Twisting for Children

I love to pull out balloons at family restaurants and sometimes do. The question is… How do I get my family to NOT say, “Oh, Mom, don’t do that. It embarrasses us!”
– Arla Albers

Keeping Track Of Which Children Have Balloons
How to Childproof a Sculpture
Dealing With Breakage And Repairs
Dealing With Kids So They Aren’t Afraid
Dealing With Kids Who Are Too Young For Balloons
Dealing With Indecision
Dealing With Obnoxious Kids
Dealing With Greedy Kids
Dealing with Balloon Thieves
Little Helpers
Should I Make Weapons?
Boys And Girls
Dealing With Parents/Relatives
Losing/Keeping Control

Keeping Track Of Which Children Have Balloons

You often run into the situation where you need to limit the number of sculptures that you make for each child. Here are some ideas:

  • Stamp the kids’ hands
  • Some clowns carry a roll of stickers and put a sticker on a kid when he gets a balloon. The kid is happy to have the sticker and doesn’t connect it with the clown’s apparently good memory about who got a balloon.
  • Use tickets that the kids use to redeem them for 1 balloon each. (Tickets may also be used as a payment.) I’ve used the ticket for a balloon idea at birthday parties a few times and found that it works quite well.
  • I’ve also been toying with what the tickets really should be. My present thought, especially for very large parties, is to have a two part ticket where I can tear off a stub and leave the kid with the remainder of the ticket (which would just happen to be my business card). Whoever hires me could tell me how many kids to expect and get that many tickets.
  • The tickets could also be color coded. I like having a flock of kids around me, but it would be nice if I could keep the groups smaller. “Let me reach into the hat and grab a color… OK, red is first, I’ll be calling the next color shortly so keep those tickets handy!”
  • We use tickets — one figure per ticket. Also, I have an “assistant” who keeps order and takes orders for me, so I can spend my time twisting, instead of remembering who shouted what at me and when. For solo workers, a number of people on the list have suggested arranging the “clients” in a semi-circle around you, and working it like a queue (e.g., from right to left) so all can see you work, and some semblance of order is maintained.
  • Each child who gets a balloon ALSO gets a sticker. They don’t know it, but that’s the way I know if a child has already had a balloon or not. If they have a sticker, they must wait until all the children in line have gotten a balloon. (“You already got a balloon. We must be fair to all these children who did not get one yet. I’ll be happy to make you one if all the children get one first.” ) I NEVER tell them I know HOW to tell if they’ve had a balloon or not…or they’d rip the stickers off, too.
  • I display all my balloons by draping them over my knee, and get the kids to pick a balloon. Then I run a strict routine of only twisting the balloons that come to me. This allows some of the kids to wander off knowing that they have a balloon and will get a model eventually. It also allows me to weed out the repeaters. By saving a few in a different pocket I could then “discover” a replacement for any bursts. I’ve used the this trick when a crowd showed signs of getting unruly. Some families moved off kids clutching their balloon to come back later when the crush had died down a bit, making it easier to manage those left. This is not a method to suit all occasions, but it should work in several other situations. I have also used it in a busking situation where it worked sort of in reverse where it kept people around me attracting more people to come and see what was so good.

How to Childproof a Sculpture

  • I have found that there are some animals that can take rough handling better than others, and these sculptures work best for kids. But when I have to make simple dogs (Yuck!), I find that several complete twists for every bubble and several complete rotations for every lock-twist helps to prolong a balloon animal’s life before the little butchers turn them into sausage-links.
  • There are a couple of ways to almost child-proof many of the basic balloon figures and at least make them difficult to take apart.
    1. If you roll the first bubble (the head) through between the ears, that twist is secure. If you roll the head and ears through between the front legs, that twist is secure. Roll the tail through between the back legs and that twist is secure. You have to make the ears and the front legs a bit longer than normal but the child accepts the figure either way and the coming apart problem is solved.
    2. Roll the head through between the ears to secure that twist. Make four-bubble legs (legs and feet). Tuck the front feet between the back feet to place the figure in a sitting position. Wrap the front feet around the back feet one complete turn, and the whole figure is secure.
  • Most balloon workers make a sword by folding the balloon downward and then upward, and twisting the three balloon cluster in the middle. This forms a two-loop hand guard which comes apart very easily. If you fold the balloon downward, upward, and downward again, and twist the four-balloon cluster in the middle, it forms a three-loop hand guard that is much more secure.
  • I tie off all the ear-twists on hands, horns, wings etc; they just get too much abuse to last very long. A little loss of detail but a lot more durable. Simply undo the ear twist after the pop and there’s enough balloon to tie off.
  • For less breakage:
    • Use fresh balloons and keep ’em cool.
    • Use leashes on your animals and make sure they “walk” them up in the air (after all, you are within city limits!).
    • Make hats instead of animals– less likely to pop, although they still will.
    • If you’ve got a lot of kids or limited time, use the balloonists’ KISS technique. (Keep It Simple, Silly). (Thanks T!)
    • Swords are more problematic. I rub ’em on my head or arm, stick ’em to the wall (usually good for a response), and tell them they can pick up their swords after all the other balloons have been made. Less time to break ’em.
    • Tell the kids in advance that they’ll break, especially if they’re not careful. I tell them, with evident pride, that: “My balloons are *guaranteed* to pop; if it doesn’t you can bring it back to me and I’ll pop it for you!” (this is my favorite line. I *always* use it, not only for the laugh but to prepare the kids and parents for the possible pop. They usually treat the balloons a little gentler, at least for 30 seconds or so.)
  • I clearly state that “No part of a balloon belongs in your mouth” and “don’t put your balloon on the sidewalk or the grass because it will pop.” I always put my creations on 12″ or 16″ balloon sticks so the recipient has a handle to hold.
  • I have now started putting the figures on a balloon stick. I always tell the children not to remove the figure from the stick. This allows the balloon sculptures to live much longer. It also makes the figure easy to carry. The sticks cost only a few cents, so it will not cut your profits by much.
  • If I’m working a crowd I like to use another full 260 for the stick. On an animal, I call it a leash and just wrap a loop around the animals belly or neck. If the leash is made so it sticks up in the air when the animal is right side up, the kid is more likely to walk it in the air.
  • “Leashes” make animals more visible. Plus, the leashes usually pop first from rough handling, leaving the kids with a balloon. I do caution the kids to walk their balloon pets in the air, so they don’t pop.
  • The advantages of the 260 stick is the size (bigger is more valuable and it is very difficult to put out of sight), the motion and color (the kid is waving it around and attracting attention) and it keep the kid’s hands off the animal. It is nearly as strong promotionally as a balloon hat. The disadvantages are: it is something else to pop, the cost of the balloon and it has to be inflated.
  • For parents’ benefit, I tell the boys with airplanes on the sticks, that if they fly them in someone’s face, the airplane belongs to that person. Then I explain why and leave the parents to enforce it.
  • I almost always put my balloon creations (not hats of course) on a 16″ long hard plastic straw. I insert the straw carefully between one or two bubbles, and then it becomes a handle for the person to carry the sculpture.
  • As T. Myers says, “get that balloon up in the air.” I also do not want people putting balloons into their mouths and they rarely do that in front of me because the balloon on a straw is more like a toy. I buy the straws from Conwin Carbonic or another balloon wholesaler.
  • Sticks elevate your work in three ways.
    1. They elevate your work from toy to sculpture. I always tell the kids several times a night that if they take the balloon off the stick, then they void the warranty and the less they touch it with their hands, the longer it will last. I get very, very few returns for repairs and those that do are usually off of the stick and I tell them, “Where’s the stick? You took it off of the stick. You’ve voided the warranty!” Parents get a laugh, kids get a lesson in life, and I get to skip remaking a balloon over and over and over again.
    2. They elevate it in percieved value. When you go through the warranty and hands bit, parents tend to help their kids make the balloon last longer with a word on your behalf to firm up what you’ve just said. This and the way you present the child with their own personally made balloon on a stick, adds to the value in the parent’s eyes and does add to you overall take.
    3. They turn your sculpture into a little ad campaign. The kids are always waving their creation around saying, “Look at what that nice balloon man gave me.”. That’s a pretty picture, let me tell you. Not to mention that an unpopped balloon looks more appealing than a hand full of rubber rags. Let’s not forget that that hand full of rubber rags is quite often being held by a whimpering whelp. Not a pretty picture, I know. I’ve seen enough of those in my day to share a few.
  • “Sales pitch!” I agree, to a point. I’d say, “Don’t waste your money on the sticks that are 24″ long and cost from $5 to $6 a gross. I carry a smaller straw that is 16″ long and costs only $3 a gross. I know that some folks get the longer ones and cut them in half. That gives them the same amount for the same money, but…they are only 12” long, and they spend a lot of time measuring, cutting, and breaking those things in half.
  • I’d say, don’t waste your money–use the “stick” money and buy more balloons!
  • To address the point properly, I’d have to say that sticks are not a waste of money, nor are they a waste of time. If you’ve ever had a kid come to the front of your line to have you fix and retwist their dog’s legs back together…again…for the seventh time, you begin to get tired and frustrated and want to avoid the culprit. If you do, they begin to push their handiwork into your way and then into your face. If this doesn’t get the desired response, they begin to, gently at first, thump you on or about the head with the offending balloon while saying in louder and louder tones, “Mister. Hey, Mister! My mom said to beat you with this balloon until you fix it for me. Hey, Mister! Are you LISTENING TO ME? HEY MISTER! FIX THIS BALLOON!” Sound familiar? Since using sticks, I seldom, if ever, hear this anymore and if I do, hey, they voided the warranty, right?
  • Putting balloons on sticks elevates the creations to a higher level. It is not “just a balloon animal,” it is a balloon creation that has much more value in the eyes of the recipient.
  • I have been putting all balloon creations on sticks for several years. I usually use 16″ hard plastic sticks that I get from Conwin Carbonic. They usually have the sticks by the gross in bright colors – usually dark blue, red, green and yellow. Children like having choices, and I usually let them choose the colors of the balloons and the colors of their stick.
  • For some of the smaller 160 sculptures, I use a narrow 12″ white stick that I get from All American Balloons.
  • You can usually insert the stick several ways into a sculpture but I usually insert the stick so that the stick is inserted in the sculpture that then sits on the stick vertically. But for dogs, horses, dinosaurs and other such designs, I place the stick where the feet are, and the animal is in the front of the stick which is horizontal.
  • I started using the sticks to make my scultptures easier to display. I work at lots of street fairs and farmers markets and display a wide variety of balloon sculptures. People buy the displays and get excited when they see their favorite design. Of course, I also make balloons to order but frequently because they saw someone walking down the street holding a ______ in their hands.
  • Younger children love holding their balloon creation on a stick, and the balloons last much longer and rarely have to be reworked when on a stick.
  • I also work at a restaurant and put all the balloons on sticks. Many diners put their sticks in the flower vase while they are eating and proudly leave the restaurant with their balloon on a stick in their hands and a big smile on their face.
  • Animals you wear: One of the problems that kids seem to have is what to do with the sculptures after they’ve got them. Lately I’ve been doing the basic dog with legs long enough to have the child slip an arm through, their new pet is now ‘hanging on’ to them. It’s the same principle as an animal on a hat, but only one balloon is used.
  • Any animal with a diamond pattern for the legs makes a great arm riding (teddy bear, kitten, monkey, etc ) bracelet. I make a bear with arms wrapped around the pump for advertising. As I was cleaning up (not financially) I put the bear on my upper arm for lack of a better place. I started getting all kinds of attention. It’s a nifty place that doesn’t interfere with twisting, and apparently look great ‘cuz all manner of young ladies suddenly wanted to “wear a bear”
  • I make a bear head on a monkey body (no tail – use the “tail” to make a double balloon “body”), connect the legs with an uninflated 260, rotate the head to the right and draw eyes looking up and to the left. Reach out your right hand to shake the customer’s hand, and they will automatically extend theirs. Then, before they know what is happening, you slide the bear onto their upper arm. It looks like a koala hanging onto a branch – cute factor of 10, especially if you choose a color that matches her outfit.
  • 1 260 (fully inflated tied to an inflates round with a 6″ geo blossom around where they meet is a HUGE ring.

