How to control children

Discuss the art of Children's Entertainment with your fellow performers.
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How to control children

Postby Mark.Lewis » December 26th, 2009, 1:47 pm

It has come to my notice that American children's entertainers are by and large pretty useless. There are a few good ones dotted about here and there but they are in the great minority. That is because they don't understand the British way of children's entertainment which is, naturally, far superior, nothwithstanding the you tube clips of various dreadful British magicians who rather let the side down. However, I expect these exceptions are probably members of the Magic Circle so that would explain it.

The main problem seems to be that they cannot control the children. They are afraid to get them going in case they can't shut them up again and this limits their style somewhat. The British method is to turn the reaction tap on and off.

If you would care to find out the secret of controlling the children without saying, "hands up those of you who want to leave here alive" then just let me know. Ask and it will be given unto you.

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Re: How to control children

Postby Mark.Lewis » December 27th, 2009, 3:45 pm

I have decided that I am going to tell you how to control children whether you ask or not. After all, the knowledge is badly needed.

The most important thing you do is beforehand before you even get there. Always send out a little flyer to the parents who book you. This advice will also work to a lesser degree to a larger group like the scout bunch, but is especially good for birthday parties. The flyer is sent with your letter of confirmation. It is headed "hints, tips and suggestions"

Actuallly this is a polite way of saying "rules and regulations". Here you put all your requirements such as "no presents opened during show" or "no candies or food given out during show"

That sort of thing. You word it more politely than given above but you say what you require and put it in a "suggestion" wording rather than a direct order.
What you put in the flyer is up to you.
I usually have some hint about the parents yapping in another room or shutting up if they want to watch the show. I word it more politely of course.
If you hate being videod during your performance this is where you put it. (personally I don't give a damn!)
If you don't perform outdoors you put in the flyer also. In fact anything you want which could make the show easier for you. I make sure that there is a proviso about 2 year olds not being allowed to wander and wreck the show.

When I first started doing kid shows I would get quite a bit of trouble settling the kids and controlling silly parents who would distract the kids during the show giving out food plus the kids playing with squeakers and noisemakers etc; Once I used this flyer idea all this crap stopped. It also works with bigger venues but to a lesser degree but send it out anyway.

The next thing I do is to have a "magic line" so that the kids don't come across it and enter the performing area. Some performers use actual rope or even duct tape. I don't bother. I simply draw an imaginary line and if the brats even put a leg over it I say "you've come across the magic line. The magic won't work if you come across the magic line!" I have even had other kids reprimand their friends if they come across the line! On the odd occasion when you invite a kid up to help the other kids might remark that they have crossed the line. No doubt these brats will grow up to be Government bureaucrats. At any rate you simply say "they are allowed to cross the line if they come up to help the magician"

I have used a technique of Clayton Rawson's saying "the quietest one can help me do the next trick" and the "when I count to 3 will you all say shhh........." These two techniques work like magic in controlling the kids. The last one is more for the adults chattering at the back but will also work when the kids are getting out of hand.

Sometimes it is better to follow a rowdy trick with a quieter one to calm the kids down. I will admit that here I do not practice what I preach.

I have very good control techniques personally and can turn the noise tap off and on at will. However as is well known I am a genius and this option may not be generally available for lesser mortals. If the magician isn't Mark Lewis then it might be a good idea to look at the routining of your show if you find a "rowdy" problem. In other words perhaps alter the sequence of the tricks. If you have too many rowdy items together like I do then you may be asking for trouble.

I break the rule but I am saying that you should do as I say, not do as I do. I do not practice what I preach but here I am doing the preaching and not the practicing.

A good plan may be the one I read in an old Gen magazine by Wilfrid Tyler. (VERY old! Even before I and Opie was born!). Wilfrid (who incidentally was the co-author of my favourite book on kids magic "Open Sesame"). Wilfrid had a system which is a very good one. However, I am not going to tell it to you unless asked.

Nobody asked at my last post so I had to resort to force-feeding you the information whether you liked it or not. I won't do it again. If you want to know more about controlling children either by my system or by the Wilfrid Tyler system you will have to ask.

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Re: How to control children

Postby Kent Gunn » December 28th, 2009, 1:45 am


I'll bite. Please continue with your wit and wisdom.

I don't dislike children. But I could never could finish a whole one.


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Re: How to control children

Postby amp » December 28th, 2009, 8:09 am

Have a good "act".

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Re: How to control children

Postby Mark.Lewis » December 28th, 2009, 8:34 am

Good heavens, amp, old chap. You need far more than a "good act".
That is really the American way of doing things. We British know that you need far more than that.

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Re: How to control children

Postby Mark.Lewis » December 28th, 2009, 9:00 pm

A good plan is the one I read in an old Gen magazine by Wilfrid Tyler. (VERY old!). Way before 1954 in fact. Wilfrid (who incidentally was the co-author of my favourite book on kids magic "Open Sesame") suggested a rolling stone approach of starting off quiet and gradually building up to a point where the noisy participatory stuff is nearer to the end of the show. A bit like a rolling stone gathering moss. Wilfrid recommended not charging in like a bull in a China shop in the beginning and you slowly build the show up to a frenzy. This keeps the kids from going nuts too early.

