Have you been itching to take your kids to a live show, but are nervous to get started? Maybe you (like me) became a parent during the pandemic and feel like you’ve missed the class (“Parenting in Public 101?”) that more seasoned parents all seem to have. Maybe you aren’t sure if your children are ready, or haven’t been to a lot of live shows yourself.
At first glance, “the theatre” can seem like an intimidating space- especially for parents of young children. Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts Director Rodney Rock stresses that this is the furthest thing from the truth: “I want people to get the idea out of their heads that this is a “rooty toot snooty” event. It’s really just fun.”
As a nervous mom, this intrigued me: was it possible that my family – with our highly hyperactive preschooler- could actually enjoy a live show? How would we even do that?
To get us on the right track, Director Rock helped us come up with some tips for families getting ready for their first theater show:
Pick the right show:
“Family Friendly” shows are perfect for young kids with short attention spans. They typically have shorter running times and kid friendly content. Since the audience is typically made up of younger families, this means that other people will have kids asking questions, shuffling in their seats, and needing to use the bathroom mid performance.
In other words, you won’t be alone. It’s a great place for families to get their feet wet in the world of theater.
Talk to your child about what to expect:
Prepare your child by watching a preview of what the show will be about. For example, if you’re seeing “Harold and the Purple Crayon” consider reading the book. Many shows also have promotional materials (like short videos of the performance), and kids often get a kick out of seeing what is going to happen.
It’s also worth preparing them for the experience of the live theater- give them a step by step preview of what is going to happen: tell them they’ll come in with a large group of people, find their seats, it’ll get dark, and that’s how we know the show is supposed to start. Remind them that others can hear them so they’ll want to use quiet voices.
Pack for Success:
Think comfort items, (quiet) Fidgets, comfortable clothes- even snacks! We learned on our visit that theaters (including Jorgensen, I asked) allow parents to bring small, easy to access snacks and water for kids who might like a snack.
For children who struggle with loud noises, consider bringing a set of sensory headphones to block noise.
It can be worth checking to see what kind of bags the theater allows in. For example, Jorgensen doesn’t typically allow backpacks- but they do make an exception for diaper bags.
Get there early to scope things out:
Take the time so you don’t feel rushed- use the bathroom, get a drink, find stroller parking, and find your seat. It can be helpful to go over how to sit in a theater seat with young children (think “keep your feet on the floor and your bottom on the seat.”)
For safety, it’s always good to set up a meeting spot just in case you get separated. Point out theater employees in uniform as “safe adults” just in case help is needed.
Another essential to look for? A quiet calm down spot- a place where you can go if your child becomes overwhelmed or overly antsy during the performance. Personally, this is what I was most nervous about- I could just picture my child flailing on the ground screaming while everyone else in the silent theater turns to stare and I sink mortified into the ground.
As an aside, I did actually ask Director Rock if he would be upset if a child had a meltdown mid show if you took them out right away to calm them down. His response was “Not at all.” Very reassuring.
Relax, enjoy the show, and let your kid be a kid!
Director Rock stresses: “The most important thing they need to come away with is “It was fun”. He advises parents to let their kid ask quiet questions, and enjoy the genuine emotion that they bring to performances. Relax, savor the time together with your family, and enjoy the show!
Are you a parent trying to learn the ropes of taking your child out in this crazy post-pandemic world? Do you have advice for other parents on how to take kids out and about? We want to hear about it! Leave us a comment or send us an email at email@example.com