Dealing With Breakage And Repairs

  • Help! I have a real problem. Kids who have a balloon already come to the head of the line and say: “My balloon popped!” I REALLY need to know how some of my fellow puffers deal with this situation.
  • You have to treat everyone the same. If someone comes back with a broken wing on a bee, I will tell the next child in line, “Hey, watch this quick repair job,” and repair it. If it’s the whole bee gone, I will tell the child that if they want another bee they have to wait in line, but if they just want a quick apple or mouse, I will do it now. I talk to them while I am making the next child’s balloon, and then slip the repair or replacement in somewhere.
  • I have asked the people waiting in line if they minded my making the child a new balloon while they waited (they’ll always say it’s okay, since you’ve appealed to their higher natures).
  • I generally look for broken sculptures, bring them to the front and fix them as fast as I can. Only about 2% of the people come back, and I figure the promo value of fixing it in front of everybody gives the line confidence that I will treat them right if they have trouble. This works best for me at Street Fair type situations. The people are coming and going, and most of them don’t bother to come back if their balloon breaks. I am also making Big Fast Easy stuff and repairs are easy.
  • If I can fix it quickly (a twist or two), I’ll usually do it between balloons. If there’s major surgery or an inflation involved, I make them line up again. Balloons are not permanent additions to their wardrobe, and the fact is some kids break their balloons because they’re rough or careless with them. You can’t have all the other kids wait while you service the same kid two or three times. I especially don’t reward rude or insistent children, and I never comply with their demands just to make them go away. I treat them with respect and expect the same in return.
  • There are exceptions. The kid who breaks it twice on purpose has to wait for the line to disappear.
  • If a child breaks a balloon immediately after I made it, I will replace it once, without hesitation (this paints me as a sympathetic person, because I tell the crowd in front of me that I can’t have a sad child ). If, however, the child is malicious, or the parent is overly insistent, I will only replace the balloon with my choice of sculpture (a mouse, anything quick, small and simple). This still makes me a good person in the eyes of the audience. I tried to appease the evil family.
  • When some kid comes up to you and asks you to fix something, do it and don’t expect another tip. Sometimes you get one, but remember, they already gave you money – you want them to walk away happy. You don’t want them to tell other people that you were obnoxious and wouldn’t help. But this becomes a problem when a child breaks a balloon. I’ll gladly fix any balloon that comes untwisted (I kinda think of this as a work flaw anyway), but I won’t remake balloons that pop if I have a crowd. What do you people think? I seems to me that managing a situation where several people are returning fragments of balloons to be ‘redone’ would hinder making new balloons for people who are waiting.
  • I would much rather a balloon pop while they were close enough to return for repairs, rather than later when I wasn’t around, and I don’t even suggest, hint, allude to, or want them to pay a second time for their balloon. If they offer, that’s another story.
  • You may want to let them “trade in” their broken pieces for a new sculpture (to be limited, at your discretion, of course, as to how many times).
  • I’ve tried lots of approaches over the years and the thing that has worked best is to insist that repairs cost $5 and replacements cost $10 in advance unless you want to wait in line. It’s terrible when a parent comes and insists that I remake their kid’s balloon when 50 – 100 others that haven’t gotten a balloon yet are waiting…but it happens.
  • Here’s what I say when I hand out my balloons: “My balloons are GUARANTEED to pop. If it doesn’t pop, just bring it back to me and…I’ll pop it for you! Look delighted, proud and silly – all at once. Adults also seem to really like this line. If they come back later with their latex shreds, look proud again and say: “See! Guaranteed to Pop!” Of course make another if you like (and make sure they dispose of the shreds properly).
  • T. Myers writes: There are crazy people out there, and you are bound to meet some of them. I will oil a squeaky wheel and a freaked out mother. Get past the problem and get back to work. If someone is going to get violent, I’m in the wrong place. If you are interested, I have written more about this in the updated version of “Making Inflation Work For You.”
  • I just came back from a party where a kid wanted me to replace the sword he popped about six times. Of course, even at the end of the party he wanted another, and I knew I could not leave without making it for him. I postulated The First Two Tenets of Murphy’s Balloon Laws (otherwise known as the Second Law of Balloon Airo-Dynamics)
    1. If a kid wants a broken balloon fixed, he will want it fixed again and again and again and again.
    2. If one parent gets hysterical about waiting in line more than 20 minutes, you will have a whole crowd of hysterical people yelling at you about how long they’ve been waiting in line and how they deserve a free balloon.
  • I also guarantee my balloons – until they get to their car – If the balloon pops, I’ll replace it or repair it – even if the kid drags the balloon on the ground. Because I am willing to fix the balloon for free, most people give me a dollar or two for the redo or repair.
  • Some will pop. That’s the nature of them. If a child comes back, I am always happy to replace it. I joke around that it is still under warranty. I tell them to wait in line, and I will be happy to replace it. Even if we are selling the balloons, it doesn’t cost that much to replace it. Sometimes a child will be a short distance away, and their balloon will pop, and they burst into tears. If I see this, I will immediately replace it without the child waiting in line. I will say something to the people in line such as “Does anyone mind if I quickly fix this child’s balloon?” No one has ever objected. After the child leaves with their new balloon, I will thank the people in line for waiting. Sometimes if we are selling the balloons, I will have them bring back the broken piece to trade for the new balloon.
  • Pop lines, crowd control techniques, etc., all help establish not only that you’re fun to be around, but also that you’re the Boss. Do not underestimate the value they add to your show and your sanity.
  • I got stuck in a situation like that with an obnoxious kid who kept popping the balloons and coming back. You can explain that there was a guarantee (3 minutes or 3 steps whichever comes first). There is a weapon limitation treaty and you will exceed it if you make any more swords, that he has exceeded the quota for balloons as you have made too many for him. At the school function (I was doing balloons for tickets) I had a couple of kids change their mind. I asked them to turn in the first animal to get another item. I then asked the line if anyone wanted the returned item and traded it for a ticket. I have had some spontaneously pop as the child was walking away. In those cases I did a repair or replacement as it was still under the warranty period.
  • That is a tough situation I know. The way I deal with it is to tell the children to please take good care of their balloon creation. But that if it does for some reason pop I will replace it, but only ONE TIME and that it must be the SAME thing they got in the first place. I do this because if I let them choose something else then all of a sudden a mysterious invisible balloon monster will almost always come along and pop all their balloons so they can choose a different one. This does indeed take up much too much time and because he is invisible its impossible to ask for extra wages for him!I have never had anyone complain about this as I make sure to let them know up front that these are my rules BEFORE I start ballooning.
