NYCC Guide for Parents of Younger Kids

Three years of New York Comic Con visits. Three years of trial and error. Three years of family additions to NYCC. How do you negotiate that kind of insanity? Why yes, after explaining all the new additions, there is a guide to “How To Keep From Losing Your Child or Your Sanity.”

Let me first convince you as to why you want to take the littles. Then, learn from my experience as to how to make it fun.

“It’s 2012, New York Comic Con time!”

As post after post would travel through my feed showing me pictures of amazing cosplay, panels that seemed to be once in a lifetime experiences, and limited edition items or free swag that seemed incredible, my sitting-at-home-on-the-couch-with-a-baby self moped.

It’s too crowded, too expensive, too loud, too overwhelming to do with a child, I thought. Then, in 2013, back in those Jurassic days of being able to buy a Sunday ticket a month in advance, we decided to drive down for the day. One bright Sunday morning, we packed the two adults and one four-year-old into the car, expecting an epic adventure. The adventure was epic, complete with New York City parking ticket.

However, in 2013, even the kids’ day family friendly events were few and far between. Overwhelmed, we focused on the the main exhibition floor and on The Block. In a nutshell, we shopped. A lot. Last year, there seemed to be a few more family events. However, finding a place to bring an overwhelmed kid proved difficult. Again, shopping, shopping, and more free swag.

This year, however, the Family HQ was much more prominent. NYCC did a really great job of listening to us parents and reaching out to provide programming for all ages. Granted, a lot of this meant sitting and watching television or playing video games, which could all be done at home for a lot less money.

However, it also provided a place where the kids could hang out happily if the parents wanted to go walk around and see things in which the kiddos have no interest. Family HQ’s expansion included two new rooms. In 2014, NYCC provided three rooms of family programming which included seven programs available Thursday, fifteen on Friday, twenty on Saturday, and seventeen on Sunday.

Although this is better than a lot of conventions, for a large convention with a lot of parents, this is fairly sparse. Most of the programs were hour programs, meaning that there was no specific location to bring overtired, overwhelmed kids. This year, however, Family HQ had its own icon on the NYCC app. Five programs were available on Thursday, twenty on Friday, twenty-four on Saturday, and nineteen on Sunday.

Walking past Family HQ, one of the biggest attractions was Room 1C-03: Yo-Kai Watch. Despite the program itself, an odd little cartoon that had weird ghost-like characters and talked about “dropping a deuce,” most parents did not seem bothered that the television was something they might not allow being watched at home. The room included board games, Yo-Kai Watch playing on an endless loop, and video games. At varying times, there were also character visits and live dance performances by the very kind, child loving staff.

This break for both parents and children, albeit loud, provided a single place kids could go to be kids in the middle of an otherwise “Ohmigoodnesspleasebehave!! Hold my hand! No don’t tantrum!” experience.

This year’s programming in the other rooms included workshops with artists such as Katie Cook, Tony Fleecs, and Agnes Garbowska. On Sunday, every program appeared to have long lines and several were closed before the programs even began. Room 1C-05 had continuous face painting daily. In addition to last year’s Wand Training (which occurred again), this year NYCC offered pirate training and padawan training.

All of these programs appealed to both children and adults, ultimately making the convention more family friendly and more welcoming to the next generation of geek.

So, with all that being said, here is my NYCC Guide to Parents of Younger Kids: AKA How to Do a Big Convention Without Losing Your Child or Your Sanity.

