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Tips for taking kids to the movie theater

Sarah Caron is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor. She lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable kids and two funny beagles. Check out her food blog at Sarah's Cucina Bella.

First time at the movies

Movie theaters can be intimidating for kids. It's loud, the screen is huge, it's dark and they must stay seated for a period of time. Is your child ready? Here's how to make your child's first movie theater experience an enjoyable one.

Little boy at movie theater

With Shrek Forever After, Marmaduke and Toy Story 3 all hitting theaters in the next few months, it's a great time to pack the kids up for a fun trip to the movie theater. On rainy days, there is nothing more fun than escaping to another world with a fabulous new movie on the big screen.

But if you have young kids, it can be hard to tell if your kids are really ready for that first movie experience. "My oldest child barely breathed through his first movie on the big screen. He sat with his popcorn, wide-eyed, practically frozen in time. I'm not sure he even blinked! Years later, my younger son, who is generally in constant motion, not only found it difficult to sit still, but had to get up no less than 5 times to go to the bathroom," says mom of two, Michelle.

Not sure if your child is ready? Here's what you need to know.

Is your child ready?

Before you plop down the big bucks for movie theater tickets (and let's face it: movies do cost a lot these days!), you need to assess your child's readiness and ability to handle the intensity of a movie theater experience. To do that, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can my child sit through a longer movie at home?
  2. Is my child able to avoid bathroom breaks at length? (This isn't a deal breaker, but it is good to know)
  3. Is my child sensitive to loud noises?
  4. Will be big images on the screen overwhelm my child?
  5. Is this movie age-appropriate?

Now, if you answered 'no' to questions 1, 4 or 5, then chances are that your child just isn't quite ready for the movie theater. However, if you answered yes to questions 2 and 3, it's still doable. For kids with limited bladder control, be sure to cut back on drinks before the movie and have them go right before it starts. You might still have to get up for a bathroom break, but it won't be as frequent or early on.

For kids with sensitive ears, take ear plugs -- this will limit the sound they hear, so that it won't be so overwhelming.

When to go

Like with most things, heading out with kids around naptime is a recipe for disaster. Instead, plan to go either much earlier or after naptime is over so that your child isn't bogged down with tiredness.

So, what time is best? "Try to go to the earliest matinee. The theater will be emptier if your kids are noisy, and you'll save money," says mom of four Anamarie Seidel. And above all, avoid the evening! That's when the theater is most likely to be packed.

Get prepared for the movie theater

Alright. You are sure that your kids are ready and you've chosen the right movie at the right time. Now what?

First, make your expectations of their behavior in the theater clear. It's important that kids understand how they need to behave. "Remind them of all the rules while in the car before going into the theater," says Seidel. But, still remember that they are kids and things may not go as planned. "Go with the mindset that you are going to have a peaceful excursion, but expect interruptions. This will keep you patient."

Also, even if you are going to buy popcorn, pack a few snacks that you know your kids will like. It will help if they get restless or bored. A small, quiet toy or two can be a good item to bring as well.

Ready to go?

Above all, just be ready for a good time ... and be sure to catch a glimpse of your child's reaction ... if they love the movie, then it's sure to be priceless. Don't forget your camera! It will be fun to document your child's first movie theater experience.

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