  • People deal with repair/replace at the fair in different ways. If I see damage, I try to call them up front and fix it. The crowd relates to the customer and likes to see them treated right. A large fair crowd turns over often enough for most customers to be gone by the time the balloon fails so there is not much fixing. If you are at an all day company picnic, do the balloons last.
  • I don’t make balloons for kids who pop them. I feel this can really get out of hand. It’s like them breaking toys and having fun doing it. They do seem to know they are getting away with something at this point. One of my most repeated phrases is “everyone gets one, first”.
  • In terms of warranties, I always inform my customers that all of their money goes to support the S.P.C.B.A. That is: The Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Balloon Animals. If I hear a pop and can get to that area to investigate, it can be a lot of fun once the “offender” is found….. I usually tell them that they’re lucky they didn’t walk out and then pop it, as it’s still under warranty until you drive it off the lot.
  • I also fix or remake the balloon for a couple of reasons.
    • I don’t want anyone walking out the door sad or upset.
    • I want the management to see the balloons and happy people holding them, as they go out the door. In outside work, it makes sense to do it as the more balloons you have out there for folks to see (and ask “hey…where’d you get that?”) the better it can be for your business. Also, there’s that many less broken balloon bits laying around on the ground. Even if they don’t take advantage of it, it still lets them know that you care about them and ballooning.
  • I ALWAYS give a warranty with my balloons. They are guaranteed to POP!!! That’s what balloons do! I always get a good laugh from this line, at least from the adults, and it tells the kids that the balloon is a fragile thing that needs to be taken care of!
  • If I’m not in particularly high demand at an event, then I will usually take a moment to repair popped balloons. The child/family must wait until I am finished with my current customer, however, before I will turn my attention to repairs. Because I generally stick to a one-balloon-per-person rule, my rule on repairs is that I will repair something for a customer, but they may not have “something different this time.” I worry that I’d have too many fickle kids popping what they had to get something new. This tends to work out pretty well for me, the parents are glad that they don’t have do deal with an upset child, and sometimes I even make an extra buck or two in tips on the repairs.
  • I tell parents that if the balloon they bought pops before they leave the fairgrounds, to bring me back the pieces and I’ll replace it free. I’ve done two fairs and haven’t regretted it yet – I haven’t had anybody take advantage. If the kid pops it on purpose, most of the time the parent will refuse to bring it back, and, if it popped by accident, I’d rather have a happy customer than one with a bad memory of the incident.
  • I’ve been offering balloon warrantees for many years. I make balloons at many outdoor venues. At some, I’m the only one making balloons, and, at others, I compete with other twisters. I always tell my customers if they have any problems with the balloon, bring it back for repair or replacement but that the warrantee is only until they get to their car unless I get invited home for dinner.
  • I repair or remake the balloon for no additional charge unless they insist. I think the goodwill of a “no charge balloon” just about guarantees that they will be back next week for another “paid” balloon.
  • I also work at a restaurant. I replace balloons there with a smile unless I see the person (child or adult) smashing the balloon on purpose. The manager agrees.
  • I just LOVE it when a kid comes back with a long string of sausage links that used to be a twisty dog (grin). It gives me a chance to play veterinarian and save the dogs life with a twistoctomy!!! I ham it up BIG, and sometimes I even get my assistant to act like a surgical nurse handing me balloons and the balloon cutter like I’m actually performing an operation.
  • Some times I do the 6 million dollar dog routine where I make what ever popped BETTER than it was… faster… stronger… etc… yadda yadda yadda. I’ve even gone so far as to bring those TINY little Band-Aids that I could NEVER find a purpose for, and I tape one of them onto the dog for good measure. ALWAYS creates a grrrreat rapport.
  • I completely agree with this balloon warranty policy, and believe it shows you stand behind your product and care about making sure everyone leaves with a smile. One thing I do, however, is clarify that the replacement absolutely must be the SAME balloon as the one that had been originally made for the child or adult. This prevents balloons from mystically popping all of a sudden when someone happens to see something they would rather have than their first selection.
  • Here is how I try to handle the “warranty” and related issues. Before/while twisting for a large group I often make several announcements.
    1. There is a minimum age qualification for balloons. To the parents who will soon tell me their two year old child is different and will not chew or suck on the balloon etc., I will hand the balloon to you not the child. While I advise not handing it to a child who tends to put everything in his/her mouth, the choice is now yours.
    2. If anybody attempts to play twister and pops or ruins a balloon while twisting or untwisting it, I will not fix or replace it (I repeat this one twice).
    3. I explain that balloons need to be held gently and not to be sat on, stepped on or used as weapons.
    4. I will only repair or replace a balloon if the owner has not violated any of the above, but it will be the exact one they had in the first place (how often do they really just want something else so the balloon conveniently pops).
    5. If I do fix or replace a balloon for someone I will do it once only.

    I try not to come across as too “bossy” or “mean” but I have found that when twisting for a large group, you get kids coming back for all kinds of reasons, and, if they succeed, then the flood gates are open. By using these reminders, I have found the incidence of kids coming back has gone down dramatically, and the longevity of the sculptures has gone up dramatically. Once the “rules” part is over and the message comes accross, I find I can become pleasent and funny and be my old “softee” self.

  • If a child wants another balloon because his or hers broke, they have to bring me the broken balloon and trade me. That way it eliminates the mess all over the ground and prevents a small child from picking up part of the balloon and swallowing it.
  • I only re-do balloons that accidently pop, and that quickly stops any potential balloon-killing kids from taking that last step.
  • We guarantee the balloons to leave the park. Since they are paying directly for something, I feel they should get some sort of guarantee. We never have too many people coming back! We make indestructible balloons. (Or they are too far away from us by the time it breaks.)

An Ace in the Hole

  • Regarding the repair or replacement of balloon figures: I find it extremely helpful to have a large bag of ready-made figures at my side. When I have an insistent child, or an insistent parent, I can quickly grab a ready-made figure for that child and go on with my entertaining. These figures also ease the pressure when a parent is about to leave, dragging a crying child off because the parent has run out of time.
  • I am extremely blessed in that I have a wife who accompanies me almost every time I ‘perform’, whether with balloons, magic, or teaching workshops. When she is there, she is able to take the child or the parent off to the side and take care of the “emergency”. For the few occasions when she is not with me, I try to find an older child, a young adult, or some other person who is not in any particular hurry. I give them the responsibility to hand out the ready- mades on my signal.
  • For repairs, I use ready made figures even when I am working the streets for tips. Believe me, the added time and expense justifies the effort.
  • I make a bag of quickie balloons as spares and give them to a parent. Tell the parent that a child can have a spare from the bag *when they’re ready to walk out the door* when being picked up. Tell the kids too.

