First of all, let me be clear: PAX Isn’t for kids. That’s not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t bring your kids, but it’s best to start out knowing that this isn’t necessarily a kid friendly environment. There is a lot of swearing, a lot of adult video content and a fair amount of people who will not be happy to see your precious little snowflake.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, my kids love PAX. It’s every gamer kids dream come true, with demos, swag and gaming everywhere. There is a ton of stuff to see and do, and if you go prepared, your whole family will have a great time.
I’ve compiled the following tips based on our experiences bringing our children (currently aged 4 and 11) to PAX prime for the past 4 years.
Leave the kids over 2 and under 6 at home. I know this isn’t ideal, but I really think it’s the best advice I can give. Nate is 11 and will be just fine, but we’ve arranged for Grandma to take Kitty for PAX weekend this year. We brought Kit when she was a baby and again when she was a year and a half and it was fine. I carried her in an Ergo carrier and she slept when she needed to. I brought her when she was two and a half and it was not fine. She was simultaneously bored and over stimulated. They don’t allow strollers on the main floor and she was too big to stick in a baby carrier for longer than 30 minutes at a time.We were all miserable Kit and I stayed home last year because I couldn't fathom chasing a three year old around the convention.
Stay Healthy. Two years ago our entire family got very, very ill right after PAX. It was 2009, the year of the Great PAX Plague, and we had all contracted the Swine Flu. Cons are germy places. Bring Hand sanitizer and use it often. I’m not the biggest fan of hand sanitizer (and would recommend you use an alcohol based one as opposed to Triclosan), but cons are one place where they are appropriate. I have recommended Bath and Body Works hand sanitizers before, and my friend The Geeky Hostess just reminded me that they make little rubber sanitizer holsters that you can loop onto your belt loop, purse, swag bag or baby carrier. Let your kid pick their own scent, give them a little bottle of their own and make sure they use it often. Remind them that it hasn’t worked until it has dried. Bring disinfectant wipes. Wipe the controllers, the keyboards, the mice, the tables, etc. Most importantly: wash your hands as often as possible. You need to wash them with warm water and keep the soap on your hands for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday”. Use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door, there was a recent study that found that one third of men – and only slightly less women – don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. Then they use their dirty hands to open the door, ewww!
Stay fed and hydrated. Food is available in the convention center, and at restaurants around it, but the choices aren’t great and the waits are long, not good when you have a cranky, hypoglycemic kid. We brought Fruit roll-ups, trail mix, pre-packaged apple slices and cheese sticks in a little insulated bag. Be conscientious, eat in designated areas and bring foods that aren’t messy. Give each person in your party their own water bottle. You’ll be on your feet all day and it’s easy to get dehydrated. Refill your bottles often and drink up!
Bring a baby carrier. If you have a kid little enough to tote around in a sling, Moby, Ergo or backpack carrier bring it. Strollers are not allowed on the floor of the main exhibition hall and toting a little one around in a carrier frees up your hands.
Bring a Camera. There are tons of photo ops to be had, and tons of costumes from both the game companies and cosplayers, and there are tons of cool promotional displays to pose in front of.
Find the kids’ games. The kid specific games may not be as plentiful as the adult-oriented stuff, but they are out there. Two years ago the kids played a baby care simulator and learned a Marvel-themed card game, Kitty rolled a giant D20 and won a prize, and both kids loved previewing a TMNT Wii game. A lot of these games haven’t been released yet and the game creators are usually thrilled to get input from real children.
Take a lot of breaks. The kids will tire faster than you do. Sometimes being a good parent means that we have to pull ourselves away from all the fun and just go sit. If you are staying at a hotel nearby, go back to your room for a nap. Leave the convention center and go sit in the surrounding park. If you have a three day pass, go home early. You don’t have to stay every hour all three days with a cranky kid. Most years the kids only go for one day because it’s just too much, and one day is PLENTY for them.
Skip the panels. While they’re interesting to you, your kid will probably be bored and cranky. I’m a big proponent of NOT putting kids in situations that are bound to lead to what will appear to the average non-breeder as “misbehavior”. Making your kid wait in a long line just so they can sit still and be quiet is a formula for disaster.
Tag-team. If you are planning on bringing your kids the best thing I can tell you to bring is another able-bodied adult. If you can switch off on child care duties you will have a better chance of getting to see a panel you really want to check out something more mature in nature.
Make it easy to be found. Stick a business card in your kid’s pocket, or consider getting some Safety Tats. Either option makes it easy for your kid to contact you if you get separated. Staff members will be wearing distinctive T-shirts, make sure your kids know what they look like in case they need to find help. One of my readers (thanks, Gina C.) suggested via the Parenting Geekly Facebookpage that parents wear a distinctive color to make it easier to find you in a sea of black T-shirts.
Be prepared to spend. There is plenty to buy including games, prereleases, shirts and toys and most kids will ask for at least something. I suggest setting a spending limit before you leave home.
Bring a Backpack (or a tote if you have a backpack carrier) and have the kids carry one too. There is a lot of swag to be had, and if you don’t give the kids a way to carry their own, you’ll be carrying two times the amount of junk around.
Most importantly, have fun! This is a great opportunity for your kids to see what the gaming community is all about. Like I said before, even during our more “challenging” years we have had a ton of fun, and the kids look forward to it. Now to break the news that she’s not going to Kitty…