Most children aren’t too keen on sitting through weddings, graduations, and other “grown-up” events that are just meaningless talk to young minds. Many adults aren’t too keen on having restless preschoolers at these programs either, so the first rule of taking your kids to “grown-up” events is: Don’t unless they’re invited. But when they are—or when you have family tickets to the opera or Shakespeare festival—it is possible for everyone to enjoy themselves.
“Introducing them to culture because it’s good for them” is typically received with about as much enthusiasm as, “Eat it, it’s good for you.” And, really, is it fair to blame the kids? Would you like to have some authority figure always ordering you to do things you didn’t find particularly appealing, with no explanation beyond, “Because I think it’ll bring you some [poorly defined] benefit”?
Make the emotional atmosphere one of anticipation rather than dread.
If you want to take your children to a wedding or a cultural event, hold a family discussion as soon as initial plans are made. Share the story behind the opera or the happy couple in child-friendly terms. Help the kids feel they’ll be playing active roles in something big and important. During the days before the event, play them music from the program, take them to meet members of the wedding party, or describe the reception menu in mouth-watering detail. And plan an extra just-your-family treat before or after the event: a stop for hot chocolate adds to the positive anticipation.
You can follow all the above advice and undo most of its benefits, if you let negativity slip into your anticipation. Don’t go overboard insisting “you’ll love every minute”—most kids won’t believe the “gushing” approach anyway—but don’t say anything like, “I know the play’s language will sound funny,” or “The ceremony might get boring.” If you phrase it like that, your children will believe you and go in prepared to be bored—and the worst will happen from pure power of suggestion.
If you suspect any “acquired taste” issues will be involved, phrase your description as an exciting learning opportunity. Make the emotional atmosphere one of anticipation rather than dread.
Even under the best circumstances, young children have shorter attention spans than adults—so if an event will require sitting and listening for more than twenty minutes, don’t begrudge them the right to bring a picture book, drawing tablet, or something else they can get quietly absorbed in for a while. Any noise that might be generated by turning pages is no worse than the squirming and shuffling generated by boredom. Just make sure the chosen activity doesn’t include any equipment likely to make real noise or fall behind a seat.
When things are handled well, your children not only can enjoy “grown-up” gatherings, they’ll feel more grown-up themselves. And that will carry over into responsible and polite behavior in other aspects of life.