Retorts For Repairs

  • My balloons are guaranteed against popping for 30 seconds or thirty steps whichever comes first.
  • All of my balloons are guaranteed to pop – if they don’t pop, bring them back and we will pop them for you. (Once at the end of an event, this line caused a young kid to come up very tentatively and ask: Do we really have to pop the balloons?)
  • When children come back with your creation now shaped like a string of sausages I usually wipe my brow for effect and say “It’s a good thing I took Surgery 101 back at balloon school!” then twist it back together shouting things like “Forceps!” “Clamp!” “Scalpel! – No, wait!!!! – No Scalpels! Sponge!” “Suction! No, wait!!! – Pressure!” “Suture!”, etc. A 3M brand hardware-store dust mask tucked into your apron, and donned at the appropriate time would surely get a huge laugh.
  • Have you ever made a balloon animal and just as you’re making the last twist, it pops? Take the deflated balloon and hand it to the person and say: “Well here’s your bunny rabbit. … It’s a little deflated but you saw what it was, right?…. OHHH, you want one with air in it. OK, I’ll make you another one.” People laugh at it.
  • All my balloons are guaranteed: the guarantee is FOUR minutes or four steps, whichever occurs first

Dealing With Kids So They Aren’t Afraid

  • Clowns are inherently frightening. I will never forget the first clown I saw up close. It was an amateur at a school carnival, somebody’s dad. He was about 8 feet tall (okay, 6 feet, but I was much shorter then), dressed as a woman with the thick white face paint and the huge red lips and cheeks. This thing bent down right in my face and screamed in a hideous falsetto “HellllLLLOOOOOOOoooooo.” Now, I didn’t cry, I didn’t run, but I clung to my father’s leg until we were well clear of this disturbing man-thing. It’s not just clowns. You see it all the time, kids fleeing from things their parents shove them toward – clowns, Santa Claus, costumed characters at amusement parks (I’ve done all three at different times). It’s vital to remember that clowns wear strange oversized clothing, they have grotesquely exaggerated features, and they speak in bizarre voices. These things can be very scary for kids of all ages, not just toddlers.
  • Even when I’m just twisting as Normal Dad Guy, I’m still 6’2-1/2″ tall, I’m still being overly exuberant, so I’m still an Ominous Figure. When timid children approach, it helps a great deal to get down on their level (I kneel, rather than bend over them), talk in a soft voice (as normal as your character can muster), and hold the balloon by the nozzle between thumb and forefinger when handing it over.
  • Treat children like short adults. They appreciate respect as much as the next person, regardless of age. However you address them, it should come out naturally, and blend nicely with your “on-stage” persona. If you’re dressed in a tux, address them as “sir” and “miss” or “mademoiselle” or “ma-dahm.” If you’re in jeans and suspenders, you can call kids “my friend,” “buddy,” “pal,” “tiger,” “chief,” “boss,” “slugger,” etc. I tend to stay away from “big guy,” “little fellow,” or anything that I wouldn’t call an adult. Diminutives are annoying to kids and sound condescending (IMHO).
  • Good conversation starters for kids – treat them like meeting anyone else. “Hello there! How ya doin’?” seems to break the ice better than a personal question like “What’s your name?’
  • In your dialog with kids, avoid anything having to do with physical characteristics. Kids are inordinately sensitive about the way they look, and an innocent comment can sometimes reduce them to tears, and you’ll never know why.
  • I saw one fellow who kept calling kids by the names of handsome and beautiful movie stars if they were too shy to say their names: “It’s Mel Gibson!” “It’s Demi Moore!” “It’s Cher!” “It’s Vanessa Williams!” He would use any name for any kid – no connection to physical appearance (though gender appropriate). This won’t work for everybody, but he did it particularly well, and the kids giggled every time he did it.
  • When I’m Cap’n Denny, everybody becomes a “Denny Cadet.” When it’s their turn, I say, “Cadet, step forward!” If there’s time, I ask for their name, rank and serial number (which gets me their name and a blank stare), after which I refer to him/her as “Cadet First Class Melvin” or whatever.
  • In 10 years of doing this I have found that what’s most important is to address kids in a way that is complementing to them and natural to you. As a child I would have kicked you for calling me “little boy”. I would definitely avoid the “sweetie” and “sweet heart” stuff unless you are the chubby grandmother type.
  • Whenever I work with children, I always try to use their names. They love it. I think that it probably gives them a closer connection to me. After all, the balloon lady knows their names, so they must be special.
  • When I book a birthday party, I try to have the parents make name tags for all the kids to wear with their names written in thick dark magic marker. Most of the time, kids have no idea how I know their names (they forget they’re wearing the tags), and it also allows me to round everyone up when it’s time to go on to the next game, or event, “Hey Johnny, don’t you want to play Popcorn too?”
  • Watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood with a three-year-old sometime. They are absolutely transfixed. Mr. Rogers knows how to talk to pre-schoolers with respect for their minds. He uses words they can understand without talking down to them (as opposed to a certain large purple tyrannosaur). I wish I were half as good with children as he is. He actually has a website. In his website Mr. Rogers takes the time to explain why he does what he does the way he does it. Good info for people looking to improve their interaction with the Kindergarten set.
  • There is an underlying flaw in some children’s performers. Some clowns think that when you perform for children you have to be very broad in your mannerisms, wait for them to get the joke, explain it if they don’t laugh, etc. Kids are too sophisticated for that (not just now, they always have been). Mr. Rogers doesn’t talk down to kids, Beakman and Bill Nye don’t talk down to kids, Soupy Sales never talked down to kids. If your act is not entertaining to adults, then the kids won’t like it either (that does not mean doing so-called “adult” humor – look at Winnie-the-Pooh, Animaniacs, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Beany and Cecil for humor that appeals to both adults and children). So when you do a bit of business, deliver it with respect for the wit and intelligence of the audience. Don’t draw it out and overplay it to be sure that they all “understand.” Expect them to stay with you. You’ll be shocked at how much they’ll catch and how little you can get away with.
  • When a child refuses a balloon, I tell them that it’s all right. I’m not there to force balloons on them. I believe it’s the child’s decision, and I respect that. If the parents would like a balloon, I’ll make one for them (sometimes they want one to give to the child later). And I always say that if anyone changes their mind about wanting a balloon that I’ll be glad to come back, just let me know. After all, everyone is allowed to change their mind. I seem to get a good response, and it is respecting the child’s wishes. This approach to not wanting balloons sort of goes with my hat-making too. I always ask the chld if I can fit him for the hat. Kids should be asked before you touch them, just like adults. When I was a child everyone used to come up and touch my mop of curls without asking, whether they knew me or not. I hated it. As an adult no one does it anymore, but some get up the nerve to ask (I usually say yes, because they’ve thought ahead enough to ask). But when I was a kid no one gave me that respect, so I was forced to be met by any and all adults as they grabbed my head. It could just be my oversensitivity to the idea of invading their space, but I don’t think so. Too many people thank me for respecting their children’s opinions and asking before I touch them. Especially the parents of kids with lots of tight curls on their heads.
  • Make connection with the kids, and everything will be fine. I noticed that when I used to be an ice cream man, I was a servant of the kids, and they knew it. I really liked it. Later when I was ballooning in a mall for Christmas I got tired, and I got down on my knees and ballooned from there. It was great! I’m a fairly big guy, but when I was down there looking the kid in the face the adults seemed really way far up in the sky!! Made me feel for the kid and how little control they have. Also most parents really appreciate their kids interacting with another adult sort of like their social training. I’m rattling on, but I really love ballooning for the give and take you can have with a child.

Dealing With Kids Who Are Too Young For Balloons

  • Balloons are not teething rings! Keep them out of the mouths of babies!
  • Anything you stick on a baby to get a reaction is deemed ‘cute’. A balloon for a very young child is merely amusement for the adults around her. Is it worth the risk? In this day and age you can never be too careful. You can’t rely on the parents to do the right thing. They just know it’s fun and that Johnny/Susie wants a balloon. For the most part, that’s all they care about. I’ve seen very young children put a balloon animal into their mouths, not because they saw me do it, but because that’s what the very young do naturally… which is why we don’t make critters for them, right?
  • As twisters, it’s our job to make balloons into something irresistible to a child. As citizens, it’s our equal responsibility to educate everyone on the dangers of balloons for children, and that all thin plastic, rubber, cellophane, or mylar items need to be kept away from small children until they understand how to play with them safely. As a father, I happen to know that the sole mission of children from ages 1 to 3 is to kill themselves by any means possible. Kids are lucky with balloons everyday, or they’d be keeling over right and left. If one child chokes on any balloon, that’s too many.
  • Just because a baby doesn’t have any teeth, that is no guarantee a balloon won’t pop while it’s in the baby’s mouth! Newly cut fingernails have sharp edges. Also, the little darlings love to grab on hard and pinch. Or, the stroller may brush past something sharp, or, or or… I HOPE everyone gets the idea. PLEASE, never use “the little cutie doesn’t have any teeth” to imply “s/he’s perfectly safe… too little to harm the balloon.” Besides the choking hazard, the balloon itself can have a wicked recoil! Have you ever seen a kid hold a balloon tight over their eyes, as a sort of rose-colored glasses effect? Also, remember that on a windy day when a little kid’s balloon hat gets loose, the instinct will be to jam the balloon hat on the kid’s head, so they don’t cry when it’s lost. Pushing it down further will only lodge it firmly by their little ears.
  • Do not make balloons for the very young. Better to have a person be disappointed than to have your day ruined by seeing a child attended to by emergency technicians because he choked on a balloon fragment. As you look over your crowd, watch for very young children. Never let someone with a very young child wait 40 minutes to find out they are not going to get a balloon. You don’t have to single them out, just make a public announcement to the general crowd as to your rules. If they continue to wait, then you might have to talk directly to them just to find out who the balloon is going to be for.
  • When working, I frequently (and tactfully) remind the parents of the very young that balloon pieces are easier to choke on than they are to swallow and that the parent must be responsible.
  • Our basic philosophy is this: Everyone gets a balloon if possible as long as they are 2 years old or better. We have a sign with a choking warning that states our policy, NO exceptions. I’ve had some miffed parents, but as I say to all: “I want to see your kid to grow up, don’t you?”
  • When I twist, I have a large (11″x8.5″ yes sideways) black on red sign at the top of my menu board. I always have it there, and it is in all of my contracts that I will follow its wording exactly. It says:




    It looks very nice with a warning hazard triangle in the left upper corner. It has been my policy for the last two years of professional work.

