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Andy Wonder
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Auckland, New Zealand
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I have just come from a party where one 4 year old boy consistently yelled out obscene words throughout my act. I also had another young girl that kept yelling questions at me as well. Unlike the boy she was quite well meaning but just did not understand she could not have a one on one conversation with me throughout the show. I told her we could talk about it later & she should wait. Still, every minute or so she would scream my name and insist I acknowledge her. At the same time her 4 year old friend keeps yelling obscenities which had him in fits of hysterical laughter.

What do you guys think is the best way to deal with this?

Smile
Andy Wonder, Auckland, New Zealand
JamesinLA
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Just in my opinion, with far less experience than you, Andrew, is that the parents are responsible for this. Those kids were spoiling the show for the rest of the children. What do you think? Maybe the parents should be consulted before the show that they are responsible for making their own children behave. You're there to give a show, ultimately, not be a disciplinarian.
Jim
Oh, my friend we're older but no wiser, for in our hearts the dreams are still the same...
Adam V
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I agree. It can be very hard to get the parents to do this. It seems that rich people won't bother. Also, people who send their children to alternative schools where they don't believe in discipline and supervision won't bother either. Ultimately though it's your job to entertain, not stand guard.
Adam V - 9 out of 10 dentists recommend him.
DougTait
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Andrew. Since I do a lot of shows for disabled children, I am familiar and accustomed to abnormal behavior during my shows.

First the behavior you describe from the boy could be the symptoms of Tourette's Syndrome which is a type of neurological disorder that causes all manner of strange behavior to include use of obscene language.

The actions of the girl you describe also may be the result of a neurological disorder.
There may have been a connection and you were unknowingly performing for one or more children with disabilites that were not obvious except for their behavior. If this was the case, you should have been advised prior to the performance, and I can imagine the stress you were under while trying to do your show and control two difficult children.

The yelling of obscenities due to Tourette's can not be controlled by adult intervention, but if you had been advised of the condition at least you could have worked through it, although I will admit that it is very difficult, even for me, and I am used to this type of venue.

My only suggestion would be to announce a brief intermission so you could prepare for "the real magic" or some such excuse, and seek out an adult and delicately ask if they could assist in some way so that you provide the best entertainment possible. I realize that this is potentially dangerous since the adult may be expecting— wrongly— that you somehow can 'magically' keep control.

You are an entertainer, not a baby sitter, but often parents don't grasp the concept and may have to be tactfully advised.

It goes against the grain to reward bad behavior, but on occasion I have had to make a disruptive child a magician's assistant and give them a job to do and concentrate on, explaining that it is very important that they remain very quiet and attentive to their job because the tricks won't work unless they do their job well. It doesn't always work, but it's worth a try.

It is also possible that you had a couple of very badly behaved non-disabled children. In which case it is the parents who shoulder the responsibility, but is you and the well behaved children who suffer. Chock it up to experience, I guess. No one said working with children was easy, but it is usually very rewarding— if you survive!

Lets hope that was your worst experience with kids.

Best wishes,
Doug
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing."
Dennis Michael
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DougTee, is absoultly correct. I'm familiar with Tourette's Syndrome but not in 4-year olds. The language came from somewhere at that age and was not controlled. The parents of this child should have intervened.

When performing for 4-year olds, they have a short attention span, consider reducing your show for this age group to 30 minutes.

Also, puppets keep them mystified more than magic. When doing magic, have them interact in each routine similar to the coloring book. As long as you have them doing something, they will be less likely to act up.

Even then, no matter how good you are, anything with kids can happen.

I just did a Halloween Birthday Party for 5-year olds. There were so many goulish costumes, the birthday girl was scared of everything. With my rabbits moved to the beginning of the show as in this case, I won her over. The one thing I've learned over the years in both theater and dealing with kids, sometimes you must improvise to handle the moment. A rigid act or script can cause more additional problems— flow with the audience. Have spare tricks to switch to based on the circumstances, age groups, and mental state of the audience. You're suppose to be having fun too!