I use this technique once in every 5 shows. After three minutes I make a judgement. If I deem the kids to be too rowdy then I use the Tyler system. If I think they can be handled by my usual techniques then I just do what I normally do.

Another tip. If I am doing something where the kids are to call out something or other and if I find they are getting a bit rowdy I will ask them to whisper it. I get a lot of great mileage out of this whispering business and in fact I have a bit of a routined sequence for it which I can't be bothered describing. It does have the advantage of keeping the brats quiet for a few moments.

One very important point. Never ever show irritation at the kids. NEVER EVER! With the greatest of respect I think only twits from the magic cafe say things like "show consideration and be a little quieter"
Something like that can be the kiss of death. Once you say something like that you are done for, more often than not.
You have admitted defeat. Professionals NEVER admit defeat. If you are going to die a death you might as well do it with dignity.

Kids are like a pack of wolves. As soon as you tell them not to do something they will sense weakness and tear you apart. If you order a kid about they will do all in their power to disobey the order especially when you are supposed to be entertaining them. That is why my "promise you won't laugh" gag with the Bongo hat works so well!

When you step out of character to tell the kids off you are breaking the illusion. I never tell the kids off or show the slightest irritation even if I am seething inside and want to strangle the little brats. I am the pro and I am supposed to be able to handle anything. I absolutely hate it when I see videos or witness live performances of so called "magicians" telling the kids to behave themselves. I cringed when the late Brian Flora in his awful kid show video told the kids that he wanted them all to be quiet because he didn't tolerate his own kids misbehaving.

So how do I control the kids without telling them to shut the hell up and behave themselves. Simple! I con them into behaving! Bribery and corruption goes a long way. They want the magic money (Ed Harris giveaway) They want to help the magician. They want a balloon animal. They want the attention of the magician.

There is only one person present who can give them it. Me! So they had better bloody behave themselves otherwise they aren't getting it. Carrot rather than stick.

However the greatest key of all in handling kids and stopping them acting like brats is a metaphysical one and hard to put into words. I will try though.


If the kids sense that you like them they will like you. And if they like you they won't want to screw up your show. You are their friend. They won't want to upset a friend.

Leipzig's famous advice about audiences apply more especially for kids than any other type of audience even though Nate himself probably didn't have kids in mind when he said it. He said "if they like you, they will like your act"

You can get by as a kids entertainer if you don't like kids. I have seen it happen. However if you actually love the kids it will be a tremendous and actually obvious advantage for you. If you love them they sense it and will love you in return providing you can make them laugh and have fun.

If they love you they are very unlikely to make your life a misery. Sincerity is the key to entertaining kids. They will sense it and be the most rewarding audiences you will ever have.

However if they sense that you don't really want to be there and you don't really like them that much then may God have mercy on your soul.

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Re: How to control children

Postby mai-ling » December 28th, 2009, 11:36 pm

sometimes the best way is to be the teacher.

kids act rowdy because they want to be a smart ass.
but kids are willing to learn.

like being in the army...'ATTENTION!'
you will remember my name
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Re: How to control children

Postby Fenrick T Amazin » November 30th, 2010, 1:28 am

You can get by as a kids entertainer if you don't like kids. I have seen it happen. However if you actually love the kids it will be a tremendous and actually obvious advantage for you. If you love them they sense it and will love you in return providing you can make them laugh and have fun.

You nailed it here, Mark. I could not agree more. I think a lot of the problems come down to knowing what's socially acceptable for a magic show and what's not. I find that if I'm clear and honest about my boundaries then my audience respects that. If I'm not clear upfront about what I expect from my audience, kids or otherwise, how could I blame them when they do something I don't expect or want?

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Re: How to control children

Postby Sr Agnes Fate » November 30th, 2010, 8:45 am

Actually I seem to remember the Reverend Lewis said something different in another forum. He didn't believe in setting any rules in the sense of giving the kids a speech at the beginning of his show on how he wanted them to behave as some magicians do. He felt this set a jarring note. Of course if you are referring to his habit of sending out a leaflet I am sure he would agree with you.

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Re: How to control children

Postby GregMcMahan » December 9th, 2010, 8:52 am

I've found that if you pay attention to the audience, they will pay attention to you. Instead of working hard to get them to notice you and what you're doing, notice what they are doing. It helps a lot in keeping the kids from getting out-of-hand.
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Re: How to control children

Postby Jonathan Townsend » December 9th, 2010, 9:18 am

Greg- that entire process is also called building rapport. It's been a known issue addressed in the literature pretty much since the field of Rhetoric was recognized and effective public speaking analyzed in books.
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Re: How to control children

Postby Dynamike » December 9th, 2010, 8:21 pm

Rule #1. Don't sound froggy like an old man.

