Kids can have a great time at conventions, or they can be so miserable that the result makes a Ringwraith tea party look great by comparison. And even if your kid does have a great time, managing them may completely suck the joy out of your convention experience to the point you’re questioning why you even brought them. Or, perhaps you’ve been wondering why you didn’t take your kid to a convention earlier, since you’re finding them to be a great family experience.
So how do you know whether it’s a good idea to take your geekling to a convention? The answer is annoying, but true: it depends. And there are a number of “it depends”: it depends on your expectations and commitments for the convention, on your child, and, honestly, on the convention itself.
When You Shouldn’t
These are the things that should really make you pause and either look for alternate arrangements for your kid or think about skipping this convention. Yes, I know, I hate skipping things too, but since my daughter came along I’ve ended up skipping a few conventions that I would usually attend, especially when she was an infant.
Your kid vocally hates fandom. Geeks tend to beget more geeks, but there are always exceptions to the rule. If your kid complains about costuming, is against anime, derides dementia, and shuns sci fi, take it as a huge sign and don’t bring them. Seriously. Most conventions are very serious in their work to be a safe space for a wide variety of people, so please, do what you can to not work against that goal.
Your kid is going through an unhappy phase. Maybe you’re the lucky parent of a colicky baby, or maybe your geekling is going through a phase of growth that makes strong emotions difficult to handle. If there’s a strong chance that your kid will spend a good amount of convention time crying, especially in a hotel room at night, bringing them is probably not a good idea.
When You Should Think Twice
These factors could be nonissues with enough planning, but, depending on your circumstances or the age and personality of your kidlet, they also could be huge red flags that become reasons for you not to take your kid to con.
You have substantial commitments during the convention. Maybe you’re running a room party, you’re on a significant number of panels, or you’re doing a lot of volunteering. If your kid is old enough to be trusted on their own, if you have ample people (like another parental figure, relative, or friend) to help with child wrangling at the convention, or if your kid is perfectly happy to tag along with you, then this probably isn’t a problem. However, if you need to devote your full attention to your duties or your kid doesn’t do self-entertainment well and you don’t have anyone to help out at the con, you probably want to consider child-care options outside of the convention.
Your child doesn’t do well with deviations from their schedule. I’ll be honest: this is my kid. Currently, a normal bedtime is integral to the following day, and there’s no way around it. Similarly, some kids are more sensitive to disrupted meal schedules than others. However, there are ways around it with a bit of parent swapping or the usage of a babysitter. Just doing a day visit may also work.
Your plan for enjoying the convention involves some late-night partying. First, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to blow off steam at room parties. The amount of effort many parties put in in regard to building specific atmospheres is well worth a visit, whether you intend to reenact “Banned from Argo” or stay perfectly sober. However, as it gets later into the night, many conventions tend to get more adult oriented in general atmosphere, and while it may be fine for a responsible older teen, it may not be so great for a preschooler. Also, keep in mind that while you may want to sleep in after a late night of living it up, tiny children don’t tend to have snooze buttons.
There’s not much programming that your child would enjoy. Some children are perfectly happy to sit in a corner and self-entertain for hours on end with quiet activities like reading or coloring. If that describes your kid, then they’ll probably be fine hanging out in panels that would otherwise bore them. However, if the convention doesn’t really have any kid-centered or teen-centered programming and you have a child who isn’t willing to sit still for more than 30 seconds at a time, please consider alternative arrangements.
When You Should
If you’re on the fence about bringing your kid, here are some great reasons you may want to consider bringing them, even if it’s only for a few hours.
The convention has great kids’ programming. If a con has a great kids’ room, take advantage of it! Chances are your geekling has a soft spot for creating things, learning about science, and/or age-appropriate board games. Many Twin Cities area conventions have really upped their kid-oriented programming in recent years. If people use it, it will only get better!
You know other people or families attending. I’ll admit to getting really lucky here—my husband and I have two close friends who also enjoy the convention scene and have a son 6 months younger than our daughter. As a bonus, the kids love playing together as often as they can. You know what’s even more fun? Playing together at a convention! You know what’s really fun to do with people you’ve known since you were 18? Watch your kids playing together at a convention!
Your kid loves Halloween and other excuses to wear a costume. If your kiddo loves dressing up as Spider-Man just because it’s Wednesday, they’ll probably have a ball with participating in (or just watching) the amount of cosplay that goes on at most conventions.
Are you planning on bringing your geekling to a convention this year, or will you be leaving them at home? What helped you make that decision?