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A very Special Birthday : A picture story.

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Description unavailable (Photo credit: i.am.rebecca)

Today was a very special day.

My Granddaughter turned 2.

Her favourite tv show in the world  is Luxury Comedy, well, Grandma is an artist so has alternative tastes It  is a strange world of comedy invented by Noel Fielding ( of Mighty Boosh fame) that is weird and colourful and quite bonkers. Despite the odd rude word (which we overlook) it quite captured my little granddaughters imagination. She calls it Boom Boom ( referring to the theme tune).

This is why my ‘birthday card’ to my granddaughter consisted of two paintings of two of the crazy characters from Luxury Comedy. They’re two of Erykah’s favourites:

                                                                                          Fantasy Man

and The Audience ( Fish Finger for later) .

Whilst not strictly conventional fayre for most 2 year olds, my Granddaughter absolutely LOVED these. I should have taken pictures of her reaction upon opening them… but I was enjoying the moment too much. Suffice it to say, after hanging the two pictures in her brand new big girl bedroom ( she has just moved house ) she kept excitedly pulling me by the hand to show me her new paintings when I went to visit.

 

I went over with a small stack of gifts ( mainly books) for her. I’m a terrible present wrapper. This time however, I think I managed something quite inspired . They say necessity is the mother of invention and I needed something to top my stack of gifts . I had a bunch of hair elastics that I had squirreled away for  a rainy day and these made a really sweet ( and ultimately useful) bow topping. See what you think.

A stack of gifts topped with hair elastics.

pretty and practical

When I got to my granddaughters new house , she was fast asleep. She looked like Sleeping Beauty, butter wouldn’t melt. It’s great isn’t it how we forget the tantrums when they’re sleeping?

She’s so beautiful, it almost takes my breath away.

 

I woke her up and we went to sing happy birthday with her cake. It’s one of two, as I was so busy recently, I cheated and bought one from the supermarket and I intend to make a very special one tomorrow that we can all enjoy .

I’ll let the pictures tell the story:

I’m two. Two candles on my cake.

Blow….

Blow, not spit!

Fffffffffffffff phhhhhphhhhhhhhhffffffffffffff

Yeyy! They’re out. Check out the smoke.

Yum. I’m a big girl now so I’ll do it by myself thank you.

 

Because Grandma was so busy on this special day, we’re going to celebrate tomorrow as well. We’re off to the Rainforest Cafe for a very special dinner tomorrow with Aunty Imogen, Mummy, Aunty Riri and Maa and Dandaa.

 

Sigh.

I love being Maa.

 

 

 

 

 

I Love My Job

“I love my job!”

 

How many times do you hear people say that?

 

Not often, I can guarantee.

 

But I say it almost every time I go out to work.

 

Granted , in my 20 years of being a London Children’s Entertainer  there have been times where I have reminded myself of the fact that ‘This is why it is called work ( and not play) ” and I have put my nose to the metaphorical grindstone ( the alternative would be a bit ouchy!) and got on with the job of being an entertainer and puppeteer . Those few times have usually been when I was faced with difficult circumstances like noise ( usually the grown-ups on the sauce I’m afraid…no , not ketchup!) or just too much being thrown at the children all at once. I can’t stress enough times that with small children, just throwing money at the problem isn’t going to solve it. With small children , less is most often more. Give them a chance to focus and you will be amazed at how much they can focus.

But, I can count on the fingers of one hand all the times  I’ve not found work that fun. That isn’t bad going when I’ve been doing this puppeteering /entertainment lark for 20 years now.

 

Last weekend was no exception. I started off on the Friday at a birthday party for lovely Otto. He was turning three and I was so delighted to be returning to this family after 8 years. They had used my puppeteering and entertainment services all those years ago for their last child when he was three. Now the big brother was 11! It was wonderful to keep this 3rd birthday party tradition going and to witness the older brother joining in from the back, still giggling at the same jokes he had enjoyed all those years ago, now he was sharing in the fun with his little brother. It was touching indeed to be part of this celebration. I sometimes feel I have the privilege of entering children’s memories as that silly lady who made them laugh at their birthday. What a wonderful position to be in.

So that was Friday.

Saturday I was up bright and early and off to a morning party for the lovely Victoria. She was turning 4 . We had a blast, Victoria especially loved my puppet Fifi the Fairy.

Fairy puppet Fifi

Fifi eating her wand

Fifi gave out hugs and kisses at the end.

The lovely Victoria hugging Fifi ( identity protected)

Victoria and Diane after the party

He’s behind you!