  • Figure out exactly how you want to approach bringing your child. Is this for you to go and have your kid come along because babysitters are expensive (totally viable point, incidentally)? Or is this because you want to share the things you love with your child? Are you as focused on what your child wants to see as on what you want to see?
  • Given the prices of the tickets and the time spent trying to snag them, it makes perfect sense to want to focus on the limited edition prints or books or artists’ alley or collecting areas. However, the problem is that this can cause issues with kids who find this so incredibly meltdown-inducingly boring as to make everyone’s lives miserable. If you don’t have one of those totally-compliant-with-everyone-else’s-desires children, you need to decide prior to going if you can accept having to bend to the often capricious whims of your kid. If you are so focused on “we need to do this cool thing I think you think will be awesome!” that you constantly argue with your child, your experience will be miserable. Ask me how I know.
  • Have some set goals before you head to NYCC. What’s great about NYCC is that it provides a lot of information in advance of the convention. This means that the family can sit down and plan accordingly. Especially for kids who “Need To Know the Things,” this is a particularly important step. Some kids need to be prepared for the unknown; this totally helps.
  • Create an “if you’re overwhelmed” contingency plan for once you’re there. Basically, NYCC is essentially wall-to-wall people. As a short person, I find staring at walls of chests and people bumping into me overwhelming and stressful. Now, imagine that all you can see are knees. And feet. And that you’re constantly barraged by noise! Lights! Shiny! Look! This can overwhelm a lot of kids. This means that it helps to find ways to help kids who get overwhelmed. Finding quiet spaces in the Javits is hard. However, wandering outside, or going into some of the less populated corners (over by Empire Theater is a good one as are some corners near the exit from the Main Stage) helps. Bring some small toys so that your kid can “be a kid” instead of “having to behave.”
  • ALWAYS make the Megabloks your first stop. They always have free blocks available. This means that you don’t need to even carry in your own toys to accomplish #3. ALWAYS Megabloks.
NYCC GeekMom
Image Copyright Karen Walsh
  • Family HQ: This year, the app included a special tab just focused on the Family HQ. Despite the continued loop of Yo-Kai Watch, the Yo-Kai Watch room was amazingly helpful. With at least one kid-centric panel during each panel period, Family HQ was a prime destination for families. Hopefully, even more family oriented paneling will be provided next year since many of the panels were capped or ended up at maximum capacity. Very long lines for these panels ended up deterring those whose children have self-control issues.
  • Divide and Conquer. It is super extra wonderfully fun to Con with your partner or another adult. Trust me. In fact, for the last two years, we have had the privilege of having my parents help us by watching the child and bringing him in for Sunday. (Public thank you, Mom and Dad!) This, however, is not the case for everyone. Thusly, in the planning stage, each family member should get to choose one “Totally Have to Do It” item. As such, this means that each adult gets one “Totally Have to Do It” item. This can be a panel, a shopping time, a photo op, or just some time to walk around alone. Keep in mind when planning that the panels and photo ops can be an hour or longer experience. Therefore, negotiating time as part of the planning process is important. However, if kids are interested in some stuff that another grown up isn’t, then this is a good time to split up.
  • If you are using the Divide and Conquer Method, make sure to agree upon a meeting place and time. Texts and cell phones work mostly well, but on occasion the service gets jammed and nothing goes through. Relying only on these can be a source of utter frustration. The “Mystery of the Missed iMessages” was solved as soon as I transferred back to only texting the Mister.
  • Food and drink. This falls way towards the end of the list because for a lot of parents this is the No Brainer of them all. If you can find the collapsible water bottles? Those things are amazing. Also, this year I discovered the power of the Power Bar. They give a nice boost of energy. If you want to eat something else, try to find somewhere not inside the Javits. We noticed that the line for the hot dog stand inside NYCC was about a half hour to 40 minutes long. Meanwhile, if you tap out and cross the street, there are several hot dog stands waiting to take your money. They’re the same hots dogs and quicker since there is no line. Then, you can walk back into NYCC having filled your belly with food and not having wasted time on a long line. Especially with kids, the across-the-street hot dog vendors were awesome. I’d say that from tap out to tap in, we spent about 15 minutes total, and managed to eat in that time.

Over the last few years, a lot of the comic cons we go to have added more family friendly venues. Living during the graying of the first generation geeks era also means having children with us to teach them the ways of the geek. In order to ensure future profitability, conventions are beginning to embrace children as guests. As a parent, this is a wonderful time to be raising the next generation of geek, with just a little bit of planning.

Karen Walsh is a part time, extended contract, first year writing instructor at the University of Hartford. In other words, she's SuperAdjunct, complete with capes and Jedi robe worn during grading. She also works as a contract internal regulatory compliance auditor for banks. In addition, she writes comics and artist reviews at www.cosplayconnectuniversity.com.She works in order to support knitting, comics, tattoo, and museum membership addictions. She has one dog, one husband, and one son who all live with her just outside of Hartford, CT.