Good to Go: Field Guides to the Arts for Parents

Taking the Kids to Their First Live Show

Family-friendly tips for preparing children for live performing arts events

Why Go?

Whenever I’m taking my two sons to a venue that’s mostly for adults, like an art museum or a play, there is a moment when I think, “Why am I doing this? Wouldn’t it be easier to look at pictures in an art book, watch a DVD, or chuck it all and take a family nap?”

When my husband Pat and I were packing our picnic gear for a Smokey Robinson concert at the Hollywood Bowl, that exact thought crossed my mind when my younger son asked if he could bring his football. The evening concert was scheduled to start at 8:30 in a noisy outdoor arena. Crowds and packed parking would rule out a quick getaway regardless of a child crying because he was tired, bored, or cold. What was I thinking?

As my ten and six-year-olds, Spencer and Murphy can attest, their father and I have little patience for the simple pop strains of mainstream kid music. Early on, we decided to share the music we enjoy with our children. This might seem dictatorial to some, but it kept us sane. It’s also the reason why our then four-year-old was able to identify Aretha Franklin as “The Queen of Soul” at a family barbecue.

We had been listening to “our music” during dinners and while playing board games, but the boys had never heard any of these singers live. And last year, I became concerned that some of our favorite artists would retire before my children could hear them in concert. So when I looked at the Hollywood Bowl schedule and saw that Smokey Robinson was performing, I decided he was the perfect singer for their first concert.

Pat and I prepped the boys by playing Smokey’s standard songs, talking about Motown, and sharing our own reactions to his music. Smokey, after all, was the man Bob Dylan called, “America’s greatest living poet.” Along with a light dinner, we packed pillows, warm sweatshirts, and cookies. Normally I avoid leaning on the manipulative power of sweets, but we would be sitting next to strangers who might find my children’s observations and squirming far less charming than I do. Cookies would provide distraction and an incentive to be well-behaved.

Even though Murphy pouted about leaving the football at home, the evening went off without a hitch. This was largely due to Smokey’s impressive show and the fact Murphy fell asleep during the second half. Both boys loved hearing familiar songs and even had patience for new ones. Initially, we had chosen seats way at the back because I didn’t want to invest a lot of money in an evening the kids might not enjoy. Surprisingly, my frugality had other unexpected benefits. The kids’ ears weren’t hit so hard by the loud music and, at the end, we could wait until many of the seats emptied before carrying out our sleeping son.

The experience affirmed my decision to ignore that little voice in my head telling me it’s too complicated to bring children to art events targeted mainly for adults. Despite the fact Murphy fell asleep, both boys will have memories of seeing this important singer on stage. My husband and I were so encouraged, we later took the children to see Earth Wind and Fire, the Neville Brothers, the Preservation Hall Band, and Pink Martini. Each time the kids sailed through, and each time Murphy fell asleep.

Smokey, by the way, still sounds like he’s 28.

Make it Happen

  • Search the Internet, newspapers, and local listings for a concert or play you would like to share with your kids. Most cities have a large venue for traveling shows, but don’t forget local outdoor festivals and even high school productions.


  • Make reservations and/or buy tickets if that is required. Book seats that are either at the back or on the aisle. This makes it easier for kids to move in and out.


  • Prepare the children by telling them about the show they are going to see. If it’s a concert, play some of the music ahead of time. If it’s a play, tell them what the play is about. Be enthusiastic. They will pick up on your excitement and be eager to see the show.


  • Don’t forget to tell your children about the basic rules of watching a live show. You may even want to explain to them the difference between seeing a movie as opposed to seeing a play or concert. They will need to be quiet and stay put as much as possible. It might help them to know if there is an intermission.


  • On the day of the show, make sure the kids are well-fed and well-rested.


  • If you’re going to an outdoor event, pack a small blanket, pillow, and an edible treat. I have also packed a children’s activity book and crayons, in case they really need a distraction.


  • When you get to the venue, make sure the kids have used the restrooms before taking your seats.


  • I recommend taking a walk at intermission. It’s a great time to share your thoughts on the show.


  • If the kids get tired, make them comfortable and let them fall asleep. Tell them that you will be waking them when it’s time to leave.


  • If worse comes to worse, and the children really aren’t having a good time (this has yet to happen for me), take them into the lobby or for a walk to blow off energy.


  • Enjoy and don’t worry if they weren’t rapt with attention or fell asleep. They’re soaking up more than you think.



Brett Paesel
Original Writer

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