Hope this helps.
Dennis Michael
p.b.jones
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Hi,
with regard to the chatty child, I have seen this before. The worse thing you can do is reply to them. One thing that does work is on one of the Wonder Words series and is interrupting the pattern. As the child starts to make a comment suddenly raise your voice and interrupt their speaking pattern (as they are trying to do to you).
Phillip
DougTait
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Den and p.b. Great advice. I am always learning from the experience of others at the Forum. You guys obviously have a lot of experience working with children. It is definitely an art form in itself and I admire those who work hard at it. Thanks.
Doug
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing."
Cheshire Cat
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It's not easy is it Andrew? Believe me though, if it's any consolation, as the years go by you will become more relaxed and laid back. At the age of 53 (and my wife in her 40s) we feel totally relaxed amongst kids. We have seen it all— from a Down's Syndrome girl who went beserk when she saw we had set up on the spot she normally stood at the Club she attended, to extremely intelligent but wilful horrors!

There are lots of children out there that look beautiful, and 'normal'— but in fact have severe problems. I know it's hard, but try not to seem upset, taken aback or shaken. If they are wilful kids then they will soon lose interest in trying to upset you if they see it not working. If they have psychological or behavioural problems then just think to yourself "in half an hour or a couple of hours time (depending on what time span you offer) I will have the cheque or cash in my pocket and be off home or to another party"— just pity the parents and teachers who have to cope on a daily basis!

The heat in the kitchen gets very hot at times for the kid's entertainer— but if you stick at it you will have a good life and lifestyle believe me.
drhackenbush
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As a performer who was born with Tourette's Syndrome, I just wanted to make a note that although the symptom of coprolalia (swearing or innapropriate speech) has been sensationalized by the media (often as the butt of jokes), it is actually quite rare, occuring only in approximately 8% of total Touretters.

I've never equated Tourettes with being a disability - if anything, it might be an occasional inconvenience since it is sometimes hard to focus on the work at hand. It's really just a part of what makes me me, and I think what it has done for me is make me more sensitive to and respectful of differences in others.

All this is not to say that some children aren't obnoxious, rather it is often the case that they are just repeating what they heard their parents or other people say, and except in rare cases probably are not doing it as a manifestation of Tourette's. Though it is a good thing to be aware of this condition, just in case, because if you're going to be a performer, you're going to see all sorts of behavior.
Chrystal
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Hi,

I had to agree with most of the people who responded to this post. You need to be aware and sensitive to all kinds of children. Sometimes it's not immediately apparent that a child may have a disability of some sort.

With a background in Special Education and a board member of the Learning Disabilities Association I often advocate for children with disabilities. I know that a child with ADD or ADHD sitting in the front row will cause terror in the hearts of many magi. Sigh. It's not easy!!!

As their impairment is called a "hidden disability," it's not seen immediately but the behavior may be deemed as some as "brattish" or "spoiled". It's not always the case. This is a neurological disorder and unfortunately some of these children have what resembles an invisible built in motor in their systems. They can't sit still and they can't help it.

Telling them to be quiet or sit still would be no different than telling a child in a wheel chair to get up and walk, that they could if they tried. Please don't think I'm assuming that about you, Andy (seems like you handled it well), but sometimes educating the public is the key to understanding.

I can certainly understand the frustration of having a kid or kids disrupt a show. No matter what happens however, I betcha if you smile at the child and take him/her aside at the show with positive praise you'll be amazed at the reaction.

"I really appreciate you're trying to help me. Can you help me with this? Then we'll let other kids have a chance." Most of these kids have nothing but negative comments thrown at them. They end up feeling like total failures by the time they are as young as 10, as each year their self esteem is destroyed by people who don't understand.

