Some people would say, “Never!” Others — you know, the ones who bring their kids along to midnight showings of violent action movies — seem to think that any movie is fair game. The very fact that you’re asking this question shows that you think there might be a reasonable middle ground.
It’s not okay to bring a toddler to adult-themed movies. Get a sitter if you want to catch the latest R-rated rom-com. And generally speaking, it’s not a good idea to bring a toddler to any late-night movies; as a rule, movies that start after bedtime are a very bad idea.
Beyond that, it’s up to you to use your judgment. “Most toddlers don’t have the desire or patience to sit in one chair throughout a full-length movie. So first ask yourself why you want to take him,” says Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Discipline Solution. If it’s because you can’t wait to share your love for a particular movie or character, consider waiting a few more years; odds are, your toddler won’t fully appreciate the movie at this age anyway. If it’s because you’re dying to see the movie, consider leaving your toddler home with the sitter and going with your partner or friends instead; you won’t be able to sit down and enjoy the movie if your toddler is along, because toddlers are squirmy, easily distractible creatures with a knack for needing to use the potty at crucial plot points.
If you want to take him along, though, because you really, truly think your child will enjoy the movie, by all means, take him! (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for kids under age two, but occasional exceptions are okay.) Plan wisely, though. “Find a child-designed feature that has characters your child will recognize or find interesting to watch,” Pantley says. “The story line isn’t what’s most important in toddlerhood. Lively, fun-to-watch scenes are the best pick.
Monitor your toddler closely during the movie. Some kids find the big images and loud noise overwhelming. If he’s startled or overwhelmed, take him out of the theater for a minute; a break and a quick explanation may be all that’s needed. You might want to tuck a couple of earplugs (or a pair of earmuffs) in your purse too; if your child is sensitive to noise, lowering the volume by blocking some of the sound may help him enjoy the movie.
Take along an extra dose of patience too, and understand that you likely won’t be sitting in your seats from start to finish. Also, be considerate of other people in the theater. You might find your toddler’s comments or cheers endearing, but other theatergoers may prefer to watch the movie without commentary. So if your toddler is chattering away, it’s time to head home and try again a few months down the road.