My son had just turned three when Finding Nemo debuted. As Disney fans, we thought it would be the perfect first movie in a theater, but something happened that we did not expect.
Learn from our mistake, and follow our tips, before you take your child to their first movie theater experience.
Mommy? Where did Nemo’s mommy and brothers and sisters go?
We all know what happens in the opening scene of Finding Nemo, right? Memo’s mom, Coral, is killed by a barracuda along with Nemo’s many siblings.
There we were. Less than five minutes into my son’s first movie theater experience and he turns to me and says,
I responded the way any good mom would –
“They went to visit Nemo’s grandma.”
Yep. I lied. And I lied again at the end of the movie when my son asked me again about Nemo’s mom and siblings.
When we saw Finding Nemo, our daughter had just joined us from Korea, and my son was keenly interested in putting people together into family units. The concept of a family was vitally important to him, and he routinely tried to match kids up with their parents, and vice versa.
I’m not sure if we knew about Coral’s demise before we watched the film, but we would never have anticipated that it would be an issue for our son. Had we known, we would have made a different choice for his first theater film.
Is Your Child Ready for the Movie Theater?
There are many things you should consider before taking your child to their first movie theater experience, and some are not obvious.
Is your child able to sit through a 1.5-hour movie?
The most obvious criteria for a movie theater experience is your child’s ability to sit still through most of a 1.5-hour movie. I say “most” because it is reasonable to expect your child to need a bathroom break at least once during a film.
Does your child have known fears?
Is your child afraid of bugs? Dogs? Emergency vehicle sirens? Monsters? Ice cream cones?
Toddlers & preschoolers are known for having very real fears about the strangest things. Make sure the movie you choose doesn’t include any of their trigger items.
Are there subjects that may be sensitive to your child?
Our son was obviously sensitive about families being intact. Is your child sensitive about anything? If your child has recently experienced the loss of a family member or a pet, movies, where a character dies, may be upsetting. Movies about orphans or a missing mother may cause issues for adopted children. (Side note: Why are there so many kids’ movies about orphans?)
As a parent, how do you react to movies?
Do you tend to cry at movies? Do you show physical or vocal reactions to tense scenes? Children take their cues from their parents. If you feel anxious, frightened, or sad, your kids may feel that way too.
Is your child sensitive to loud noises?
Movie theaters are LOUD, and many children are sensitive to noise. Warn your child ahead of time, and give your child tools to deal with the noise. Bring headphones, or be prepared to spend the movie with your hands over your child’s ears. (Yep, I’ve done that.)
How does your child feel about crowds?
Does your child get overwhelmed and anxious in crowds? If so, don’t go to a movie in the opening weeks and especially not on the weekend or in the evening. Wait until the film has been in the theater for awhile and go to a weekday matinee when the theater will be less crowded.
Does your child adapt easily to new situations?
How does your child react in new situations? Are they anxious and fearful, or do they adapt easily? Experiencing the unknown of a movie theater may be overwhelming for some young children. Plan to arrive early, and explain each step of the process to your child from buying a ticket to how concession stands work, how you know which theater to go to and how to choose a seat.
How old was your child on their first movie theater experience? Was it a success? What problems did you encounter? We would love to hear from you.
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