Taking the stress out of your child's annual celebrations!

Archive for July, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Ooo Aargh Matey!

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Don’t Hate, Celebrate!( or how to avoid the revenge party bag syndrome)

 

I came across this blog post via Twitter  : Five reasons to hate kids parties . It is a very funny, perfectly frank response to today’s party competitive syndrome where parents feel pressured into putting on the biggest and best party, costing plenty of money in the process. While I really appreciate how parents must feel about the stress of party hosting, I did find it a little disappointing that many parents opt to not host a party at all and some jokingly referred to preparing ‘revenge’ party bags full of  noise makers and sweets to stress out the parents of the party guests when they got home.

What a shame.

Okay, I’m not without humour ( I have a masters degree in being silly after all) and I do appreciate that most of these comments were posted in jest but I did feel that underneath the jokes and quips lies a backbone of bitterness and resentment. This is what I find sad. Parties should be joyful occasions, remembering after all that they are for our children. I ask yourself to think with your inner child’s brain and remember yourself as a child and how important and significant your annual birthday event was. As adults we’d rather forget our ageing and skim over our birthdays but when you are four turning five, oh my! This is an event. All children without exception want to be big. Let’s forget the grown-ups and their expectations and concentrate on our children. What is fun for them? What is important for them? Their parents attention in short. Throwing good money after bad is just a panic tactic that really doesn’t equal a good party experience as I have covered in my previous blog post here. What all children really want is an opportunity to show that they are of worth. They are natural pleasers. Nothing gives a child more pleasure than making mummy and daddy happy. So forget the plastic and sweets, here’s my suggestion for a cheap party that your child will love. Do stuff with your kids. Get on the floor if they’re little and play ring a rosies with them. Play musical statues/bumps with them, prepare to enter their world and be silly.Play the games that you used to play at your own birthday parties with them, your children will love that if you do. That is the key. If you enjoy it, if you invest good energy into it, they will follow.

As for party bags, well forget the spiteful revenge bag and just be creative. Why not make it into a game of fish, ( just have one small gift per child) or lucky dip? I’ve seen children going away from parties with a strawberry plant, pleased as punch. The party bag idea is a token gift. It doesn’t have to be huge or even a bag. Just something … come on parents, I know you can do it.

Don’t give up on fun. Our children rely on us.

 

Summer break

It’s the summer holidays now ( not that you could tell from this good old British weather we’re having) but the time has come when clients go on holiday and partying stops for 6 weeks.

So many people presume that children’s entertainers work the most in the Summer and are surprised that I say that that is when business is quietest.

So for a few weeks rather than writing here, I’m concentrating on my crafting.

Diane the London Children’s party entertainer and puppeteer is having a break and knuckling down to her crochet.

See you over on my craft blog!

Diane gets Crafty

Going crochet crazy! Come and see the cuteness.

Boundaries: A Safe Space To Run Free

Boundaries, now there’s a word to make most people switch off. Before you do, please hear me out.

The concept of boundaries gets a raw deal in my opinion. People shy away from creating boundaries as if by so doing they will  be making themselves into the ‘bad guy’.  Although they take a little resolve and confidence to instill, once put into place, boundaries are the foundation of establishing calmness and instilling confidence in those who need a little encouragement and security.

We all need boundaries in our lives to be able to be free. An oxymoron perhaps? On first sight it appears that way. How can imposing limitations create freedom?

Let me give you an everyday example from my work as a London Children’s Entertainer.

When I first started out, many moons ago I didn’t think about boundaries. I didn’t want to be bossy, I wanted to be the fun lady that everybody loved  and I wanted to bring laughter not restriction to a child’s party. So I started doing puppet shows and wondered why the children were behaving so badly. They threw things into the puppet theatre,  they paid constant visits to the back of the theatre whilst I was performing, interrupting the show. They pulled the puppets, threw things at them, and kicked and pulled the puppet theatre. Aargh! Those terrible children, you might think.

This doesn’t happen any more and it’s not because I came over all ‘School Ma’am’ and thrashed them with a cane. ( metaphorically of course, that would be illegal and not very nice.)

It dawned on me pretty quickly that I had forgotten an important thing. I had forgotten to speak to the children and let them know my boundaries. Communication, how could I have forgotten about this ? In order for us to be able to have fun together we needed to simply negotiate with each other.

I had come into a party looking like a silly lady, colourfully dressed with ribbons in my hair. I didn’t look like an authority figure ( thank goodness) but I was still expected to keep the party under control but without anyone realising I was controlling. Of course the children were going to test my limits, see how far the silly ‘clown’ lady would go. So they did those ‘naughty’ things and watched my reaction.

