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

Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Celebrating the Silly: My 100th post.

Diane’s Puppets : Kidspartyheaven. This is my one hundredth blog post.

To commemorate such an auspicious occasion I thought I’d take time to be a little serious and introspective .

Times are tough right now, especially for parents. We are all struggling to make ends meet in this very challenging financial time and this can be very stressful for parents. No parent wants to pass their worries onto their children . We want childhood to be an idyllic time, full of fun and new experiences. We want our children to have a better childhood than ourselves and this can be very tough to achieve, particularly right now.

Girl watching punch and judy show

Creating memories of my own

In my day job as a Children’s  Party Entertainer and puppeteer, I see parents doing their utmost best to provide the best childhood experience they can for their offspring. I applaud my lovely clients for realising the importance of creating good memories and the celebration of milestones for their children. Without wanting to sound like an advert for credit cards or package holidays, this stuff is priceless. But obviously it comes at a price, this is why I try and tailor my party packages to allow people to budget for what they can afford. This is also why I unashamedly display my prices on my website. It is the first thing I would look for, as a consumer, if I was looking to throw a party for my own child.

It is stressful just to live right now, jobs are at risk, things are impermanent. I feel this in the pattern of bookings I’m getting: everyone is very last minute. This reflects the consumers anxiety about  how hard it is to forward plan with no ability to be able to trust in our financial future. I too share your concern. We are all in this together.

We are told that the way out of this awful state is to start being confident, to start spending and trusting again. Easier said than done right?

I believe it is important to start with our emotions, to lighten up , to try and start being less gloomy. Our children pick up on these emotions more than anything, they live in an emotional world, rather like dogs. ( I’m a fan of the Dog Whisperer, can’t you tell?) I’m on a one woman mission to

Respect the Silly

silly pirate facepainting

Ooo Aargh Matey!

It may sound silly. It probably is. But there is a serious side to all of this. If we continue to live in the very grown up world of doom and gloom and recession and financial ruin, well… I don’t really need to spell it out do I?

We all need to laugh. We all need to feel good and light. It makes us healthy.

On this note, I’ve been busy making stuff  to lighten up our lives in the medium of crochet.

crochet pincushion tooth fairy box

a toothfairy box/pincushion

 funky Crochet rainforest toddler frog hat

Toddler rainforest frog hat.

Cute bumblebee beanie hat

My darling granddaughter modelling a bumblebee beanie

Crochet flower fairy doll

Of course I make fairies!

In my very modern way, I learned to crochet via Youtube a year ago. I’ve now got my own Folksy shop and a website.

Logo for Crochet bright and beautiful

Click on fairy to go to my website

It’s my way of staying positive and trying to bring lightness and brightness back into our world. If you are with me, please spread the word!

If you’re a social networking person, add me on @CrochetBandB on Twitter or www.facebook.com/CrochetBrightandBeautiful  on Facebook.

Right, it’s time to go to work.

Hi ho, Hi ho, it’s off to work I go…* whistles*

Why I don’t make balloon animals

2007-12-28 Roy's Balloon Modelled Poodle 02

Image by Roy Stead via Flickr

Quite often when I take inquiries for my Children’s Entertainment Service , Diane’s Puppets , people ask if I do balloon modelling. I don’t. Sometimes this is a deal breaker and I lose the opportunity to take a booking.

The thing is, I could make balloon animals. I’m a creative person, as my craft blog attests, I can turn my hand to making things. It’s not a problem. It could be another skill that I could use.

But I choose not to.

Am I being foolish?

Some might say so.

I choose not to because I believe strongly  that children appreciate our time and attention over things. Our very materialistic society which bombards our children with advertising constantly teaches that children have to have STUFF to be happy.

I don’t agree.

I’d like to point you in the direction of this  blog post by a very well respected expert in the field of parenting in the UK and a lady whom I admire greatly, Sue Atkins. I found this lovely lady on Twitter. She is responding to a recent UNICEF report that children in the UK are the unhappiest despite our tendency to throw material goods at them. This post didn’t just speak to me , it sang, danced and performed.

This is the reason I don’t twist up balloons to give out to children as part of the entertainment process. Sure , children like it.

But I don’t.

I like to feel good about the sort of entertainment I do. I much prefer to make children giggle, jump up and down, squeal with delight, interact with a puppet, feed them, receive magic wishes and kisses from a puppet, take children on imaginary journeys to feed their very fertile imaginations.

To me giving out balloons pales into insignificance.

Hey, I’m not saying that there aren’t some incredible balloon artists out there ( and I mean artists!) What some people can do with simple balloons is mind blowing,  and kudos to them.  I just won’t be joining them anytime soon.

 

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!

The rest is noise.

The biggest enemy I face at parties is NOISE.

Have you ever considered the impact of acoustics when choosing where to have your party and how many people you intend to invite?

