The one thing that parents say to me more than anything else is, "I could never do your job." Now I appreciate it's not for everyone but I've been thinking about it a lot recently.
On a base level what do I do? I have to keep around 30 children entertained, interested and happy for two hours. I guess that in itself is a big ask but how about the possible obsticles that can make a hard job even more challenging. I'd like to go through a few of them with you and share what I do to try and aliviate them. There's no guarantee any of these will make your life as a parent any easier but hey ho, you can always have a laugh at my expense when things have gone very badly wrong!
The Birthday Child That Doesn't Want You There
For me, the number one aim of my parties is that the birthday child is happy, relaxed and enjoys their party. I always arrive 45 mins before the start to spend time getting to know them and chatting about the party. The aim of this is that when the party actually starts they feel comfortable with me and have an idea what's happening. The intial hello is vitally important and can normally set the tone for the party. I learnt a long time ago to always come in very quietly and gently but sometimes even this doesn't work.
One of my first ever parties was for a 4 year old girl whom the mum told me was very shy. I walked into the hall, she took one look at me and started crying. "I don't want him to come to my party." I was mortified but by the look on the mum's rapidly colour draining face, not as much as her. Her look said, "OMG, what the hell am I going to do?" I just smiled gently, gave a little wave and started setting up. The girl stayed in the kitchen with her mum the whole time, mostly crying and repeating, "I don't want him to come to my party."
At one point the mum came up to me panic striken and asked, "What are we going to do if she keeps crying." I'll be honest, she looked terrified. I reassured her that everything would be fine once I started and joked that my face can be a bit scary as it's quite big. The truth was, I was absolutely petrified and had no idea how it would turn out. I just stayed positive and calm on the outside. On the inside I was running around like a headless chicken screaming, "AArrgghh!"
When her friends started arriving she brightened up a bit and when the show started and she sat with her friends I was massively relieved. Amazingly by the time she was due to help me do some magic she was completely fine, came up to happily and smiled all the way through. It felt like a miracle and I don't need to tell you how massively relieved I was. It hasn't always worked out as well as that.
On another occasion the mum had told me her daughter definitely wouldn't help me and probably wouldn't sit with her friends either. She was right, the birthday girl spent the whole party watching through the serving hatch in the kitchen with her dad. I felt awful and that somehow, I'd failed. At the end of the party her parents were telling me how much she'd loved it all and had that it was the best party ever. At the time I couldn't get past the fact that she'd spent the whole party in the kitchen. On reflection I realised that everyone's different and what makes them comfortable is the number one priority.
The Older Sibling / Cousin / Random Friend Of The Family
Older siblings often want to join in and help which is fine. When it becomes a problem is when they want to take over the party or to be the centre of attention themselves. If not dealt with this can result in off putting scenarios like them shouting out "I know how you do that" to EVERYTHING I do and many more equally negative stuff. To a degree this is completely understandable and just has to be managed properly.
Where there is an older sibling I'll always spend time with them before the party as well. I'll normally say something like, "Can I ask you a favour, as you're older than Bob / Edna you've probably seen a lot more magic and know how I do my tricks. If you do know, can you not shout anything out but tell me afterwards in the break." This always seems to work and I feel making them feel empowered brings them onside. A few weeks ago an older brother replied with, "I wouldn't shout anything out, that might ruin the party." 8 going on 27! I also ask if they'd like to help themselves and if it's a yes I give them a nice job to do like sweeping the roads or driving me to my next party.
The Overly Keen And Slightly Manic Birthday Child
This can be so difficult to handle at times. Everyone deals with being the centre of attention differently. For some, they love the limelight and the opportunity to be the star in front of their friends. For others, it can be incredibly nerve wracking and scary. Sometimes I'll come in and the birthday child is immediately in my face and jumping all over me. Other times they'll just want to talk to me or could be hiding behind parents.
For me, it's the overly keen that needs a bit more work. Saying that, how they are when I arrive and then when their friends arrive can be totally different. They'll be times when they'll be totally hyper and all over the place when I arrive to set up. When their friends arrive they completely change and become very quiet. Conversely I've had children who are very polite, calm and quiet when I meet them and when their friends arrive they explode and go crazy for the whole party.
It can't be easy for the average 4-7 year old. Here you are, having a party with all your friends and classmates. There's a big grown up man with a slightly scary face who you've just met who's going to be entertaining you and your friends. He's not a teacher and he's not a really serious adult so how do you react to him? How do the boundaries work? Is it ok to jump on him? Some of the obstacles I face are down to me and how I am with the children. I've always integrated myself with them as opposed to being"I'm the entertainer, you're the children." I've found this means the children feel more comfortable being themselves around me which is important for me.
In the situation where the birthday child is a bit hyper it's can be tricky dealing with it in the right way. I want to calm them down but not stifle them. I want them to know I'm being serious but I don't want to come across all serious and adult like. I'm not a teacher either so don't want to be too strict. Getting the balance right can be a fine art. I acknowledge how excited they are and talk about them helping me. I say how much fun we're going to have but also explain how important it is that they listen to me when I ask them to do / not do something. Reverse psychology can also work well. Basically, it's complicated! There's no blueprint or perfect answer that fits each time, it's more a case of knowing what approach / words will work best for a particular child.
These are just a few of the potential situations that can happen and some of the ways I do my best to deal with them. Overall they seem to work well and generally the children manage to stay somewhere in the middle of super-hyper and hiding away.
I'll leave you with this, the words of a mum that filled me with dread more than any other. As I was about to start a party at home for a 6 year old the mum turned to him and said, "Thomas, no punching, kicking or biting Mr Banana Head." His reply, "Aw, why not?"
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