Cesar Millan on Small Dogs vs. Big Dogs

Image by watchmojo via Flickr

All I needed to do was to use my calm/assertive energy and quietly explain to the children why they shouldn’t pull the puppet theatre or puppets, or go around the back of the puppet theatre. Once I explained why I didn’t want the children to do those things ( it wasn’t safe, they could pull the puppet theatre over etc) I could see the children visibly relax. I didn’t need to tell them not to poke or pull me once I had used this ‘leader’ energy. It simply didn’t happen. I took my theory from the wonderful  and awesome Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan. It seems his theory works very well with people (especially the mini-people) as well as dogs!

Now children can have fun in peace, knowing that I don’t have to shout at them . Parties seem to end up as a  bit of a ‘Love-In’ with children offering countless cuddles and high fives to this silly lady after the show.

So, next time you are considering setting boundaries but are frightened of consequences, don’t be. They may be just what the doctor ordered!

Sibling rivalry and birthday parties

Child receiving the final touches of facepaint...

Image via Wikipedia

Unless you are a first time parent you will have more than just the birthday child to consider when throwing a party. Brothers and sisters can have an especially important role in determining the success or failure of your party. Sibling rivalry can have a very big impact on how the birthday child behaves and feels on their special day.

As a children’s entertainer of many years experience, I have felt the impact of sibling rivalry first hand at many a party. In its sweetest way it often manifests as a  young birthday girl in a pink dress sitting in front of me at the face painting table, requesting gravely to be painted as Spiderman. Subsequently when I ask if the birthday girl has a big brother, the darling nods her sweet head in enthusiasm; it’s flattery at its highest, little sister wanting to please big brother by painting herself as one of his heroes. ( Of course I’m not saying that all girls should be painted in a ‘girly’ fashion, but this request has become too commonplace not to have made the connection. Go, go you non-‘girly’ girls, I’m all for you!)

But not all sibling rivalry is that sweet.

There is one simple thing to remember when it comes to dealing with children, most especially boys, and that is that saving face is all and that makes it doubly important not to try to apply labels to our children, even with good intention. Children are by their very nature, ‘pleasers’, they want to do things to keep grown-ups happy. If a grown-up of influence has told a child that they are ‘too big to enjoy baby stuff‘ then that grown-up has removed any potential for that child to then be involved in anything that they think may betray their need to be big. Does that make sense? Then that sibling will not allow him or herself to  be involved with anything that their younger sibling does in fear of being labelled babyish. I’ve seen many an older brother playing with his peers at his younger sibling’s birthday party, desperately wanting to be noticed and to be able to be involved , but terribly aware that if he did get involved by watching the puppet show then he would be a baby, like his sibling. Often this ends up with the older sibling disrupting the goings on by running through the entertainment, so they can have attention  but not be involved at the same time. Kids are great at being resourceful and finding ways around fulfilling their own needs. I’ve often witnessed older siblings peeking through the cracks of doors so as to enjoy the entertainment incognito. I make sure I don’t betray their subterfuge!

I can easily understand how a well-meaning parent can inadvertently encourage this sort of thing by thinking that their older sibling will not enjoy their young siblings birthday party entertainment and then organise a play date with a few of their friends to run concurrently upstairs while the party goes on downstairs. They then wonder why the play date keeps drifting downstairs to disrupt the party. They aren’t being naughty, they are just wanting to  join in the fun. Who can blame them when I have parents telling me how much they enjoyed the entertainment themselves? They are surely way too big to enjoy such babyish nonsense? Or are they?

Anyone who knows me at all will know that I’m an ardent believer in keeping the inner child alive for a happy and healthy life.

Big brothers and sisters aren’t too big to enjoy stuff.  Trust me. Let them make up their own minds if they have grown out of their childish ways. Childhood is short enough without us protracting it even further for those children who are still children.

Try not to tell the older sibling they are too old /too big/ too grown up to enjoy anything. Take the lead from them and let them decide. Then the child won’t be forced to save face.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to see children of all ages, from 2 up to grown-ups ( yes it has been known folks!) including older siblings, hopping up and down with Bobby Bunny in my puppet show. Having fun together brings the family together and creates a wonderfully warm atmosphere that is worth more than gold.

I suppose this post is about age appropriateness again. I find the subject a little contentious. In my opinion anything goes as long as it is done in the right spirit and there is no condescension involved. No one likes to be patronized. Being child-centred for me means leading from the child’s perspective. Surely all children are still children until they are grown up.  We don’t suddenly stop being children just because we have a younger sibling do we?

So take that leap of faith and let the older sibling join in instead . A sensitive entertainer will enlist the older siblings help to ‘control’ the children ( in words only, it’s just a way of giving the older children a role so that they can sit back and enjoy the show without feeling silly). Or in my case, get up and hop!

Colour: Feeds my eyes, warms my soul.

Mary Magdalene, Oil on wood panel, Samuel and ...

Image via Wikipedia

A few pictures from around my home.

Colour is important to me.

 

My kitchen wall with painting of flowers, yes all by me!

 

My improvised mosaic fireplace.

 

My kitchen ceiling.. yes ceiling. Still not finished ten years later.