If you intend to have your party at a large venue, ie a church hall, do take into consideration the impact of the echoing acoustics because of the high ceilings and uncarpeted floors. The smallest noise is magnified and bounces around the cavernous space. Small children can and do get very intimidated by the high noise levels of a large church hall. It only takes one child scraping a chair across the floor to fill the space with cacophony. Remember as well that children fill whatever space they get, so give them a huge space and they will use it by running around, chasing and sliding. Space is exciting and begs to be taken advantage of. Entertainers often use up a fair bit of time ’rounding up’ children in large spaces.  If that isn’t the sort of energetic experience you are looking for  try finding smaller , carpeted spaces if at all possible, or cut down numbers and have the party at home. With small children, the atmosphere is everything.

If you are inviting, say 15 children, remember there could be up to 30 accompanying adults to factor in. Adults have BIG voices, especially combined with alcohol! I’m by no means trying to be a party pooper, there is a fine line between taking control of a situation and ruining an atmosphere. It can be very stressful as a host to find yourself shushing your guests. Try serving soft drinks and hot beverages instead if you don’t want to have to deal with the loss of inhibition ( volume control) that comes with alcohol.

You may be saying to me as you read this post: Well why doesn’t she just use amplification? Good question.

I’ve tried it and  quickly discarded it.

All it does is increase the discomfort felt by the children. They just end up sitting with their hands over their ears. Amplified sound isn’t very child friendly. All that seems to  happen is that the adults increase their volume to compensate and we are back to square one, but louder!

If the children at the party are at the age where they can be left, encourage the parents to drop them off. I’m sure many parent will relish the opportunity to have a bit of time to themselves. For children with separation issues, let the parent stay long enough for the child to settle ( it doesn’t take long in my experience) and then  gently encourage them to go. A good entertainer should quickly establish a safe and trusting environment where children are happy to be left to have fun.

And finally, remember if you are going to provide children with party blowers and noise makers, expect NOISE! Be aware of the appropriate time to hand them out, it’s not ideal during showtime. On a similar note, if it is a pirate party and your child has a weapon as part of their costume, be prepared for armed combat when they get to the party! It’s unfair not to expect them to want to use them.

Zen and the art of party hosting

I often get asked what makes a good party. My answer often surprises: less is more; especially when it comes to parties for small children.

The tendency of most people ,when stressed about a party, is to throw everything at it and hope for the best. The thinking is that if I spend enough on it, it must work.

I’ve found the opposite to be true. Most often the best parties are the simplest where the focus is clear.

The hardest parties that I’ve ever had to attend in my capacity as an entertainer were those where the client had hired the world and his mate for the party, with all the best intentions, of course.

A typical party would consist of  a large ( and very noisy) bouncy castle, a ball pool, numerous helium balloons making a balloon forest, a wealth of sit and ride toys, slides, swings, tunnels and an abundance of soft play equipment and a disco.  All very well and good if this were the only form of entertainment, but add to this physical mix three or four children’s entertainers : a balloon modeller, a magician, a face painter or two and then me, a puppet lady. We were all expected to work together in a small space of time without any form of prior planning. All of this for a two year old’s birthday, the same two year old that was looking bewildered, clinging to mummy ( or nanny) on the verge of tears.

The sum total of all this spending resulted in chaos. Noise chaos, visual chaos and lack of focus for the birthday child. The individual entertainers found it hard to find a time or the audience to do their thing ( with all the competition around for time and attention). Everyone was compromised. All in the name of doing the right thing.

For a successful party, let your mantra be LESS IS MORE.

Decide on your focus , you know your child best and  what makes them happy. Sometimes the same thing again as the last thing they enjoyed works brilliantly. I call this the Teletubby ‘again again’ principle. Adults find this hard to understand; we get bored. Children revisit their memory of previous fun times and it fills them with a sense of confidence .

If your child is physical and out-going, hire a bouncy castle and play equipment and just let them play. Or a football/ dancing party.

If they are shy but physical, hire an entertainer who does physically interactive parties and let the focus on the  entertainer bring out the confidence of your child . A good entertainer will not focus on a shy child, but allow them to be themselves and take the lead from the child. Sensitivity is key. My Bobby Bunny puppet show is perfect for shy active children of all ages as it is a gentle but cheeky show with integrated hopping participation.

A puppet show  is perfect for outgoing, creative children who like to be in the limelight and who enjoy the flight of imagination and creativity a puppet show brings.

Face painting is wonderful for shy children as it often gives them a mask to hide behind, allowing them to be the ‘fierce tiger’ on the outside that they imagine they could be on the inside. You’d be surprised how many actors are painfully shy in the real world. It’s the same principle.

Let this recession be a force for simplifying. Choose one thing and give your child the opportunity to be able to focus fully and have a stress free party.

Bring back the Bad Guy!

