantastic G- or PG-rated movie. Follow these 9 tips to safely return to the movie theatres.

ICYMI: If you’re ready to hit the movie theatres now, check out this list of Kids Movies to Watch including movies in theatres. 

But before you go, follow these top 10 suggestions, both from CSM and from us, for maximizing the first-time experience for your child:

1. Consider animation movies as an obvious choice. But don’t overlook smaller arty movies whose slower pace is appreciated by young ones. Plus, you can try out some of these movies in the comfort of home. A good example is the old classic The Red Balloon (1956), streamed through Amazon Prime. If “French silent movie” sounds like a non-starter for your little one’s attention span, trust us—it’s not. This charming movie is riveting for all, partly because of its slow, dreamy pace and lack of sensory overload. It’s considered one of the best children’s movies of all time. 

Another must-see arty movie to try out at home: the Japanese 80s classic Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), available in DVD dubbed in English. This animated film is written, produced, and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It’s a movie gem that explores themes of independence and homesickness through the fantastical adventures of Kiki, who has the ability to fly, and her little black cat. Even though the themes are pre-teen, your little one might actually love it. In any case, you might gauge your child’s appetite for narrative. 

2. Prepare for the movie and consider a daytime matinee. Seeing a movie with a child who is well-rested and with a full tummy increases success. Bring a backup snack to supplement the popcorn or candy. Also, check movie theatre showtimes for an ideal daytime showing. A theatre full of other chatty kids might be just the ticket. Speaking of tickets…

3. Purchase your movie tickets in advance. We love taking our children to the movie theatre. Now there are so many fun features, like reserved seating! It makes it so much easier to not have to worry about getting to the cinema in time to get a good seat. Reserved movie theatre seating ensures you’re sitting together — which is especially important for the more popular movies that can sell out quickly, leaving only a few random seats here and there in the theatre. Sign-up here to be the first to know about the Hollywood.com new movie ticketings app coming soon.

4. Watch the promos for the movie at home before you go. As adults, don’t we love to see movie trailers before we decide to watch something? Well, kids do too! Get them excited by watching the movie trailer a few times before you go so they get a sense of what they are going to see. After a year of pandemic lockdown and closed movie theatres, Luca (from the creators of two of our faves, Coco and Inside Out) is at the top of our summer movie theatre bucket list. Luca will be in theatres June 16th, 2021.

5. Make a big deal out of the little details. Treating each step in the process as celebratory will help to create positive associations and build wonderful memories. Give it your own red-carpet treatment—theatre-going is ceremonial and one of life’s great joys. Dress up for the occasion. Wear costumes to go all-in with the characters. Let your child be the one to show proof of your pre-purchased tickets at the booth and visit the snack stand for popcorn and other favorite movie theatre food. Talk about your first movie-going experiences to convey the specialness of it.


6. Leave enough time to use the restroom before the movie begins. A movie is always better uninterrupted, so visiting the bathroom with your little one beforehand can alleviate the need to go again before the movie is over.

7. Bring hearing protection just in case. Depending on your proximity to the speaker sound system, some children can find the sound too loud for their liking. Having noise-reducing earplugs made for kids or ear defender hearing protection on hand can save the moment. 

8. Regroup in the lobby if need be. Being able to sit through an entire movie without starting to squirm in your seat means the world to some kids, but this usually doesn’t happen until they’re at least 5 or 6 years old. If your child feels overwhelmed or impatient during the movie, he or she might only need a break. Before pulling the plug, try spending time in the lobby playing I Spy or chatting about the movie.

9. Dress comfortably. Since my kids were young, I’ve always brought along a backpack to the movies filled with their favorite comfy fleece blankets, sweatshirts, and a favorite stuffed animal. Sometimes the air conditioning in the theatre can feel cold, so we love to get cozy in our movie theatre seats, snuggled under a warm blanket.

10. Take pictures of this milestone day and jot down your child’s reaction. Your family will want to recapture the magic as the years pass.

Why We Love Taking Children to the Movies

Opening the old movie theatre curtains on a great children’s movie is like opening the wardrobe in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Every great kids’ movie is a Narnia—a world of utter surprise and delight. Rest assured, families can still get their Narnia on, without the vintage velvet curtains. Taking the kids to the movies is a time-honored tradition, one that has continued even throughout the most turbulent of times. From the Great Depression and World War II to the Vietnam war and the pop culture riots of the 1960s, people have always sought out their favorite movies as an escape from reality. Today, that tradition continues. Post-pandemic, families can go to the theatre just as they always have throughout the decades: wearing costumes and overbuying popcorn — though now we can do more than just buy tickets in advance; we can reserve luxury seating to our favorite kid movies at the theatre to ensure we will all sit together! What’s better than that? 

Great children’s movies always seem to capture the world at its best–from the vantage point of a child. Thanks to these movies, adults suddenly see everything with crystal clarity, too. That’s because the purity, magic, and sheer rightness of detail can open that door to Narnia. Whoosh, we’re in. The purity of friendship? Hands down, Charlotte’s Web captures the best friend you’ll ever have. Who can think of the words “Some Pig” without crying and laughing at the same time? For the magic of childhood, take your pick: the many powerful animated movies and live-action/animated movies are the definition of childlike imagination. It’s real, and we’re believers. After renting Stuart Little, my daughter said simply, “I didn’t know mouses could talk!” I didn’t either, but I was a believer seeing it through the lens of her child mind and the eye trickery of stellar animation. 

In childhood, as in movies, a single detail or small moment can be heartbreaking and heart-making. E.T.’s glowing finger as he points to Elliot’s forehead? With this simple touch and the words “I’ll be right here,” we see the profundity of life. Parents who meltdown on the first day of Pre-K — or even at college drop-off — feel this sentiment just as deeply. They might even remember this movie moment, etched as it is in our collective consciousness. That’s because Steven Spielberg captured the goodbye — the letting go — so well for us as kids that it now translates into our adult separations as parents.

That’s how powerful a great childrens’ movie can be. Parents and children alike discover their truest, deepest feelings articulated. Consider Big Bird from Sesame Street who had cameo roles in the popular Muppet movies: Big Bird is so dang earnest and full of feeling that we let him do the talking for all of us. Thankfully, his empathy is getting its due. A sculpture of Big Bird will soon sit on top of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and reign over New York City. “There’s something so beautiful about wondering what Big Bird is looking for. Maybe the sunset,” says artist Alex Da Corte, in proper Big Bird-speak. Either way, the Big Apple is waiting to welcome him.   

Thanks to Great Movie-Making, Taking Kids to the Movies Has Been a Delight for Decades

Going to the movies was just as exciting in the 70s and 80s as it is today — perhaps even more so since it was such a special treat. We didn’t have a lot of options to watch movies at home back then, so matinee showtime or night out at the movie theatre was a favorite pastime for Mom and/or Dad, and us kids. 

There’s something timeless about the shared experience of watching a great movie on the big screen in a dark theatre, and the anticipation of all the feels that are to come. The stories touch our hearts, inform our minds, and keep us coming back for more. Taking your child to the movies for the first time is a monumental, memorable event you and your child will remember forever.

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