Can I Take My Toddler to a Show?

This post is part one of two about how to take your toddler to shows. To see the second post, click here.

Over the past few years, and especially the last year that I’ve been blogging here at Toddling Around Chicagoland, we’ve taken our two boys (currently 2- & 4-years-old) to movies, sporting events, plays, and live performances. We started when they were very young for a few reasons. We decided before we were parents that we wouldn’t let kids change our social life much (HA!) and we wouldn’t let ourselves get stuck at home, but we wanted to do family activities rather than leave the kids with a babysitter. We love exposing our kids to theatre and new experiences, and they seem to love it too.

One of the questions that often pops up in comments here, and on the Toddling Around Chicagoland Facebook page, and in real life is, “Can I take my 2-year-old (or 3-year-old, or 18-month-old) to this show/movie/sporting event/performance?” Obviously the answer depends on a lot of different factors. Over the years we’ve come up with a few things to take into consideration when taking your young child to a show and tips for how to make it work.

First of all, determine if your child is ready (& if you are ready!) and, if you think they are, plan for your outing:

1. Consider your child’s personality

  • What is your child’s energy level? Can they focus on one thing (whether it’s a tv show, project, or game) until completion or do they need to move on to something else? Most shows will require your child to sit for an extended period of time. There are some tricks below to help antsy kids, but if your child can’t stay still for 5 minutes it might be better to wait until they are a little older, or find a show that doesn’t require them to be still.
  • What are their fears? The dark, animals, loud noises? How do they react when confronted with something that scares them? Most of these things can be anticipated so you may be able to warn your child or find ways to minimize their exposure. We once took Cooper to a hockey game, not anticipating the fireworks would scare him. It took a few minutes to calm him down after the first time, but every time the team scored a goal we warned him and let him hold one of us and that alleviated his fears.

2. Consider your personality

  • Do you embarrass easily? Will you be able to laugh it off if you have to chase your toddler through a theatre?

3. Consider the type of show

  • Is it intended for children? What is the rating and is it a subject matter that will interest your child? Lots of shows for kids are bright, colorful, have lots of action and audience participation so the exact subject matter might not make or break the day. Cooper and Dexter loved the Disney On Ice show about princesses even though they’re generally more interested in Pixar and superheroes. If you’re unsure about bringing your child to a show, it might be best to start with one that’s something you know your child will be interested it.
  • What will the audience be like? Your child’s loud question or mid-show bathroom break will be pretty annoying to an audience of adults, but will probably go unnoticed in a family crowd. Some crowds are rowdier than others too; if there is alcohol served (at a football or baseball game, for instance), you may consider the type of things your child could be exposed to, such as swearing or yelling.
  • What will the seating be like? How large is the venue? This is where your budget might come into play. Depending on the type of show, venue, and your child’s age, you may not be required to purchase a ticket for them if they sit on your lap. If they’re going to be in your lap anyway then this is a great option to save a little money. If your child is a little more independent or antsy having a separate seat for them can be a huge help. Think about the type of seats that will work best too. Will you purchase the cheapest or most expensive seats? There are advantages and disadvantages to both. With more expensive seats your child may have a much better view of the show and it may keep their attention longer, but the people around you have paid a lot for their seats and may not be as patient with a toddler. You may find the opposite with less expensive seats.
  • Is there audience participation? Being allowed (or encouraged) to yell, clap, or sing along can help your child enjoy the show and behave well (and greatly decrease the risk of a mid-show meltdown).

4. Consider the environment and circumstances

  • Where is the show located? If it requires a long car ride (or bus or train ride) your child may be sitting for a much longer period of time. If possible, leave early and find a place nearby that you can give him or her time to stretch their legs and burn off a little energy before the show.
  • What time is the show? Will it interfere with a mealtime, naptime, or bedtime? If so, try to adjust your schedule so your child isn’t hungry or overtired during the show.
  • How long is the show? Is there an intermission? A show that’s an hour-and-a-half might be very difficult, but if there is an intermission and your child can have 10 minutes to walk and get a change of scenery, sitting for two 45-minute sessions might work just fine.

These considerations should help you decide whether to take your toddler and where to take them. Want my tips on being prepared and making it work (without a major meltdown for you or your child)? Check out the second post in this series here.

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