So Victoria waved goodbye to Fifi and went off home to open all her presents. I jumped into my waiting cab and zoomed off to my next party.

Uma was turning 5 , we had a wonderful time, again with Fifi the fairy  as we told the story of how Fifi turned her teacher into a Birthday Witch whilst trying to make a Birthday Wish… ( see what I did there?)

Witchy Poo Poo was a great hit.

Witchy Poo in all her witchy glory

Again I was mistaken for Rosie. Easy mistake to make I suppose.

spot the difference… it’s the glasses isn’t it?

I think Uma enjoyed her party, so much so that she burst into tears at the end of the show . She didn’t want it to end. But after a reassuring cuddle from Fifi the fairy,  I left a very happy Uma and went home to witness Chelsea winning the Champions League.

I thought nothing of it until the morning when I tried to book my cab to go to my Sunday morning in … Chelsea!

The controller calmly informed me that roads were being closed in Chelsea to prepare for the Champions League Victory Parade and that I wouldn’t be able to get through to my gig.

PANIC!

After a bit of begging and pleading and cajoling, ( and giving him the exact address) we worked out between us that it was the posh end of Chelsea that I was going to , not the football end. So we’d give it a go. I gave myself a good hour to get there to deal with any traffic and crossed fingers , toes , eyes, legs and arms.

As it turned out, there was no traffic at all! In fact the roads were much clearer than normal. Maybe people were staying away fearing congestion? Who knows. All I know is I got to the Christening party in such good time , I was happy I’d taken my crochet. ( I’m an avid crocheter as well as being a puppet lady. I make stuff based on rainbows and fairies. I’m just a big kid at heart)

Stuff I make.

Well that was a very lovely day at the ‘office’ . So many parents stayed to watch and they laughed at my jokes and cooed at the little ones playing Sleeping Bunnies with Bobby Bunny during the show. It is a joy to watch the parents faces when I’m behind my puppet theatre as they witness their kids having so much fun. Sometimes I see a tear or two. It’s touching.

Mummy came up to me at the end and said I was awesome  and that she’d never seen her son so engaged and enthralled.

Gosh.

*Blushes*.

Waving bye bye to the lovely children , I jumped into my waiting chariot ( cab) and  went forth to my next engagement.

Lucia was turning 3 and she was the very lucky girl who was going to have a puppet show in her very own bedroom! How exciting!

From my perspective, a little challenging, as the space was fairly limited and I was going to end up with a bunch of shy kids sitting really close to me and my puppets . I would have to work hard to engage their trust quickly otherwise I knew from experience that crying fever could sweep through that small space. ( Once one goes, the rest follow, I’ve found)

Well, I worked hard on my self deprecation. ( I’m a silly sausage, cheeky nunkey( sic) ) That always helps. My monkey calls me names and I don’t get cross. This seems to reassure little children that I’m an alright person pretty quickly. Plus it’s really silly and funny. If I can  make children laugh in the first two minutes then I’m happy that the rest of the party will be fine.

It worked. Mummy sent me a sweet thank you email afterwards saying that Lucia is still talking about the puppet show that happened in her room. Result!

 

So yes, I love my job.

The hours are great, the clients are wonderful, and the best thing of all is the job satisfaction. There’s nothing quite like the emotional connection that you get from children. When they like you, they REALLY like you.

Mind you, the flip side of that is that if they don’t like you, they walk away.

 

I better make sure I keep my standards up.

It’s a good life.

 

 

 

 

Children’s birthday parties: A Lesson in Trust Building

As a children’s entertainer, I have a unique job requirement: I have to walk into a room full of  small children, none of whom know me, and instantly establish trust and rapport. There is no time to mess around and get it wrong, I’m only at a party for a very limited time. Creating this instant rapport isn’t easy. Children are the worlds best or worst audiences, depending on how you look at it. If you are an optimist like myself, you may agree with me that they are the best audiences as they are unflinchingly honest. They ‘smell’ fear and lack of integrity and will quickly walk away and do something else if you don’t immediately capture their attention. Unlike adult audiences who may politely clap even though they may inwardly criticize, the average 2 or 3 year old audience member will just simply walk off and find something to play with or even worse, cry. I can hear you saying ‘How is that positive?’ . Well, the flip side of that  brutal honest appraisal is that if children like you, they LIKE you. If you manage to capture an audience of young children, it is the most gratifying and satisfying audience to play to /( and in my case)play alongside.

