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

Posts tagged ‘party’

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

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A Cuddle from a Tiger Who came to Tea : A Real Life Fairy story

A true fairy story

Once upon a time there was a lady who brought fun and silly antics with her whenever she went out to work. Children's entertainer and puppeteer Diane

Like the seven dwarves in another fairy story she loved her job and would sing and whistle while she worked.

She loved bright colours and would tie a rainbow of ribbons and clip crocheted daisies in her hair. She really was a very happy lady.

One day she left her colourful house, with its angels who lived on the kitchen ceiling

Painted kitchen ceiling Madonna and Angels

The lady's kitchen ceiling

and pink leopards on the walls,

Pink leopard painted walls

Pink leopard walls in the lady's kitchen

and pretty magical mosaic fireplace

colourful mosaic fireplace

Magical fires burned here

stepping out into the cold air with a song in her heart and a bag of face -paints on her shoulder, dragging a pink suitcase full of funny puppets and cheeky characters behind her. The puppets grumbled as they rumbled across the cracked paving, bumpety, bumpety bump. The lady blew magical cold air smoke from her mouth as she ran for the big red bus. Rarrrr! She was breathing fire like a dragon.

Fire breathing dragon puppet

Rarrrrrrr!

The big red bus took her to a nearby land called Clapham . There was a big green park in the centre of this land and in the centre of the park there was a pond. It was so cold that the  ducks were skating on the frozen water. Brrr, their bottoms must’ve been so cold.

The lady trundled her grumbling puppets in her pink suitcase until she came to a door with a magical number painted on it. Bright bouncy balloons bobbed as she knocked on the door.

Ten little children and a  birthday boy called Rory were gathered in the house. Rory was three, what a big boy!

Grumbling no more, the puppets popped out of the pink suitcase one by one and made friends with the little boys and girls and big boy Rory. The funny rabbit Bobby Bunny made everyone giggle with his naughty snoring when he was supposed to be sleeping. He loved giggling with the boys and girls as they hopped together.

White rabbit puppet

Sleeping Bunny Bobby

A funny clucking hen and a mooing cow played a Dingly Dangly game and the lady kicked up her legs and did the Can Can which made the children giggle. A naughty monkey called Twinkle

Cheeky monkey puppet

Twinkle, my very cheeky baby monkey. A dear friend.

played Happy Birthday on the banana to Rory and learned how to say please. A fairy came to visit and sang Happy Birthday to Rory and sprinkled magic wishes on his toes.

Fairy puppet Fifi

Fifi eating her wand

Then tummies rumbled and it was time for tea.

In the kitchen the lady had laid out all her beautiful colours ready to paint the children’s faces. She painted princesses with golden tiaras, flowers and pink and tigers with terrible teeth and wiggly black stripes , all with very sparkly noses .

Tiger face painting

Diane says Rarrrrr!

Batman made sure everyone was safe. All parties need a Superhero, just in case, you never know.

Rory was painted as a tiger and had tiger paws to match. Now his face matched his very lovely name. Rory could roar with the best of tigers. RoAAAAAAR!

After a nice cup of tea the lady felt very happy. She really did love her job. Children around her were smiling and playing and pretending to be tigers and princesses.

Feeling satisfied , the lady went to pack away her cheeky puppets since they had all collapsed in a big exhausted heap after all the excitement of the party.

Rory the tiger came to help.

As the lady put the lion back in the pink suitcase, Rory said: I’d like a cuddle.

The lady asked : A cuddle from whom?

” The lion” answered Rory, who was feeling very brave now he was a 3 year old tiger.

So Rory had a cuddle from a sleeping lion.

The lady went to put back the chicken. She had stopped clucking and her feathers were ruffled and ready for bed.

“I’d like a cuddle” said Rory.

‘From the chicken? ‘asked the lady.

“Yes.”

So Rory cuddled the chicken.

The lady zipped up the suitcase , the puppets had all gone to bed.  Rory the terrible tiger stood still.

” I’d like a cuddle” said Rory the tiger.

” But they’ve all gone to bed! ” said the lady.

” Who do you want a cuddle from?”she asked.

“YOU!” said Rory the tiger.

So the lady went home, skipping and hopping, happy to have been cuddled by a tiger.

As she stepped down from the bus, powdery snow started to fall from the sky.

The lady sighed.

It had been a perfect day.

She unlocked her door and went into her colourful cosy  house to eat a slice of lemon drizzle cake and have a nice cup of tea.

The Magic of the Party Entertainer: That’s the way to do it!

It’s something I hear quite often in my work as a London children’s party entertainer: ” How do you do it?” I heard it asked of me today at a lovely local party for a  sweet five year old girl, it was followed by , “Do you have magic powers or something?”.

Magic powers? Maybe, if you consider energy to be magic powers.

Let me explain.

The mummy in question was intrigued at how I managed to have a bunch of five year old boys and girls sitting patiently waiting for a puppet show. There was no fighting, no screaming, no chaos, just calm anticipation and a big buzz of excitement going around the room too.

