Problem: You’re at a large public event, and a little boy climbs into your chair and asks to be painted as a tiger. As you begin to work, the older sibling who is with him starts teasing him. At first you try to ignore the teasing, but as the older boy becomes more unkind in his comments, you can see that it’s taking all the fun out of being face painted for the younger child. A glance tells you that no parent is in sight. The sibling says the design is stupid and claims it doesn’t look anything like a tiger. When you turn and ask him to be polite or to be quiet, he insults you as well, telling you that you’re a lousy artist. When you turn back to your work, the child in the chair is no longer smiling. What can you do to turn this unpleasant situation around and silence the rude sibling?
Solution: There is no perfect solution to bullying, but here are some helpful suggestions which have been shared by veteran face painters. Hopefully these options will help you neutralize rude kids who are spoiling the fun for someone else.
• Define and enforce your work area as a good manners zone. While you should post a sign which states that the face painting area is also a good manners zone, it’s unlikely a meanie will read or obey your sign on his own initiative. It will be up to you to enforce your work area rules by asking anyone being unkind to stop teasing and, if necessary, to leave your work area if he refuses to limit his words to kind ones. Most parents appreciate the safe, fun area you’re creating for their children, and many will back you up if you set the standard for good manners in your area.
• Require parents to be present during face painting. Most children will curtail their rude comments if there is a parent nearby, which is an excellent reason to make it a rule that parents must be present while any child is being face painted.
• Don’t be timid about calling for the parent. At public events, it’s not uncommon for parents to assign an older sibling to wait with a younger child for face painting rather than stand in line themselves. If this is the case and the older sibling is harassing the younger child, stop painting and call out, “I have an unattended child who needs his parent!” Hopefully the parent will be near enough to hear you and come to get her child. If the parent comes forward, explain the situation privately and let the parent know the face painting area is a good manners zone. If no parent appears, stop painting, tell the older child to go get his parent, and don’t resume until he leaves.
• Pull out the secret weapon of enthusiasm. Part of what makes face painting appealing to children is that they become the center of attention for a few minutes. More than the beautiful design you will create for them, children will remember how you make them feel, and they love it when someone makes them feel special. Since a rude kid tries to squash that special feeling, you’ll have to compensate by going over the top with excitement about the child you’re painting.
• Realize that you are an influencer. At the core of every child is the desire to be loved and approved of by others. This even applies to the kids with the toughest exteriors. The tormenting sibling may be going through a difficult stage during which he finds it easier to be ornery than nice. If you can encourage him to be kind rather than to be mean, you’ll have helped him move in a positive direction. Inside you may be frustrated, but ask him what he thinks will make the design more effective. Mention that his opinions are valuable, and that he can use them to build people up instead of tear them down. If all else fails, redirect him to a new subject by asking him questions about what his interests are. Even if he’s not going to be face painted, see if you can find some way to make him feel special, too.
* Special thanks to Leticia Flores-Zamarron, Abbie Greenup, Lenore Koppelmann, Corey Morgan, and the other face painters who recently offered their own suggestions when a fellow face painter encountered a similar situation and upon whose comments this scenario is based.