  • In T. Myers Clipart Book there is a page on this very subject. I used one of the pictures to make a badge that I where to every event I attend and perform. It is an attention grabber and conversation piece. It clearly states to keep balloons out of the mouths of babies and carries the warning about balloons. I would strongly suggest every one buy the book just for that, if not the rest of the pictures for a menu board.
  • How do you handle a parent who wants a balloon for a child that is too young to have one? I just say “No”. This raises some eyebrows, but I continue with “He/She is too young to have a balloon, but I can give one to you.” Then I hand the balloon to the parent, NOT the child.
  • I ask how old the child is, and, if he/she is under 2 or 3, I simply decline. If the parent of a child insists, I make a balloon for the grown up and hand it to them and write their name on the balloon just as I would the child if he/she were old enough.
  • I usually don’t give balloons to kids who look like they are 3 or under. I give the balloon to the parent. If they want the child to have the balloon, THEY can give it to them. I’ve been told that relieves me of any negligence. Any comments?
  • A number of twisters have suggested giving a balloon to the parent, the idea being it then becomes the parent’s responsibility if he/she gives it to the youngster and a problem occurs. I’m not a lawyer, but from my experience in other areas, this is not likely to protect a twister from liability. In numerous product liabilty cases, at least partial liability has been assigned to a manufacturer whose product was being misused, if the misuse was common or predictable. If a balloon professional claims in court he/she could not have reasonably anticipated that the parent was going to hand the balloon to the small child in his arms, the balloon professional is going to be ground into hamburger by most plaintiff’s attorneys. It’s like the so-called “attractive nuisance”, in which you’ve got some condition (such as an excavation) which is protected by all the fences, signage, and other warnings you can think of, but if some kid gets in there anyway and gets hurt, you’re liable, just because it’s there. This is the case even if you’ve made it clear to the kid and whoever’s supposed to be responsible for the kid that the condition is there and no one is supposed to enter the area. Putting up a sign that says “Enter at your own risk” does not change the law. Regardless of whether we’ve got certifications or even whether it’s a paid twisting job or volunteer work, as twisters we don’t have the option of leaving the choice up to the parent. They’re not the balloon professionals, we are, and we can kid ourselves about it now, or we can have the courts tell it to one of us later.
  • I refuse to give or sell to any parent who is going to give the balloon to their under age child. I find that explaining the choking hazard is enough for the parents to gracefully back down (but there are still some really dense people in this world *sigh* 🙂 Of course, I also duck the issue of unhappy parents by blaming the apocryphal insurance company who will let me make a balloon for little Johnny or Suzie only if I would pay them some unholy number of thousands of bucks a year 🙂 The old “I’m not covered” line is pretty effective in these litigious days.
  • You should refuse to give balloons to kids under 3 (in some cases under 4). If you HAVE to make an animal for a toddler, tell the parents that you will give the balloon to MOM and DAD. Tell them that your insurance company will not allow you to give a balloon out to anyone under 6.
  • I’ve also been told not to make red and pink balloons for small children. Apparently they are difficult to see, should a child ingest or inhale one.
  • A balloon cannot be removed using the Hiemlich maneuver as it is a flexible membrane. A child choking on a balloon has six(6) minutes before they die and two minutes before irreversible brain damage occurs. If a trained pediatric paramedic arrives with the proper tools AND the balloon is stuck in the upper trachea area, they can push the balloon down into the stomach [sic – probably meant lung], and clear the airway. A physician can later remove the balloon. If you are in the hospital or within one minute of one, you might be able to get them on the operating table and opened up fast enough to save them, maybe. I know of no truly loving and at least semi-intelligent parent who will continue to ask for a balloon for their child after being told this. I’ve run across some *really* dense ones, but management/the client has always backed me up on this as they don’t want to be involved in a choking incident either.
  • A very large portion of my income comes from giving balloons to kids under 10. So I’ve had to come up with ways to make myself feel comfortable with it. I do ask the kids directly to keep them out of their mouths, and I let them know that for safety’s sake, any adult may take away their balloon if they don’t handle it properly. They do understand that you’re being serious then. If there is a parent there for each small child, I insist on giving the balloon to the parent and not the 2 year old. When instructed to play with the balloon with the child, and given an explanation as to why, most parents will thank you for being so considerate and comply with your suggestion. You’re not going against the request of your client. You’re just being cautious and placing the final decision in the hands of each parent.
  • To the best of my knowledge (and I have talked to lawyers about this) it is NOT ILLEGAL to give balloons to kids under three. It does, however, open you up to liability issues if there was a problem. At first I gave the balloon to the adult and told the adult that they could do with it as they wish, but there is something about handing it to a child that makes what we do so special, so…..I talked to my insurance company and they said for it to be an issue, the person suing me would have to prove that I was negligent, so we came up with this solution.
    • Ask every child near the age of three how old they are. (I do this anyway as I entertain the children I am making balloons for.)
    • If they are under 3 find the parent or guardian of the child and tell them…. “Balloons fall under the small parts act, which means that balloons represent a choking hazard for (small children) or (children under 3).” If you give them this warning, and you discipline yourself to say it each and every time, no one could prove you were negligent, and you are therefore off the hook.

    While I do this and believe that it is enough of a safeguard, I must add, in the same vein… that I am not a lawyer and can not represent myself as one. My advice may or may not be legally binding. You just gotta love these…..”let’s see who we can sue 1990’s.” Someday we will wake up, and people will actually hold themselves responsible, but until then it doesn’t hurt to cover your bases.

  • I’m sure the most important issue to all of us is to not give a balloon to a child who might choke on it. For me, this means to err widely on the side of safety. And even older kids can put balloons in their mouths, so if I see an older kid doing this, I warn the kid and/or the parent. I’m sure we are more worried about not killing a child we are trying to entertain than not getting sued.
  • Don’t panic about being sued for giving balloons to 3-year olds. I’m not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice, it’s only how I look at the problem:What is legal and illegal are determined two ways. First by an law passed by Congress or a local government, and second is by a court deciding a particular case.

    I know of no law that says handing a balloon to a 3-yr old is illegal. That’s just not the sort of thing that concerns Congress, so I doubt we’ll be seeing the “Balloon Customer’s Bill Of Rights” anytime soon. The trickier part is the court decision. Courts decide individual cases, and do not make up ad hoc laws. So unless a twister has been sued for giving a kid a balloon [and lost], there is nothing wrong with it. Yet.

    It could be considered “negligence” to give a kid a balloon if you fully expect him to eat it and have it pop. But that’s a whole other matter, which you should try to avoid at all costs.

    But I am not worried. I make sure to give the balloons to the parents, and if I’m ever sued should and anything should go wrong, I hide behind a simple defense. I’ll state that I gave the balloon to a parent, and I believe that the parent can decide what is in the best interest of their child.

    I don’t make a big deal out of it. I say, “he’s a little young, but I’ll give it to you.”

    It works the same way at private parties. No 2 year old is going to approach you without his mom. If so, just brush him off.

