How to Take Your Child to a Show

This is part 2 of a 2-part series. The first post is Can I Take My Toddler to a Show?

Once you’ve decided you and your toddler are ready to go to a show, here’s some tips on how to make it a successful outing:

  • Let your child know what to expect. This is a good time to discuss potential fears and your expectations for their behavior. Tell them if it will be dark or loud or crowded. Let them know that they need to be quiet (or at least whisper), and whether or not you’ll be purchasing things there. Keep in mind that it’s a new experience for them and they might not understand that you have to be quiet during a movie.
  • If you’re going with more than one child, bring a buddy. I won’t say that it’s necessary to have an adult for each child, but having two is incredibly helpful. One person can take a child to the bathroom, get snacks, or make a getaway with a child who is melting down while the other stays with the rest of the children (so much better than dragging all the children everywhere). Having a buddy also helps with seating (see below).
  • Be prepared. Bring your standard diaper bag gear (if your child is still in diapers). I always make sure we have sippy cups (we’ve been to several venues that don’t allow outside food to be brought in, but I’ve never had any problems bringing in sippy cups) and if the prices for drinks are outrageous we refill them at water fountains. I usually have an emergency package or two of fruit snacks in my diaper bag or purse for distraction.
  • Seat yourselves strategically. If there is no assigned seating you may want to sit near the front so your child has a better view and is more likely to pay attention to the show, or look for an area with fewer people so you’re less likely to disturb people and you can give your child a little more freedom to move around. Some people are more comfortable sitting near the aisle, or near an exit in case they need to leave their seats during the show; keep in mind this means you may be moving your diaper bag, snacks, coats, children, and other odds and ends regularly to let others out of the aisle.
  • Give your child some space. I sometimes prefer to sit near a wall if possible because if my kids do get up to stand or walk I don’t have to worry (as much) about them escaping into the aisle or bothering people sitting next to us. John and I also make sure there is one adult on either side with the kids in the middle. That way each child has a parent sitting next to them and we can act as barriers. Dexter is very good and quiet during shows, but often can’t sit the entire time and likes to stand or walk between us. We’ve been to sporting events before that have had long breaks; we sometimes move to empty sections and allow the kids to walk a little in the aisles.

  • Know your surroundings. Do your research beforehand so you know as much about the location as possible. Toddling Around Chicagoland is a great resource for this detailed information, and you can explore when you arrive before the show. Walk around and find bathrooms, exits, and where to find snacks. This is a great way to get your kids moving between the car ride and sitting for the show.
  • Have snacks. Food is a great way to keep kids occupied or at least keep their mouths busy. 
  • Have a plan and be flexible. Take your child to the bathroom or change their diaper just before the show starts. Make sure the kids are fed if they won’t be eating at the show or hungry if you’re buying food. Depending on the type of show, you may want to bring small, quiet toys (maybe a lift-the-flap book), or a favorite snacks in case of emergency. You may even want to have a toddler app ready on your cell phone (to be use on silent, of course). I am one of those moms that will let my child scream their head off in the grocery line before I’ll give in and buy whatever candy or thing-a-ma-whozitwhat they want, but at a show I’m not above bribery if it becomes necessary. Try to relax and roll with it because if you’re tense your child is going to be, and if you overreact to small infractions you may have a major temper tantrum on your hands.
  • Consider buying a small gift for your child. If you’re attending a performance where they will be selling outrageously priced souvenirs you don’t want to purchase, consider bringing a small gift for your child to give them at the show or so you can promise them a surprise afterward.
  • Have an escape route. You’re at the show and you’ve planned and prepared, but somehow, in the middle of the show your child suddenly transforms into a screaming banshee. Time to resort to your escape route or doomsday plan. You may want to give up entirely and get out as soon as possible, so it’s good to know the fastest way out. If there’s more than one child & you’ve followed the buddy rule, one adult can step out with the banshee (either to walk around and calm down or to wait in the car).

A couple notes about places you might take your child:

  • Sporting events: Consider a local or non-professional game; they are often in smaller venues (making it easier for kids to see the action), more family-oriented, and cheaper. If you plan to go to a professional game, look for family themed games.
  • Movies: Keep in mind that it’s dark and loud so the first trip to a movie can be overwhelming. Lots of movie theatres offer special matinees (usually weekday mornings) for parents with young children where the lights are turned up a little and the sound is turned down a bit. Many park districts offer free outdoor family movies during the summer so you can spread out while watching.
  • Plays: Because plays are generally in smaller venues, you probably don’t have to worry about your child not being able to have a good view from the cheaper seats. The Chicago Children’s Theatre is a fantastic place to start exposing your child to theatre; we’ve been very pleased with all the shows we’ve seen.

As always in parenting, plan for the worst, but be sure to sit back and enjoy!

Have you taken your young child to a movie, play, sporting event or performance? How did it go? What tricks worked for you?


  1. These are all fantastic tips! Where were you three years ago? I had to learn most of these the hard way. 😉

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