Puppeteer Diane and the Big Bad Wolf puppet

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

 

I have been entertaining children for over 17 years and I have noticed a very interesting thing: children have often been denied the delicious safe scare that the bad guy in fairy stories brings. Today’s very well meaning parents have not wanted to expose their little ones to the Big Bad Wolf or the Wicked Witch because they don’t want their child to be frightened or traumatised. Up to the age of 2, I recommend staying safe and sticking to a non scary show such as my Bobby Bunny Show which is specifically designed for the very young realists that are the under 2’s, as an eminent American child specialist, Dr Robert Needlman explains:
Even though the roots of fantasy stretch back into early childhood, children begin life as realists. Infants only view objects for what they are: a block is a block, a stick is a stick. Give a one-year-old a telephone and he might babble into it, but he won’t talk into a toy car or a shoe. It’s only later, between about 18 and 24 months that children start to understand symbolism–that is, that one thing can stand for something else. Symbolic thinking sparks an explosion of language development as children realize that every object and action is connected to a word or phrase. Robert Needlman M.D  F. A . A. P

For confident children of two and above, traditional fairy tales can bring a wealth of wonder , providing a rich source of fantasy, spectacular visual imagery and a less obvious and fairly serious bonus.  I offer  story telling sessions with puppets and props from my story telling apron series, including such tales as Thumbelina ( the joy of the teeny tiny) and the dysfunctional family yarn that is Cinderella amongst others.
Children’s literature has been largely sanitised (with the notable exception of the ever popular Harry Potter) to reflect the real world around us rather than the fantasy presented in traditional tales. As interesting as real life can be, it can also be very cruel and unforgiving.

How do we prepare our children for the harshness of real life experiences that they are bound one day to face in a manner that they can digest and assimilate?
The telling of fairy tales, complete with heroes, villains and ‘happy ever after’s’ can provide children with a framework of preparedness in symbolic form.
Consider the story of Hansel and Gretel where a small boy and his sister are abandoned by their mother and father. The children use their resourcefulness to outwit an old hag and find their way back to the father and restore the relationship to a happy ever after. This story reflects the struggle that all children face, to feel powerful in a big, often scary world. So, fantasy speaks to us on a very basic level, about what it means to become powerful, that is, to grow up.

Freudian Psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim in his book, Uses of Enchantment ( 1977) states:
Contrary to the ancient myth, wisdom does not burst forth fully developed like Athena out of Zeus’s head; it is built up, small step by small step, from most irrational beginnings.  Only in adulthood can an intelligent understanding of the meaning of one’s existence in this world be gained from one’s experiences in it.  Unfortunately, too many parents want their children’s minds to function as their own do—as if mature understanding of ourselves and the world, and our ideas about the meaning of life, did not have to develop as slowly as our bodies and minds.

….. Just because his life is often bewildering to him, the child needs even more to be given the chance to understand himself in this complex world with which he must learn to cope. To be able to do so, the child must be helped to make some coherent sense out of the turmoil of his feelings.  He needs ideas on how to bring his inner house into order, and on that basis be able to create order in his life.  He needs—and this hardly requires
emphasis at this moment in our history—a moral education which subtly, and by implication only, conveys to him the advantages of moral behavior, not through abstract ethical concepts but through that which seems tangibly right and therefore meaningful to him.

The child finds this kind of meaning through fairy tales…

I strongly believe we need to bring the Bad Guy back to childhood.
If you feel the same way, I have a few traditional ( and sometimes scary thrilling) tales to offer at Diane’s Puppets.

Recession? What recession? Let’s party!

In these tough economic times, it’s hard to feel in the mood to celebrate anything, least of all our children’s birthday parties. Morale is low, cash is lower. The prospect of a horde of marauding kids charging around our homes, breaking stuff, crying for mummy or daddy, fighting over the pass the parcel , throwing food ( insert your nightmare party visions here) fills most people with dread. Parties have fast become most parents idea of hell. Well consider me your party angel, as I’m here to change party hell into party heaven. As a seasoned party entertainer of over 17 years experience, I hope to be able to support you in my blog with hints and tips of how to host a successful children’s party on a tight budget.

If you are as old as me , you may have memories of your own birthday parties with pass the parcel, jelly and ice cream and pin the tail on the donkey and Squeak piggy Squeak! Back then children’s birthday parties were all so simple . Todays parents and children have much bigger expectations of birthday parties and many parents feel the pressure to keep up with the Jones’s and host the party to end all parties. Before the nasty old recession hit, this was fairly straight forward : hire an entertainer and venue, buy booze for the adults and party bags and food, drink and cake for the kids and sit back and let someone else take the strain. Now it is not so easy as budget restraints mean we don’t have the privilege of this choice. Or do we? You’d be surprised at how much value for money and peace of mind you can get with a children’s party entertainer and it need not be as expensive as you might think.In my capacity as a children’s  party entertainer and puppeteer  I offer all kinds of packages to suit different budgets and also include face painting along side puppet shows , singing and storytelling so there is  no need to hire a separate face painter, saving you loads of money. Puppets have a wonderful ability to engage the imaginations of the youngest of children right up to adults and combining them with very silly good old fashioned British humour means that belly laughs are guaranteed.

In these challenging times it is easy to fear the prospect of our children’s party rather than look forward to it . I’d like to leave you with a thought. Maybe the recession has an unexpected gift to bestow on us as parents. It has forced us to strip away the surface and get back to what really matters; our relationship with our children. Before the recession, parents at parties would stand at the back with other parents, chatting, networking and  sipping champagne while the entertainer got on with his or her job.  Now parents are to be found sitting alongside their children sharing in the joy of the moment, relishing in the giggles and their children’s happiness. I call that progress,wouldn’t you?

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