  • I do not recommend giving balloons to little kids for several reasons. First, they will not appreciate it, since their cognitive skills are so low. Second, they will probably pop it by dragging it on the ground (they tend to be short). Third, there is a good chance that they’ll put it in their mouth, which could pop and hurt them.
  • The only way that a kid is going to demand a balloon is if his parent does. So give the balloon to the parent, and then move on. Don’t worry. I honestly believe that parents should and do watch out for their kids. So as long as they are the ones who decide if the kid holds on to the balloon, then it is not your concern, or your fault if anything bad happens.
  • Child chokes on balloon…Tragic…but it could have been a soda cap and had the same results. Parents MUST be very aware of the things that children of that age get into. Balloon hazards are clearly labeled on the package (suggesting they may have been purchased at a store) and that I as an entertainer make hazards clearly known, in writing both in my contracts and on my business cards, as well as on my “menu” sign (when I use it). Parents have a responsibility to make appropriate age and developmental decisions for their children. We have a responsibility to inform customers/caregivers of known hazards of any product we sell.Also, parents are very well aware of the things in a child’s environment that are considered to pose a choking hazard, and are counseled by pediatricians, PSA’s etc. It is not like the child choked on some “new toy” that suddenly broke apart and ingested small pieces ….because of the size of an uninflated balloon or broken peices of balloon they are on the list of things to watch out for…along with: peanuts, hotdogs, bananas, hard candies…

    I can’t tell you how many times I have seen parents freely give those same things to their toddlers without so much as batting an eye. Even after I advise parents of the possible hazards of giving balloons to young children, they want it anyway. I’ve even seen the hair raise on some parents backs because I would dare presume to know better than they what is appropriate or not for their child.

    Raising toddlers is a hair raising experience (on your back and otherwise =-), for just that reason. So, while I do not dismiss the incident, it really had much less to do with the balloon than the childs’s age and surroundings (I don’t dare say the amount of supervision, as we all know these things often occur under our noses).

    In closing my sincerest condolences go out to this childs family, as a parent I know their suffering must be great.

Drastic Measures Are Sometimes Called For

  • Usually, if a parent of a very young child wants their kid to have a balloon, I ask if they’re sure. Then I break character and explain the dangers involved (like choking). I know that it’s unprofessional to break character, but I also know that it holds soooo much power when you do it and express genuine concern for the child. When I do it, I haven’t had a single parent want to take the chance. I’m also covered with buttons warning people to keep balloons OUT of their mouths.
  • No matter how friendly I normally am, I “break character” and get dead serious when talking about choking hazards. . . even in clown garb. I feel that NO characterization is worth losing a life over. And it seems to get my point across VERY well when my clown character suddenly becomes serious. Sorry if I am breaking one of the fundamentals rules of clowning, but in this instance I feel that it is more than warranted.
  • There are more than a few of us who will take back a balloon given to a parent who has been instructed NOT to give it to the child, but who has ignored the warning (tip returned).
  • I have been known to stop working and go up to an older child and insist that they stop sucking on a balloon because it is dangerous and a bad example for the smaller children.
  • If I see the child with the balloon, or if I see the balloon go into the child’s mouth (or anyone’s mouth – usually adults are the ones trying to see how much of the balloon they can shove in their mouth at one time), I TAKE IT AWAY AND POP IT. I just say, “I’m sorry, but obviously you don’t know how dangerous that is,” and I walk away.

Don’t Chew On Balloons Routine

  • When working a restaurant table hopping, as I finish at the table, I make eye contact with the kids as I point to MY mouth, shake my head and say: “…and of course, as always with balloons, we want to watch and make sure no-one puts them in their mouth…” pause, point to adult male at the table, as you say “especially him!” This simple “bit” serves several functions:
    • By saying “of course, as always,” you aren’t ORDERING adults to watch their kids better than they might otherwise have. You don’t want to offend by insinuating that without your instruction they are too stupid to take care of their own kids (although some…). This section makes it a gentle REMINDER.
    • Continuing with the words “with balloons” doesn’t target animal sculptures as deadly objects, but it reminds them that they are in the general class of “Balloons” and should be treated carefully as should those other round things. (I’ve had several customers that thought figure tying balloons were dangerous, but happily let their child chew on a round helium balloon. Go figure.)
    • Most people hear so many warnings, that, like the lawyer talk on commercials, a minute later they don’t even remember having heard it. By making a joke along with the reminder, they have to actually hear/think/laugh, and hopefully retain. Most adults will continue the mental process and make a follow-up comment. Like a parable with a moral, they’re entertained by it, while being taught/reminded.
    • BONUS: After I leave that table, as I work the next few near-by tables, when I use the line, I raise my voice slightly, and point back to the man at the first table, “…especially HIM!” I love a running gag, and the customers get a kick out of it. They often feel like part of “the act”, and wave! (And we’ve re-emphasized the point too!)
  • Inflating all balloons with my Pump-O and giving the sculpture to the child on a balloon straw really cuts down on young children immediately putting balloons into their mouths.
  • At parties I have the children take a “balloon pledge.” We do this before I hand out balloons. It goes like this.

    Repeat after me:
    I will never
    never ever ever
    put a balloon
    near my mouth
    I ever
    put a balloon
    near their mouth
    I will say
    DON’T DO THAT!!! (I have them shout this part)

    It’s fun, the kids learn from it, and I don’t have as big of a problem with them when I start out this way. I make the parents say the pledge too.

Balloon Alternatives for Young Children

  • I smile at the parents and say “I’m sorry but it is very dangerous for a child that small to have a balloon. It only takes an instant for him/her to put it in their mouth and a piece could go down their throat. It can not be removed using the Heimlich or CPR. They would have to be rushed to the hospital. So please accept this special sticker for your child.” When I say this sweetly and with a smile they are usually very cooperative.
  • I have a problem with parents of very young children INSISTING on a balloon – I even had one mother say “don’t write on it – I don’t want him to get ink on his mouth!!) So I use this idea I learned from Calvin Clown from North Carolina at a seminar at Orlando in 94: Kipp Brothers in Indianapolis has some little plastic ducklings that are real cheap and a neat thing to hand to a little one. I try to carry a few in my clown bag. They are cheap and you can “hide” them in your hand and pretend to blow them up. The ducks come in pink, green, yellow and so on – they are wonderful.Kipp Brothers, Inc.
    P. O. Box 157
    Indianapolis, IN 46206
    Order Code # is NC6745
    $5.95 a gross.

    They are neat and the parents appreciate them and the fact that you don’t give a balloon to their little darling! – and the little ones like them too because they fit in their hand.

  • If I run into a child who can’t have a balloon for one reason or another, or simply doesn’t want a balloon (some kids just don’t like them), I give them a sticker or a button instead. I always try to have something on hand for the “just in case” times.
  • I learned origami and find it very useful when a child is too small for a balloon or is afraid of balloons. I fold a paper into an animal for the child, and he is very happy.
  • Origami – It is unfortunate that paper figures just don’t come together as quickly as latex ones (even the simple ones, I’m not sure why). So I think prefolding is a good way to go. Usually for the teething age, I make little hats for them to wear so they can’t put it in their mouths.
  • Another neat substitute is a paper balloon. Basically, it’s a small triangle-shaped, flat wedge of waxed paper with a small hole in the center. Blow a puff of air in the hole, and it inflates into a small beach ball. The strength of the paper holds the rounded shape, as the hole remains open (until you bat it about 10 times, then you need to puff a little more air into it). It’s really neat, because if you’re good, you can uninflate it and re-fold it into the original wedge and then start all over again. I ordered them from one of those kid’s-toy novelty magazines.
  • “Paper Balls: Colorful paper balls are one of those precious toys which share with balloons the distinction of being valued for their delicate “here today, gone tomorrow” nature. Inflate by gently blowing air in through the always-open hole at one end. The handcrafted Japanese-style balls can then be batted about – no delicacy needed when playing with them. When play is over, the ball can be flattened and kept in a pocket.”HearthSong Catalog (Parents Choice seal of approval for 7 consecutive years)
    Call: 1-800-325-2502
    FAX: 309-689-3857
    #04486 Paper Balls $5.95 for a set of 10 in four assorted sizes.
    $4.95 for two or more sets.
  • I found a cute way of introducing those plastic ducks to those who are too small to get a real balloon.Preparation:

    Cut off the neck of an 11 inch round balloon. stretch the cut off end over the head of the plastic duck. Put in your your pocket and you’re ready!

    To perform:

    Tell the little finger sucker that you have a very special balloon for him (or her) that will never pop. Take out the duck hiding it in your hand and let the neck of the balloon hang over so they think you have a balloon in your hand. Blow up the balloon. When you do that, the neck will come off the duck. Turn sideways and pretend to twist like mad. Palm away the balloon piece and place in pocket. They won’t see this as you are standing sideways pretending to twist. Now cup your hands around the plastic duck (hiding it) and ask the child to blow on your hand to “freeze” the balloon. Slowly open your hand to reveal duck as you say “Now there’s a balloon that will never pop!”