Rule #2. Be active, loud and energetic like Jolly Roger.

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Re: How to control children

Postby Nathan Allen » January 7th, 2011, 12:47 pm

If all else fails, break out the pepper spray and/or Taser.
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Re: How to control children

Postby Russell Davis » January 11th, 2011, 2:14 pm

Yes, and use it on yourself for not having a good enough kid show.

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Re: How to control children

Postby Jolly Roger » January 12th, 2011, 12:46 pm

Dynamike wrote:Rule #2. Be active, loud and energetic like Jolly Roger.

I agree!!! JR

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Re: How to control children

Postby magomarcos » March 8th, 2011, 9:30 pm

Extraido del libro TRU LA LA
La primera cosa a tener en cuenta, es evitar todo tipo de confrontacin. Una vez comenzado el show, ese nio insoportable, convirtelo en tu amigo: si t no puedes con el enemigo nete a l, dale un cargo dentro del show, hazlo sentirse importante. Ofrcele ser el jefe de ayudantes, le explicas que si nadie quiere salir, saldra l, o le indicas que te escoja un chico, por ejemplo: un chico de lentes, o de camisa roja, l se sentir importante y en realidad l que eligi al de camisa roja fuiste t. Estar comprometido contigo y no te molestar porque ya est integrado en tu show, lo importante es ganar su inters, ahora l piensa que sin l, el show no se puede hacer, o sea le has dado el PODER que l quera tener...!!! Preocpate en todo momento de dejar en claro que quin manda eres t y no ellos, no importa cun insoportables sean, trtalos siempre dulcemente, no te olvides que ellos son tus clientes. Te aseguro que al menos la fiesta que siempre tendrs asegurada es la del nio ms insoportable de todos los que te han tocado ese da, los padres te admirarn por lo bien que lo has dominado.
Saludos Mago Marcos *
Sorry, my texts are translated by Google

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Re: How to control children

Postby Richard Kaufman » March 8th, 2011, 9:35 pm

I can't read Spanish: is magomarcos posting about doing magic or is he a spammer?
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Re: How to control children

Postby Gordolini » March 8th, 2011, 9:56 pm

Richard - Using Google Translate button on toolbar:

Extracted from the book TRU LA LA
The first thing to keep in mind is to avoid any confrontation. Once the show started, the child unbearable, make it your friend, if you can not join the enemy to him, give him a position within the show, make it feel important. Offer to be the assistant manager, explained that if anyone wants to leave, would it, or you are indicating that you choose a boy, for example, a boy of glasses or red shirt, he will feel important and that he actually chose the red shirt was you. Be committed to you and not bother you because it is already built into your show, how important is to win your interest, now he thinks that without him the show can not do, or have given him the power he wanted ... ! Worry at all times to make clear that who you are and not send them, no matter how unbearable they are, always treat them gently, do not forget that they are your customers. I assure you that at least the party will always ensured the child is the most unbearable of all have you played that day, parents will admire you for how well they have mastered.
Mago Greetings Marcos

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Re: How to control children

Postby Richard Hatch » March 8th, 2011, 9:57 pm

According to his other introductory post, he's a magician from Uruguay based in Houston and the author of the above mentioned book.

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Re: How to control children

Postby Xakary » November 24th, 2011, 4:24 am

Bringing an old post back, but thought I would share how I start out my shows after my initial introduction. I wouldn't call it "controlling" kids, but rather setting things up for a successful show.

First off, I use what looks like yellow police crime tape as a line on the ground in front of my performance area that says "Magic Zone: Do Not Cross" (available from Hank Lee's). I tell the kids that I only pick helpers who can follow directions. I also use sets of carpet squares with footprints imprinted on them for my helpers to stand on (I think I got them from Barry Mitchell)--it's amazing how well it works to keep them planted.

I go through some funny byplay while asking the kids if they know there are rules for a magic show (they come up with some great ones). As I'm going through my 3 rules (including Rule number one, you have to have fun), I get to rule number 2:
"I'm going to be looking for helpers today. Here's what I'm looking for when I'm picking a helper. Someone who is sitting on their bottom..." [you will see the kids who may be sitting on their knees physically change their position at this point...]. "...have their hand in the air like this...and are NOT going PICK ME, PICK ME, PICK ME!" [said in a high pitch voice while waving my hand back and forth. Often at least one of the kids will mimic this, and I'll say "Perfect! Thanks for showing everyone how to NOT be picked"]

As has already been said, you have to do great magic adapted for ths age of the kids (read David Kaye's great book,Seriously Silly), even more important be funny (read the book again), never chastise or talk down to the kids, and don't try to limit their energy--use it to your advantage (read the book a third time). And you have to like kids--if you don't, do shows for adults.

I always say that the kids entertain me as much as I entertain them, and you really have to believe that to be successful doing kids shows.
Mike Dobias aka "Xakary"

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