I always go up to these kids after the show and thank them for coming and say something positive. You'd be amazed. 99% of the time the kids beam!! You've made their day and of course the parents'.

Urg! I kinda went on a long ramble here. Forgive me! I just want people to think differently the next time they see a child that they might see as "being difficult". Putting a smile on their faces and making them feel good is what magic is all about. Smile
Cheshire Cat
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Here in UK they have been showing on TV the Austin Powers movies, and also quite a lot of kids have seen the recent 'Goldmember' movie. Judging by the numbers of 6/7 year old little male 'darlings' using the word 'shag', I guess parents must have let them see these films!!!!! Smile
p.b.jones
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Hi,

I suppose in reality most 6&7 year olds would have seen Austin Powers.
I suppose it comes down to what the parent is happy with I love horror films. I used too stay up and watch them with my dad as a lad after mum had gone to bed (only one night a week, Friday). My friend's daughter, at about age 7 or 8, used to watch the Alien series of movies or just about any gory film you would put on, yet I have a mate of 40 who cannot bear watch them. I think it has more to do with the individual's personality than age. Whilst I believe in classifications for parental advice, I have never believed in it as a law.
Phillip Smile
Jerry Hornak
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I've found Phillip's advice above to be the most effective and used it just today. If you suddenly raise your voice a notch, interrupting the one who's trying to interrupt you, they seem to pipe down and listen to your fun and interesting patter.

I'm experimenting with two versions of this right now. The first is looking them in the eye, with a big friendly smile, as I continue talking right over them.

The second is ignoring them as the source of noise, speaking a bit louder over them, then hitting them with eye contact and a smile (while I'm still speaking) to reward their quiet attention. Both seem to work well at the moment.
Making Happy Memories for Children since 1980!
https://JerrysMagic.com
Emazdad
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With the child who keeps swearing, I'd start by politely letting him know that those words are not allowed and that if he wants a chance of helping with the show he must not use them (he's got no chance anyway). Then if that doesn't work, I tell him he may not get a balloon model at the end if he keeps being rude. If that doesn't work, I tell him that if he persists in being rude, he'd better do it out in the kitchen with the grown ups, and get a parent to remove him. He's spoiling the show and I'm sure the other parents don't want their kid using swear words learnt off him.

Isn't it strange whenever you get a brat at a party and you talk to the mums afterward, they always say, "Sorry about so & so he's always causing trouble at parties." My answer is always, "Why did you invite him then?"

I recently did a party where the mentally disabled older brother of the birthday child kept wandering about in the performance area. His mum and dad kept retrieving him, etc. This problem I worked around and did my best to ignore him. I was told beforehand that he was there and he was special needs. It's a problem, yeah, but not his fault. However spoilt & rude kids are something I won't put up with.

With the talker, I often get the "Mr. Magician, Mr. Magician" kid who constantly wants to tell you things. This is a lot harder to handle because they are not being naughty, just friendly. As Phillip says, getting into a conversation with them is a no no, so you have to first try the old, "We're busy having fun. Tell me about it later," ploy. Then try Phillip's idea and distract them with something funny, then try bribery, then finally the ignore them and they'll stop ploy. If they've generally been good, sometimes getting them to help works.
Yours Funfully
Clive "Emazdad" Hemsley
www.emazdad.com

"Magic is a secret, without the secret there is no magic"

Remember there are only 3 types of people in the world, those that can count and those that can't.
keeblem
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Some very interesting and useful advice given in the above posts. One point I would like to make is concerning the "you're there to entertain, not stand guard..." This may be true if you are just doing a basic magic/balloon show, but if you're hired to take on the whole party, the parents are probably expecting you to take care of disruptions as well. Unfortunately, it does seem to be the norm that most parents seem to ignore troublesome children and just let you get on with it!
Mark
drhackenbush
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I've done birthday parties for children with Down's Syndrome and autism, and while I was warned by the parents that they children might not pay any attention or be aware of the entertainment, they were actually, to a child, the most enthusiastic. The autistic child, one of a set of 4-year-old triplets (his siblings were not autistic), actually picked up my ukulele and pretended to play, and acted as a cheerleader the whole time. The children with Down's Syndrome also danced and played along, and all of them loved the constantly appearing bananas Smile. So I guess all types of responses can occur, whatever any heads-up's the parents might give.