I use many strategies to make my tiny audience members feel at ease. On the surface you will see a grown up woman acting silly. But behind this silliness is a very serious study of how children think and establish trust. It’s all about empathy, I have to put myself in their shoes and try and anticipate how they are feeling and how I would react if I were in their shoes. I ask myself, what would make the three year old me feel comfortable? Then I use that feeling to feed back to the children. It is never the same strategy, all children are different . One thing remains constant though: I will always play alongside the children rather than try and entertain them.

A puppet party

Establishing trust with Fifi the Fairy

Note in this picture I’ve created  a semi circle of chairs for the children to sit on or sit in front of. This creates a cozier setting in  a large space and determines the focus of where to sit/interact. If you like, this is one step of creating a boundary.( The link takes you to my previous post where I talk about how boundaries make small children feel safe). I try and position my chair a good way back from the children to allow them a safe space  and will only approach once I can feel the children relaxing  or if they approach me . This is a clear signal that they are feeling comfortable and are ready to play. The chairs also form a place where mummies and daddies can sit if they want to join in. ( It’s great when you do, believe me!) Sometimes the chairs are used for those children who are really nervous and they produce a space to hang behind. They can get closer if and when they feel more comfortable.

Once trust is established then it is time to play, in this case Sleeping Bunnies.

playing games at a puppet party

See the little bunnies sleeping...

You’ll have to look close to see those lovely bunnies playing the game, they’re all lying down and sleeping with the puppet bunny getting ready to jump up and hop. One little bunny was happy to watch. I would never force any child to do anything against their will, it’s all for fun after all! I find pushing a child to join in really doesn’t help. They will join in in their own good time or like this bunny here, just be perfectly happy watching others play. She did have a cuddle from the puppet bunny afterwards though! It’s the same situation for face-painting: I never pressurise a child to have their face painted, in fact I am very quick to reassure those children who clearly are not comfortable with face painting that I’m not going to ask them because I know they don’t like it.

So the next time you see this silly lady being silly at a party, try and spot the method in the madness. It’s there somewhere!

Thank you to my lovely client Hana for sending me these sweet pictures.

Just to reassure all my clients and future clients out there, I have been police checked and have an advanced CRB through Kids Company and have full Public Liability Insurance.

I discuss trust building in this blog post also: From Freak to Friend in Forty Minutes

Through a child’s eyes

Today I read a blog post that really touched me.

It was by a lovely lady called Debra.  Please read it. Pure and Simple; Train Ride.

 

This simplicity, this sense of wonderment is what fuels me to go to work every day as a Children’s Entertainer. In order to be able to connect with my little clients, the children at the  birthday parties I attend, I have to keep reconnecting with the memory and the energy of being a child.

This connection is vital for the correct energy with which to approach young children and not be seen and felt as being patronising. Without sounding a little weird, I don’t entertain as much as just play alongside the children. Their sense of humour is genuinely the same as mine. I delight in word play. I adore surrealism. Most children’s jokes consist of surrealistic concepts, the idea of things being out of context.  My funny bone tickles at the concept of putting a banana on your head. ( Come and join the Banana Head Club!) and of course, there is the belly laugh that comes from burps and silly raspberry noises. ( To put it politely).

Silly puppet

Hehehehehuhuhhhehehheheh

 

What other job is it that requires instant trust ? I have to walk into a room full of very young strangers and  gain their trust. I’m often only booked for an hour, so I have to win children over almost instantly. Children are unforgiving but honest audiences, if they don’t like you, they walk away.

What is it that creates that bond? It is energy. I have to attune my energy , find my inner child ( that’s not hard) and bring her to the fore. Young children, ( like dogs) inhabit a world of energy, where they judge the vibe . It’s that gut feeling that us grown ups often lose or stop trusting .  I’ve done some psychotherapy training and one of the core conditions of trust building is something called Congruency. This simply means that you are on the inside what you appear on the outside: genuine, no nasty surprises.  Well folks, what you see on the outside

 

Facepainter too

I'm a bunny wabbit

 

is what you get on the inside. Am I Diane , the London Children’s Entertainer or am I just

 

Silly Sausage Diane?

 

I’m both. It’s compulsory.

 

 

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!

Fairy love

London lady entertainer Diane gets a hug from Fifi the Fairy .

We all know that girls love fairies.

Can I let you into a secret? Boys do too.

Well at least the boys I meet at puppet show parties  do.

Even  older boys in primary school workshops fall head over heels with her .

They start off by pulling faces at the prospect of meeting a fairy but after meeting her,

they are  more keen to get  a bit of ‘Fifi love ‘( she gives a mean high five and cuddle) than most.

We all need love and affection in our lives and someone to tell us we are special.

That is Fifi the Fairy’s magic gift to children.

Want some?

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