I’d always wanted a Madonna and cherubs on my ceiling, so I found a picture I liked and started to paint. Balanced precariously on a chair in my kitchen, paint brush in one hand, illustration in other, neck cricked back, I soon appreciated the enormity of the task I  had undertaken. Painting upside down on tiptoe really hurts. Whilst painting I started to wonder why the Virgin was bare chested and had flowing red hair then suddenly it dawned on me. The Magdalen. I was painting the Magdalen on my ceiling. Wonderful. She has been my muse ever since. Mind you, I am still to complete the ceiling, maybe one day.

 

Our beautiful shiny Lab/Rotty cross Tiny. Sadly afflicted with terrible epilepsy. This sweet loving dog didn’t make it past three years old. He is sadly missed.

Jug of Irises, painted over 18 years ago.

 

I don’t understand how people can live in a monochrome world. For some colour is terrifying and threatening. I’ve written about this strange phenomenon  here .

I understand sophistication and minimalism, but it’s just not me. I’ll stay in my gaudy but oh so stimulating and comforting colourful cocoon. I’m sure my little clients appreciate my colourful ways !

Balloons, the pros and cons.

A pile of inflatable balloons.

Image via Wikipedia

As a London children’s entertainer of over 17 years experience, I’ve been to a fair few parties. How many I couldn’t possibly accurately calculate, but I’d hazard a guess that I’m probably past my thousandth party.  With all this experience I’ve become acutely aware of what can make or break a children’s party, especially from the entertainer’s perspective. Ideally when hiring an entertainer, the intention is to have a fun party with as little stress as possible. This doesn’t come without some planning and the best parties come from good team work between the client and the entertainer. Communication is vital, make sure you spend some time chatting to your entertainer to make sure they know what they are doing. Personally I feel an entertainer who is willing to compromise and bend to all requests may suggest an entertainer with little or no experience. An experienced entertainer is a source of many hints and tips for making your party successful, so don’t be afraid of picking their brains. A wise client is one who listens to suggestions from the entertainer and works in conjunction with them.  Good teamwork is essential for a smooth and calm party. I don’t know about you, but I like to avoid chaos at all costs.

Let’s start with BALLOONS.

Balloons. What party is complete without them? They provide instant festive decoration and are a party must. Right?

Right. But there are also times when balloons can be the cause of party chaos.

As an entertainer who wants to make sure my client’s party experience is a calm and controlled affair, I walk a tightrope of sergeant major/party-pooper. It’s a fine balance of keeping control but also not destroying the fun atmosphere. After all , fun is what a party is about. But out of control fun can soon descend into very unpleasant chaos. This is easily avoided though by taking some precautionary measures.

When booking a party with Diane’s Puppets, I suggest to my clients that if they are having balloons, to make sure they are kept off of the floor.

Party-pooper alert? Hmm, maybe, but balloons are great fun to play with on the floor as long as there is no other planned activity going on. If you are having a free play /soft play session for your party, by all means cover the floor with balloons. They are a  simple and cheap way of keeping small children busy. Combine balloons with a few bubbles and that is a party in itself. But and this is a big BUT if you have booked entertainment for the party, keep the focus on the booked entertainment. Children find it hard to focus on one thing if there are lots of other things going on at the same time and that inability to focus often leads to all-consuming chaos.

Keep balloons tied up and out of reach if you don’t want loose balloons to become bouncy weapons and missiles, perfect objects to hurl into puppet booths or bash puppets/entertainers/each other with.

Don’t underestimate the noise balloons can create when in a child’s grasp, the squeaking and bursting and general distraction they can cause can’t be over-emphasized.

Helium balloon ‘forests’ can be a beautiful decorative feature, but make sure that the dangling string is just out of children’s reach otherwise expect a few children to take on the role of chief balloon collector and claim them all. If there is to be a puppet show, make sure helium balloons are away from the front of the stage as the constant bobbing of the balloons can completely obscure the view for the majority of the audience and also risk popping on the hot lights. On that note, do bear  in mind that some children are balloon phobic especially if they happen to be autistic and sensitive to noise. Balloons can then be a very terrifying thing, unpredictable and very loud when popped. We want to minimize tears and disruption and maximize fun by thinking in advance.

So to summarize:

  • Keep ‘air’ balloons off of the floor if you are having entertainment and use them for decoration and going away gifts at the end of the party.
  • Make sure the string of helium balloons is just above the reach of the tallest child at the party to minimize squabbles and disruption if you want to make a forest of helium balloons .
  • Tie helium balloons firmly to the child’s wrist on departure- they have a nasty habit of flying to the moon if you don’t. ( The balloons that is, not the children!)
  • Consider tying helium balloon to each of the chairs at the tea table. This is a great way of adding instant party pizzazz but keeps the balloons in a secure place.
  • Be mindful of any left over latex from burst balloons, small children can easily choke. In my time as an entertainer, adults have been known to use the stretchy stuff to make makeshift caterpaults to fire at the entertainer… Hmm. Not great. Silly grown-up’s hey?

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