Comic Con season is upon us. In the past I posted guidelines on bringing your kids to PAX. I was just going to rerun that article in anticipation of tomorrow’s Emerald City Comic Con, but realized that PAX and a comic conventions are two different beasts entirely. That’s great news for nerdy parents, though; I’ve found that comic shows are way more child friendly than PAX. So some of the info here is a repeat of that, but there are some tips specific to comic cons as well. And if you aren’t bringing your kids (yay for you!) I suggest heading over to my friend The Geeky Hostess’ website where she has some great general con etiquette info.

This will be my eighth year attending Emerald City, and my kids have come with me for at least part of the time every year. Kit made her first ECCC visit at under a month old. I was working at that show and it was the first time I was away from her for longer than a trip to the grocery store. I wound up having to pump in the ladies room. Save the breast-milk-in-the-bathroom episode, we have always had a great time.

Tips for attending Emerald City Comic Con (or any comic show ) with kids:

Stay Healthy. 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 they even 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 to wipe tables and game pieces. 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 fewer 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 discouraged 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, from cosplaying attendees to cool promotional displays to pose in front of.  

Be polite to celebrities. Even if you don’t stand in line to wait for an autograph, you will likely see notable people on the convention floor. If they are clearly being escorted to/from somewhere with a ECCC Staff member, leave them alone. If you are in a position to say hello, do just that. Say hello, offer a brief platitude and then leave them be. If your kid is a fan, introduce them, but don’t force conversation. I would happily have a conversation with anyone, from Edward James Olmos to the guy selling used collectables but Nate is much more reserved than I am. He’s happy to stand and admire his favorite celebrities from a distance, talking to them makes him crazy nervous. He’s 11, that’s fine.  

Talk to the writers and artists. Don’t be afraid or intimidated by the comic creators. They are all there because they want to share what they do with the public. If you’re not familiar with someone ask them what they’re working on. Who knows? You may find a new favorite.  

Try not to embarrass your kids. I once told Felicia Day a funny story about Nate calling her Tina Fey and then commenting on the similarities between their names. Nate was mortified. That’s nothing compared to some of the scantily clad cosplayers I’ve seen with kids in tow. Or the guy making his daughter stand next to every celebrity and guest in the hall. On the other hand, Nathan STILL talks about getting to play Rock Band with Wil Wheaton, an opportunity he wouldn’t have had if I hasn’t made him. Know your kid and what they are comfortable with, and then try to respect their boundaries.

“Look with your eyes, not your hands” My mom used to tell us that when we were at an antique store, or in the china department. The advice applies at Comic Con, too. You’d be surprised at the rare /valuable/breakable things vendors just have laying on their tables. Be mindful of what your kids are touching.  

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.

Make a plan. Use the Emerald City Comic Con’s website to look over all the panels (if you must), check the event schedule and look at the long list of guests and exhibitors. If there is something or someone you have to see, make an agenda. If you or your kids are fans of a certain comic book, bring some copies to have signed.

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 Facebook page 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 limited editions, games, shirts and toys and most kids will ask for at least something. I suggest setting a spending limit before you leave home. We tell our kids how much they can spend and then don’t let them spend it until they’ve done a loop around the convention center. Otherwise they spend their money on the first thing they say and then regret it one table later. Also, be aware that almost all of the media guests charge an autograph and photograph fee (usually $20-$50).

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 geek community is all about. My kids look forward to it every year. If you have any tips to add please share in the comments!