There are many parents that can recount stories of carrying their hysterical child out of the movie theatre before the film even gets going. And I’m not talking about highly sensitive children. I remember (I think I was a teenager) sitting in the cinema with a friend watching the opening scene of Jurassic Park (the original, that is…) when a child began to scream uncontrollably. His mother rushed him out as quickly as she could. It was an intense scene for sure, particularly for such a small child. I have no idea if that child was highly sensitive, I have no idea if that was his first visit to the big screen, but I do know he probably slept badly that night.
The reaction of highly sensitive children during their first trip to the cinema can be unpredictable. Why? Noise, lights (or lack of), unexpected plot lines, fast action scenes, scary scenes, activity from other children in the cinema. The movie theatre can be a sensory minefield for a child who experiences things a little more intensely than other children.
So how can you best prepare for a movie outing with your HSC to ensure the first time is a fun time for all?
1.Wait it Out
Make sure that your child is ready for the big screen. If every show they watch on TV at home causes an intense reaction then it’s probably not the right time to move to the movie theatre. If your child is scared of the dark and extremely noise sensitive then it’s probably best to wait.
2. Make sure the Movie is Age and Content Appropriate
This goes without saying – a film needs to be age appropriate for a child. However, in my experience with highly sensitive children they tend to need to be older that the official film certificate suggests to actually enjoy the movie without intense emotions clouding the experience.
For example, here in the Netherlands movie ratings are AL (all ages), 6 (suitable for children age 6 and above), 9, 12 and 16 with symbols to indicate whether there is violence, bad language, discrimination, drugs etc in the film. If a film was rated 6 I knew that my then 6 year old probably wouldn’t handle the movie without some kind of emotional reaction, at least not in the cinema. Once he was 7 and 8 I no longer worried about how he would handle a film rated 6 in the cinema. There are AL films that I know I shouldn’t take my four year old to the cinema to see.
You could also check parental reviews of the film (like this site: www.kids-in-mind.com) so you can judge whether there are moments that will be too intense for your HSC, or that you need to prepare your child for to reduce the element of surprise, or to be able to reassure them that all ends well. Lost pets or dead parents is not something you need to get blindsided by……
3. Choose the Film Carefully
It isn’t just about whether the first film your HSC goes to see at the cinema is age appropriate – there are other things to think about too. You could consider choosing a movie that is relatively short and one that is slow paced. It’s a nice way to ease any child into the movie theatre experience.
4. Time Your Entrance
Find out what time the movie actually starts and arrive in time for that so your child doesn’t have to sit through adverts and trailers (which tend to be fast paced and noisy to catch attention).
Choosing the optimal time of day for your child is also important. If you can, choose a showing as early as possible so that your child doesn’t arrive with a full bucket from his day at school, or her swimming lesson that morning, or a playdate earlier that afternoon. Keep the rest of the day quiet to that your HSC is calm and as relaxed as possible for the cinema. Don’t make plans for after the movie, or ensure they are flexible so you can back out if your child has had enough excitement for one day.
5. Prepare for the Noise
If your child is sensitive to noise then a movie theatre can be overwhelming – even when the adverts are running before the movie even starts. Look for special film showings that play the film at a reduced volume and where the lights don’t get put down as low as normal.
You could also take ear defenders to the cinema so if the volume is too loud you have a portable solution in your bag.
6. Consider the Seating
If you are unsure about how your child will react to their first movie theatre experience then choose seats that allow you to make a quick exit if you need to. Sitting well back from the front rows to reduce the intensity of the experience is also a good idea.
7. Go With the Flow
If your child announces they want to leave the cinema then there is probably little point in trying to convince them otherwise. You could spend a few minutes somewhere quiet in the lobby, or outside the movie theatre to see if that helps your child ‘reset’ so they can return to the film. If they are reluctant don’t push – you may put them off the movie experience for a long time. Be accepting of their feelings – even if it means writing off the cost of the film tickets. Give them a big hug, congratulate them on trying something new and try again another time…….