This question is asked of me often.

It is a wonderful feeling for me to walk into a party full of excited children and have them quickly sitting down, calm and focused and eager to participate in silliness and stories.
Do I have magical powers?

Not in the Harry Potter sense, no.

What I do have to my advantage is what I call ‘Stranger Power’ plus a certain calm assertive energy that is useful for leaders and dog owners!

 

Stranger power is something I’ve observed whilst I’ve been entertaining children over the past 18 years. What do I mean by it? Well, when I walk into someone’s home, I am expected to take control of the party . I become a stranger with a position of authority over the children. They see me as fun, ( I’m often found lying down with the children playing Sleeping Bunnies

See the little bunnies sleeping

as well as hopping up and down ) but they’re not totally sure of who I am .  Therefore they regard me with caution, rather than pushing the boundaries of someone that they are familiar with. So, if I ask the children to do something in a certain assertive tone, like magic they cooperate.

Children view me with a certain positive suspicion. My attire ( ribbons in my hair and very bright sparkly clothes)

Silly ribbons but serious about partying.

suggest a fun , possibly silly person, they see Party Entertainer/ storyteller/ puppeteer when they look at me,  which gets their playful juices flowing, but then they meet my energy.  After encountering the wonderful Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan on the television ( and becoming a total disciple) I’ve worked on maintaining  a calm assertive state when attending children’s parties. This works totally in my favour as I am able to direct the proceedings of the party  in a calm but fun way.

No one needs chaos. No one likes chaos.

Today I face painted butterflies and vampires on the faces of five year old’s .

The vampires ( boys in this instance) decided to chase the butterflies ( girls). Screams ensued as well as a little bit of chasing round the garden. I continued to paint faces until I heard the tone of the screams turn from excitement and fun to hysteria, then it was time to change the energy before the fun turned to tears.

I used my calm assertive energy ( and my god-given booming voice) to gather the children to sing happy birthday and calm was restored once more without the vampires feeling they had been reined in.

The secret is keeping control without the children being aware that that is what you are doing. Walking that tightrope  between keeping things calm and becoming a party pooper can sometimes be tricky, but I think I’ve got it down to a fine art now.

If that makes me magical, then so be it!

Abracadabra!

Save the pennies: Be gender neutral

Teddy Bears' Picnic

Image by Cockburn Libraries via Flickr

It’s a tough old world for the party scene out there. Money is tight, we are all struggling to pay bills and now you are facing the expense of a children’s birthday party.

Have you ever considered the impact of gender stereotyping when it comes to expense?

What on earth do I mean?

Well I shall explain.

So many times as a children’s birthday party entertainer, I see the  host struggling to keep up with the party tea, handing out blue/car boxes to boys and pink/ fairy boxes to girls. Sometimes they are left with odd numbers or an unexpected child turns up and they only have the opposite gender box, posing a tricky situation. You try getting a boy to eat his sausages and sandwiches and crisps from out of a pink fairy box. It isn’t easy.

The same applies for party table ware and balloons. It is also very noticeable at going home time and the party bags come out. In that mad scrum of leaving and finding shoes and bags and coats, it is really an unnecessary  extra effort to have to provide the appropriate pink or blue gendered going away gift.

Children really don’t care much about this gendered thing, trust me. Adults are laying on the expectations for them. Why do we have to gender the decor or the party table ware? Unless your theme is pink and girly or Thomas the Tank engine, you are really making things hard for yourself. All this gender stereotyping stuff serves to do is alienate boys if things are all pink , causing them to act up  or vice versa. There are plenty of themes out there that are gender neutral, why not take advantage of their potential.

Think about animals. Every child loves animals whether it is a Jungle or Farm theme or Teddybear’s picnic, there is potential for joy without having to do something different for each gender.

Instead of pink or blue tableware, why not try bright primary colours? There is nothing more visually pleasing than a table decked out in vivid rainbow colours.

As for party bags or going away gifts, a book or a pack of bright crayons and a colouring book always goes down well. Finger puppets are a great going away gift, especially after a puppet party.

My fairyland finger puppet set

A knights tale complete with fire breathing dragon and a tower

A space adventure

Ikea do very cheap and good quality sets . If you are looking for very special finger puppets, I make my own one off story finger puppet sets  available online in my folksy shop. One simple gift nicely wrapped in gender neutral colours is just as appreciated as a gendered bag full of plastic tat and sweets. I’ve even seen children going home proudly clutching their very own daffodil in a pot, or a strawberry plant. Be creative. There is more to childhood than turning our kids into princesses and pirates at every opportunity. Sometimes it is good to just let them be kids and it is considerably cheaper and far less hassle.

And if you are wondering, as a lady entertainer I am personally partial to pink and tutus and all things sparkly. But I do like a bit of rainbow thrown in for variety. Let’s open our minds to the possibilities of gender neutral and save ourselves a few pounds in the process. Can’t be bad.

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.

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