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He is so little on tv...

"He is so little on tv …"

When I was little, my favourite show was the Bozo Show. Fortunately there was a local Bozo in my home town where they also produced the Bozo television show.

My mom, bless her soul, took my older sister and brother and I down to be audience members at a live taping of the show. Upon our arrival the studio manager stopped my mother and said, "We’re sorry Madam we don’t allow children under the age of five in our audience." He pointed at me. I was the youngest of the family at the time and was three years old. My mom tried to explain, "But she is the one who loves Bozo.  She is the reason why we came. She watches the show every day" The manager explained, "Bozo on tv is only 3 inches tall, but in real life he is much much bigger.  He was actually over six feet tall. “When children under 5 years old see him in person it can be frightening and we can’t have children crying in the audience because once you are in the studio you cannot leave." My mom and I sat out in the hall as my older brother and sister sat in the studio watching my idol Bozo.

The studio manager knew what doctor’s Herschkowitz and Krogseng (see BLog Are you going to eat me?  A real question posed to CLaroL that you may need to answer.) knew first hand. Costumed characters can scare a toddler. Your child might coo and smile with Santa when they are one year, and the next year they might scream blue murder at the mere sight of the Bearded Red Guy. It all depends on how old they are.

As a children’s entertainer who earned her living at thousands of birthday parties, you would think I would want to attend each and every birthday party I possibly could just to help pay off my mortgage. In reality I have talked myself out of financial stability on more than one occasion just to see that children aged 1-3 receive an age appropriate party WITHOUT a costumed character.  Many a parent called me back when the child was older and appreciated my honest and more importantly my professionalism and performances as they subsequently booked me.

I also know that as a costumed character who knows how to properly handle a scared child can create an extremely positive experience for your child even if they have the death grip on you. Just keep in mind, that same performer could come back the very next day and your child could be totally sympatico with them being around. It is all a matter of where your child is at this stage of physical and psychological development.

So here are a few tips for a positive first time costume character adventure; 

1)       Don’t rush over to see "the Giant Purple Dinosaur" as soon as you see him. Stand back and take some time to let your child digest and register what it is they are seeing. Talk them through this experience.

2)       Highlight similarities between the child/you and the character. "Oh look at the clown’s big feet, they are just like daddy’s!"

3)       Put on a positive face, but avoid getting too excited yourself. An excited reaction can mimic a fear reaction and it can be difficult for a toddler to tell the difference.

4)       Avoid pushing your child up to any costumed character while they are strapped in their stroller. You the child’s protector are out of sight and unable to protect him. Children have no defense or way out when they are strapped into a stroller and therefore become fearful. Likewise, when you are pushing a child in a stroller you cannot see their fearful or happy facial expression or reactions and you can’t respond accordingly.   Stop, crouch down beside the stroller where your child can see you and repeat steps 1 & 2.

5)       During playtime or at any time with your child avoid saying things such as:

The clowns gonna get you.

Clowns scare me.

Bad Mickey  

Evil Santa etc.

You may think this is funny but this will only perpetuate negative memories or feeling in the child.  Plus saying these things are mean & untrue. 

6)       Avoid holding your child right up to the face of a costumed character. Well intentioned parents and grandparents often shove their child face to face with a costumed character, because "they" think it is cute or cuddly.  Remember put yourself in the child’s shoes/perspective/frame of mind.  Your child may think you are actually feeding them to Mickey Mouse!

7)       Don’t let a well-intentioned but misinformed costume character run up to your child. Well intentioned professionals and non professionals do this because "they" think it is what they are supposed to do and what the children want. It is not. It is an invasion of personal space.  They are not being respectful or professional.

8)       If you want a picture of your child and a costumed character avoid placing the child alone with the character. Have an adult stand in the picture between the child and the character. The young child will feel safer, and will have a happier face in the picture.

9)       Don’t let your child watch Stephen King’s IT – that is just bad parenting.  Imagine the therapy bills you’ll have to pay for later in life for your child’s phobia when at birthday parties. Not to mention the flack I’ll have to deal with when they see me in the Mall when their 16/18/24etc and with their mob of friends.  You think they scream loud now. OY vey! Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

10)   Don’t roll your child up to Mickey Mouse or Spiderman in a stroller.  Your kid will think you are trying to feed him to the giant smiling rodent & insect on a wheeled platter. Stop, crouch down beside your child and talk calmly about the clown or Mickey by saying “Look at those silly shoes, oh my! What funny clothes.”  Then walk away and come back another day.

 

I’m sharing with you what I know and have learned over the past few years of making positive lasting memories for families.  These tips work and I hope this helps you create a positive costumed character experience for your child.

Want to read more about how a year or two can make a BIG difference in how your child reacts to a clown? Read CLaroL BLog Connor’s third and fifth birthday parties.