  • The Cheapo Plastic Ducks are made and sold as toys. They are not put through the strict cleanliness tests that a Pacifer is. Since I haven’t seen the factory and there were some dirty ones in the bag I opened, I’d suggest you wash them before handing them out. I would also suggest giving them to the parent first. We all know that anything you give to a little kid goes in the mouth. While these toys don’t present the dangers of balloons, they are not made specifically to be mouthed. So the approach to the parent needs to be – ‘Here is a safer toy’ – instead of – ‘Here is something safe for your kid to stick in his mouth.’ The feeling for us should be – ‘If the kid sticks it in his mouth it is very, very unlikely that he could hurt himself.’
  • The next step would be to carry individually wrapped toys made for teething babies. It’s a neat idea, but I couldn’t sell them for $8.00 a gross. If you don’t think you would use many of these ducks, having a few teething toys might be a good thing.
  • I found some nifty “body markers” at Walgreens….I think they were $2.99 each, they have a drawing end on one side and a stamping end on the other, I will do this for timid children (or even let their Mom do the stamp) and for children too young for a balloon. They are very compact and portable and do not require me to dedicate yet another apron pocket to yet another thing.
  • T writes: I’ve found duck replacements. They are the same material as the good old ducks, but it’s an assortment of floating animals. There’s a starfish, penguin, platypus, seal, turtle, whale, sea otter (?), frog, duck, dolphin, hippotamus, and shark. Why, there’s enough characters for a short play. They are called “Floating Animals” because (I think) the manufacturer considers them bath toys. They are a little bigger and a little more expensive than the ducks, but we are offering them by the gross or the half gross.
  • T’s replacements for the duckies: WOW!!! That’s the best description I can give for these new alternatives to the duckies for the little ones too young for a balloon. Thank you sooo much T! I just got in 4 gross of these wonderful little animals and they are GREAT!!!! What a selection and what great colors… white, neon pink, bright yellow, neon orange, a very neat green, and a very cool looking blue!!! Turtles, Platapusses, starfish, whales, seals, hippos, frogs, penguins and ducks!! They are all really great, no need to do any cutting or trimming. They all look like very good quality. What a wonderfully fun and safe alternative for our littlest friends!!
  • I try not to give balloons to very young children. Instead, I carry a pocket full of plastic floating animals from T Myers for these young ones. After I hand one over I then look at my watch and tell the parents I am timing their child to see how long it will be before it goes in the mouth. Nine out of ten times that is okay with the parents, in fact many of them seem grateful. If the parent says the child is okay with balloons, and wants one, I make it and give it to the parents.
  • Unfortunately I have seen to many parents who don’t have a clue. They will give a balloon to an 18 month old and not watch the child with the balloon. Sure I don’t want to be sued, but more importantly I don’t want to see a child get hurt from something I made. I have a fair amount of moms get mad at me, but that’s OK. I know that child won’t be eating one of my balloons. I always give them one of the plastic toys I buy from T Myers. I call it a special balloon that will never pop. They can pick which ever animal they want, and they are thrilled.
  • Be careful about those “body markers” at Walgreens. Unless they say they are for the body specifically (like face paints do), if a child gets a reaction to one, such as the child in California who had a reaction to a non- face paint and was scarred, you may be sued. The parents win VERY easily if the product is not specifically for skin. If it says it’s non-toxic, all that means is that the child will not die from ingesting the substance. It means NOTHING about skin contact. USE ONLY FACE AND SKIN PRODUCTS ON SKIN or be prepared to deal with a lawsuit.
  • For those times when kids are too young or you have simply run out of time, offering a toy is a great idea. I also give them out just for fun or as rewards for participation in activities etc.

Dealing With Indecision

  • When the lines are long, you can’t afford to have people taking 5 minutes to decide what they would like. While at the point of being 75% done with the current balloon, I often ask the next kid waiting in line what kind of balloon he would like.
  • If they don’t know what they want by the time they reach you, suggest something real simple, or just make it and give it to them. If you can, do what’s quick and get to the next person.
  • Here’s an example:Me: What would you like? Kid: (pause) Me: It has to be quick or I’m going to pick. Kid: a rooster. Me: Good answer, but not fast enough. I’ll ask again in a minute, after I make her animal. You practice that. You can pick any animal you want, but it has to be quick.

    I go to the next person, this kid is practicing saying animals. When I turn back to him, and ask again, he’ll usually pick something different. I don’t know why, but this gives me a lot to play with. I can then pick whichever I liked better. I’ve also given myself time to think of how to make the one he asked for originally if he’s still determined. If you’re entertaining, there’s nothing wrong with making what you want rather than what your audience requests.

  • I have a specific weird figure I make for each non-request. Some of them are as follows:
    • “Whatever” is a family pet, very popular with families that live on the moon.
    • “Don’t Care” is a cousin to the Venusian Dingus. It is loved by all, especially Venesian children that have big brothers or sisters that always give them a bad time.
    • “Anything” is a weapon on Jupiter. It only fires blanks, but that doesn’t matter. There are no real enemies on Jupiter anyway.
    • “Surprise Me” I give them an uninflated balloon with a loose knot in it. They are always surprised.
  • It really doesn’t matter what the figure looks like, or whether it looks like anything at all. If you have a definite figure in mind for each non-request, and make it without hesitation, it is always good for a laugh. Once you have a story of sorts to go with each one, it is even better. Before long, you will get specific requests for the nonsensical figures as often as for the real figures you make.
  • When someone comes up and really doesn’t know what to ask for, I’ll suggest a slightly fancy or off-beat balloon, or one that I haven’t made many times that day so that I can practice. But the fact is, kids are happy with a dog.
  • When the child says “Uhhhh”, I say, “Let me tell you a few of the things that I make…a dog, a cat, a lion, a tiger, simba, nala, an elephant, a teddy bear, a parrot, a parakeet, a cockatiel, a cockatoo, a snake, a giraffe …uh…well, that’s all I can think of right now; did you think of anything?” They usually come up with something from that list, because they hear an animal and then get stuck on that one and don’t even hear the rest. Adjust your quickie list, to suit the age. If a kid is 12, add motorcycle to the end…if he’s 6, add Power Ranger, etc. Just so long as you rattle it off at breakneck speed, they’ll only hear the words they like the most
  • Another trick that’s about 75% successful is a force. Say, “I can make you a teddy bear, a rocking horse, a *dog*” with special emphasis on the dog. “You can have anything you want, a rabbit, a parrot, a *dog*.” Say dog as the third item twice in a row, and 3 out of 4 kids will ask for a dog. And if they ask for one of the other items you mention, at least it’s one that you know how to make.
  • I strongly suggest animals for them and don’t give them a chance to decide. I know this sounds like a stern and unfriendly way, but it’s the “way” that you do it that lets you get away with it. “Oh, you look like a girl that would like a bunny rabbit, right?” SMILE, SMILE, SMILE. “I’ll bet you’d like a cobra snake?” SMILE, SMILE, SMILE…
  • I am working at restaurants a lot now, and I have encountered the problem with waiting for children to make up their mind about what kind of balloon sculpture they want. To help speed things up. I now give them a choice of either an animal, a hat, or a toy. I have found that about half of the kids want “Toys” – especially the ones who have seen balloons done before.
  • Lead them to a decision. When asking what a customer wants, I say “would you like something to wear on your head or something to hold in your hands?” “Oh, a hat? OK. Would you like a flower hat, a heart hat, an animal hat, or a wild-n-crazy hat?” This’ll narrow it down for even some of the most confused people.
  • Here are a few funny one-liners to play off of when you ask a kid what he wants and he says ‘Um’:
    • “You want something um-mazing? um-musing? um-believable?”
    • “Good! You’re using your um-agination!”
    • “Um-decided, are you?”
    • “Are you humming because you don’t know the words?”
    • Make a bell and say it’s an um-dinger.
    • Make an um-brella.
    • Offer to make things that rhyme – a thumb, an Opossum.
    • Turn it into a mantra, close your eyes and meditate (“Ummmm. Ummmmm.
    • Ohmmmmmmm. Ohmmmmmm. Yesssss, the answer, the answer is coming clearer.”)
  • If a kid says he doesn’t know what he wants, I tell him I give kids a balloon – or a hug!! (When boys say that they are too old for a balloon – I always tell them that they must be old enough for a hug – I get a few hugs, but most of them turn red and ask for a balloon!)
  • Have a list of animals that you say to help a child pick one. Sit down with a list of animal names and come up with a sort of rhyming “poem” that is easy to remember and fun to say. Clever additions to the list are always fun to do. About 50% of the time, I add things like…. “I do dogs and cats and lions and tigers and bears, OH MY!…” I can usually get a pretty good laugh from Wizard of Oz fans, and a belated chuckle from the slower ones who took a bit to realize what exactly it was that I just said and then reference it to the movie that made it sound so familiar.Are there any clever poets out there who would care to contribute to making up a rhyming list of animals from which a child could pick?? With all the people on this list working at it together, I’m sure we could come up with a very funny, clever, (maybe double-entendre filled?), rhyming list that could be say-sung… maybe to the melody of a well-known children’s song? Then we could make it our mailing-list theme song, to be sung at all gatherings of balloon-artists, while we simultaneously salute a rubber tree 🙂

    How about the alphabet song?

