In general, children (and adults!) are eager to have their faces painted. Transforming the victim… er, I mean person, into something of fantasy by applying some colorful cosmetics is a unique experience and is almost guaranteed to leave a smile on each face at “the reveal”.
Except when it’s not.
There are a few scenarios that play out; children who don’t want to be face painted but are being coaxed by their parents, those that do want a painting but when it comes to be their turn they get a bit scared, those with sensory issues, and babies who are just maybe not ready for the experience, yet. Part of my job, as the professional, is to asses which situation is happening before me – and it’s generally easy to figure out.
I am of the opinion that if a child makes it clear they do not want to be painted, I will not paint them. Face painting should be a fun experience and not a traumatic event. In these cases I may offer to paint the adult who is trying to get their child in my chair first (since they seem to be so much more excited about this, anyway). Sometimes, this leads to the child also getting paintings and sometimes not – but generally will end in smiles.
The second and third scenarios are similar in how I handle things. These kids generally want to be painted but they either get “stranger danger” when it’s their turn or they might be super sensitive to anything touching their skin or coming at them. The more I’ve worked through these experiences, the more I remember to GO SLOWLY!
When I do have the time to talk to the child and kind of get them warmed up I have found this makes all the difference and they end up with an equally awesome face painting, AND (most importantly) I have succeeded in doing my job of providing entertainment! What I have found works every time is offering to have the child touch the brush bristles or surface of the sponge that I plan to use. That’s it. They see that it’s soft, and it won’t hurt them. I used this technique just yesterday at a party on an almost-2-year-old. Both he and his dad wanted him to become a wolf (as he has a matching favorite stuffed toy). It seemed he wasn’t sure about me. So while Dad was holding him, he felt the sponge – paint and all – smiled and climbed back into the chair, ready to go. The smiles and excitement at the end were so worth it!
Less is More
I will often try to keep away from the eyes and mouth on these kids as that can cause more irritation. Or, I might even opt to use my powders instead of wet paint. These have the added benefit of being a little more smudge resistant.
At another private party this past summer, there were two autistic boys there who the adults wanted painted. However, it was clear that they were not ready at that point. There was just too much going on and they were agitated by all the activity. I felt terrible turning them away for the time being but I resolved to paint them later. So when things settled down and the other kids were done being painted I asked if we should try again. Hesitant again (but no longer screaming), I had them feel the brush and paint a little stroke on each hand. They both ended up with some fun, quick rainbows on the arm. I left the party knowing that the guests were all happy!
The other “trick” that works well – particularly for toddlers and preschoolers – is opting for an arm painting. This way, they can see what is happening and watch their artwork develop right before their eyes. It’s even a fun opportunity to ask them “What color comes next?” or, “what’s your favorite color?”; they love to be part of the process!
I also often have people ask if I can paint their babies (12 months and younger). I think the youngest I have painted was about 4 months. If you do want your baby painted keep a few things in mind. You will perhaps want to do a patch test on their inner arm first (I’ll paint a dot of color and ask you to wait for a time to make sure no reaction occurs). Don’t expect that anything painted on a baby will be 1. complete or 2. good. I may even revert to painting the parents instead. We do NOT want to hold babies down if it’s not necessary (it’s just face paint – really) as this can also intimidate other children watching and may cause them to hesitate. In general, I believe it’s not a good idea to try to paint a baby this young, but I have done it and once or twice have actually succeeded in a really cute painting with simple flowers, hearts, or a mustache.
Above all, please use discretion when lining up with your child for a painting. If you know they tend to be shy and unsure, you may want to spend your time at the event doing something more suited to them. If your child is not begging for a painting, don’t press the issue. There are certain times in life when kids will need to do things they don’t want to do -BUT- I want the people in my chair or line to be having fun. These are some of the methods I use to calm kids and while I’ve pretty much had 99% success with them – there is going to be that 1% that might just have to wait until next time and that’s OK.
Looking forward to seeing (and painting) you at my next event!!