In light of the recent art mishap at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY, wherein a Picasso painting was ripped and devalued, I realized it can be quite challenging to bring children to places that are not kid-friendly. My initial thought was that an unruly child was out of control, and in a tantrum fit for the record books crashed his elbow through the famous work of art. Turns out it was a middle-aged woman who “lost her balance” and fell into it, causing the six inch gash currently being repaired. The likelihood of a child being at the center of the attention is very real, however. Kids have short attention spans, small bladders, low tolerance for “boring things” and strong vocal chords to tell you about all of their issues. Let those issues escalate in a place like The Met, and it can be a recipe for disaster.
But, thankfully, there are several things you can do to prepare your children for a visit to a location that requires appropriate behavior, a calm demeanor and a good attitude. It will take a little preparation and work for you upfront, but will likely make the trip more enjoyable for everyone in the end.
First, consider the time of day that would be best suited for your children. If you know they need afternoon naps, take them in the morning when they are still refreshed and more tolerant of new situations. Another option would be calling ahead to the venue and finding out what day it is the least crowded , so that over-stimulation is lessened. Basically, be cognizant of ways to take your kids when they are most likely to succeed.
Next, prepare yourself by bringing things that you know your kids like to do when they are out of the house. It may be a book, a toy, or a hand-held video game. Just make sure you are toting around things that are familiar to them and tried and true occupiers if your kids really don’t enjoy the venue as much as you would have liked.
Another tactic that is helpful is to research the venue ahead of time. Find out what you might see there, what exhibits are on display, the themes, etc. This will give you the chance to talk about those things with your kids for several days or weeks leading up to the visit. The more familiar they are with what they will see, the more inclined they will be to be excited and intrigued. Children love to be the expert, and the more they know about what they are seeing, the better things will go.
Since most adult places require that kids are calm, quiet and civilized, factor in time throughout the day to give them a chance to blow off steam. If you can plan for a visit to a park or playground after the visit to the adult venue, it can be a nice change of pace for them. I would encourage you not to use the playground as a reward for “being good”, but instead as a welcome kid-friendly bonus. You might say, “We are going to go the gallery first where it is quiet, but you can be as loud as you want at the park afterward”.
Finally, set ground rules of the behavior that you expect when you are out. This is not in an attempt to imply that you expect them to misbehave. It is more of clearly defining what they can expect and how to respond. In other words, at a museum there are things that they will not be able to touch. So, help them practice keeping their hands in their pockets or at their sides. In other places, they may need to be especially quiet. Help them know what is considered a whisper or an “inside voice”.
The more prepared you can be as a parent, and the more practiced your kids can be at handling adult venues, the more successful all of your trips will be. Children do not instinctively appreciate culture, art or music and need to be taught that they have value. Giving them opportunities to read, watch or listen to educational materials will open them up to the world outside of their limited arena. Once they have the background in those things, they will be asking you to go to the places that used to seem impossible to visit.