Also, I have always tended to allow the children to move around and get involved in the show, and when they say something, I don't have a problem stopping what I'm doing and letting them speak. I feel that while I am an entertainer, what I really am providing is a sense of respect for the intelligence of the children regardless of age and level of development; if they want to talk and be silly, that is just as much Entertainment to them as my performing magic or playing music, and that is what the parents are really paying for. A full 100% of my customers have always come by either seeing one of my shows or through a referral, so I know this happens to work for me (going on 7 years of doing toddler parties).

Of course, it is one of many, many, many different styles of performing, all of which can be, and are equally successful.
Emazdad
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I've done parties for a couple of disabled brothers where we got everyone to kneel down for the party dances as the boys couldn't stand unaided. Their parents were over the moon.

It's always the case when you first start out in this business that you are afraid to tell the kids off for fear of upsetting the grown ups. I'm there to entertain, not baby sit, and if after a few gentle hints to the parents have not done anything to stop the child, I do something about them before they ruin the show for the others. It's a sad case nowadays where we are confronted with children whose parents idea of "reasoning" with them when they cause a fuss is to give them what they want. Children who have been left to "find there own boundaries" because the parents don't want stunt their personal development with rules, etc., are very often the rudest, most obnoxious children around.

I've seen a few.
Yours Funfully
Clive "Emazdad" Hemsley
www.emazdad.com

"Magic is a secret, without the secret there is no magic"

Remember there are only 3 types of people in the world, those that can count and those that can't.
Cheshire Cat
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I guess you must mean private school kids in your second paragraph Emazdad!! Smile Smile Smile
Emazdad
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Parents with too much money and no parenting skills who just see kids as accessories, yes.
Yours Funfully
Clive "Emazdad" Hemsley
www.emazdad.com

"Magic is a secret, without the secret there is no magic"

Remember there are only 3 types of people in the world, those that can count and those that can't.
magic 12376
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Just to clarify, my child attends private school, and would never act inappropriately at a party, or anywhere else for that matter. She wouldn't act this way because she is aware that such behavior is unnacceptable. It is not an issue of having or not having money, it is an issue of parents being involved with their children, and what a particular child's parent deems acceptable as far as behavior is concerned.

My recomendation is this:
At the begining of my show I lay out the ground rules for my performance. What works for me is this, "I would like to explain a few things before I start my show." (While performing rope to silk.) "I will be performing magic so some of what you see may be unexplainable." (Make rope stand on end.) "Also things are not always as they seem." (Change rope to silk.) "I also have a couple of rules— I use a lot of volunteers in my act, if you would like to help I pick children who sit quietly, so quietly I could hear a pin drop." (Pull out a toy bowling pin and drop on floor.) "So, if you would like to help, sit quietly and raise your hand and I just may call on you to help with some of the magic."

"I have one last rule, perhaps the most important, this is a live show, not television so no sitting around in your underwear because that would be rude."
Then ask, "Does everyone understand the rules?" (Yes.) "Great, let's start the show."

I find that the bits of business surrounding the rules which you have plainly stated softens the stern nature of what is being said. This is now more acceptable to parents as it is just part of the show. The children, believe it or not will listen to what you told them because you have done a number of things.

You have explained things as they are. You have done it in a non-offensive way but you have not minced your words. The message is clear, if you disrupt the show you will not have the opportunity to help. Children deserve more credit than what they are often given. They understand, and will behave properly if the consequences for not doing so are clearly outlined.

I hope some of this will help,
Ronald R. Romiski
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