    Aardvark, Beetle, Cat, Dachshund, Elephant, Frog, Giraffe, Helicopter, Iguana, jack rabbit, Kangaroo, Lovebirds, Mouse, Ninja,… You get the idea, you would have to be sure you could make all of the things and that you have enough time for this song which would be pretty long.

  • I ask one question of the child… “Would you like something to hold or something to wear?” This lets them feel like they made a choice, but it eliminates them having to make a bigger decision on exactly what to choose from a huge list. It also opens it up for them to tell me a specific choice if they have one in mind.
  • Changing minds: Show them their choices at the start, either with a nifty sign or simply blow them up. If they change their mind anyway remind them that *they* picked out what they got, and that if you give him another balloon, you’ll have to do it for everyone– and you can’t.
  • After I’ve weeded the crowd down to 8 and up, I admit that I have a very short memory, point to the next three I will make balloons for. “You, then you, then you.” While I’m making one sculpture, I ask the next one what they want, and try to stay one ahead. If they can’t decide, I’ll go to someone else and come right back to them.Make your rules, but make as few as possible. Be firm and fair in implementing them. If your rules aren’t working, change them. I agree that “The more your control techniques become simply ‘The Way It Is’ the more adults as well as the kids will have respect for you and what you do.”

Dealing With Obnoxious Kids

  • Kids have a right to be kids. They have a right to test limits and act up. But they don’t have a right to spoil things for everybody else. So tolerate a certain level of acting up. You can often stop a troublesome kid from escalating by making him your deputy and giving him something to be in charge of (don’t give him authority over other children, but make him the balloon holder or the pump primer or something). They want to feel special, have a place of importance, and if you can give it to them in a positive way, you’ll probably make a friend. Make him a special hat. (The truth is, it’s pain in the tukus kids like this that grow up to be twisters!)
  • Give them some attention. You may be one of the few positive encounters they get to have. I’ve found that they usually go from bad to good. What if they go from bad to worse? I usually ask them to go tell their parents that I get $50.00 an hour to babysit. They usually get the message without having to involve mom or dad. It really rankles the teens, so I only use it on them if they are REALLY being BAD!
  • Sometimes all they want is a little much needed attention. I can sometimes make an instant friend by asking for a little help. I will promise a special creation to a child that keeps hanging around if they will help me pick up what I call “clown droppings” (bits of broken balloon that fall on the ground around where I work). I carry a party goodie type bag for these, and they love to police the area for me.
  • When kids get grabby explain that the children who are polite will get theirs first. As long as it’s all said with a smile, the parents don’t seem to mind (usually) when you say things like that to their kids. The kids get the idea and behave better.I usually ignore any requests that have been shouted out at me. You might also want to ask the kids to sit down. If you are just twisting for fun at a picnic, it is also possible to walk around. This stretches out the crowd of kids that are watching and vying for you attention.
  • When I get an impolite child (or parent) in my line, I tell them they have to go to the back of the line (this is for paying parties). I had one little darling tell me, “Make me a sword” in a very demanding voice. I told him the sword line was at the back of the line. Like a dummy he got in line again. I got the same command when he came up, and I told him to get back in line again. He finally caught on. Then I got a very nasty “Give me a balloon please.” The child didn’t get a balloon.
  • I WILL NOT have kids demand from balloons from me when I twist. If a kid’s being a jerk, he won’t get a balloon! We’re making something for them, and kids should know not to demand things.
  • I know that we are not out there to teach manners, but we should EXPECT manners, even when the parents don’t insist. We won’t always be able to expect complete manners, because they are kids. I think that we can teach a thing or two to kids. I’ll state in a fun way, “what’s the magic word?”
  • I will not reward rude behavior, period. Whether from kids or adults, I simply move onto the next person and tell some more jokes. If I’m at a private party, I’ll enlist an adult. Once at a mall, I pulled a truly obnoxious parent aside and told them to leave. I was so mad I would have called security next. The trick is, of course, to have even *more* fun with the remaining crowd! Have fun, but don’t be tempted to make jokes about the jerk. Be sure to report the incident to the person in charge of the event, to head off any complaints they may file.
  • Since I control the waiting lines, I don’t have that many problems. After a few attempts to get them to follow the rules, ignoring them works just fine. Since I don’t work as a clown, perhaps it’s easier for me. Maybe being male gives me an unfair advantage, although I’m not exactly intimidating, especially with a big wacky balloon hat on.
  • I have had people thank me after not giving in, and I know I feel better. Perhaps I could ease the immediate tension on my part by aceeding, but I’d feel worse afterwards and make the other people in line upset. Believe me, most people will be mad at the Odious One, and have sympathy for you. It takes a little gumption.
  • There are occasions where as a last resort I am able to alleviate problem kids by raising my voice somewhat and pleading with them to stop since they are disrupting the fun for the rest of us. I raise my voice not to communicate anger but to get the attention of some of the grown ups in attendance.
  • Something that can help with this is to ask the parent/organizer before the party who the “bouncer” will be if any of the kids get out of hand. I explain to the parent/teacher before the event that my shouting ruins things for everyone, so I won’t do it. There needs to be a recognized authority figure who will keep things in line, and that shouldn’t be Chuckles the Clown.
  • I have a problem when I raise my voice, because I’m such a huge person that I’m genuinely frightening to the tiny ones around, even if I’m not speaking to them. I tend to do the opposite, now, which is to stop performing and say in a very soft voice that I can’t continue during the distraction. Usually, the peer pressure and embarassment take care of the problem at that point. If not, I walk over to the authority figure and request assistance. I do this *before* I get upset and before things get out of hand.
  • I was visiting a friend when I was 19, and I was being a little rambunctious. His father, whom I respected a great deal, got up and left the room. I asked, “was that because of me?” Everyone nodded solemnly. It was half an hour before he rejoined us, and I was a lot quieter after that. Silence, patience, and temporary suspense of affection can have a chilling effect on people of any age.
  • Have any of you ever had a kid that asks you several times for a balloon? It’s like they are used to parents never listening. :o{ For these pushy kids, I look at them and say in a pleasant way, “the balloon man speaks only once.” I tell them the answer after this statement. If they continue pestering with the same question, I state my rule again. Children hear you the first time and can remember the rule. They are not used to having adults speak only once, but it keeps the mob mentality from reigning, and the number of pushy kids from growing.
  • Be wary that kids of other ethnicities. With their limited English language abilities, they sometimes sound like they are demanding. I think some of this is a cultural difference, but I still expect them to ask nicely.
  • Here’s a way to handle the ‘I want’ statement from the children (to point out in a subtle way that it’s a little rude): I thump my chest and say ‘I Norm, glad to meet you Want’.
  • Since the balloon artist is a representative of all other balloon artists in the eyes of the audience (especially the children), I have adopted a salesman’s approach: “the customer is always right” and “I reserve the right to refuse service”.Any business has the right to refuse service to a specific individual. Discrimination against “bad risk” customers is done by insurance companies every day. They use statistics to support their discrimination and get away with it. We have had an instance where we had a bar mitzvah show from hell at this one temple. After the show we made a conscious decision not to perform for that temple again (the children were rude, demanding, destructive with the balloons and our equipment). When we hear that the performance is at this temple, we “are booked,” and we will give them the name of another performer. If they are insistent on having us, we will tell them the whole story and hold firm to our commitment of not performing there. We all want satisfied customers. A lot of our business is word of mouth … so an unhappy little customer can mean a lot to your bottom line.
  • Stopping the kids from pulling at your nose, bowtie, horn, balloon bag, etc. This gets out of hand like wildfire – you cannot let it go on for even a moment, or it becomes “the best idea they’ve heard all day” and starts all over again every time you’re not looking at the offenders. This is one case where catching it too late and having to yell to make your point won’t work – I feel I can do better by breaking character right then, looking them right in the eye, and saying “Uh-uh, we’re not going to do that.” And if there’s any further attempt, “I mean we’re not going to do that AT ALL.” It usually works pretty well by this point. And if there’s any further attempt, it’s time to pack up your things, turn your back on them and disappear for a 10-minute break.

Dealing With Greedy Kids

  • To those who want more than one: tell them that each kid must get one balloon before you leave, and you can’t do that if I have to give more than one balloon to each person.
  • I say I’d love make more animals for each child, but I have to make sure that I have enough for everyone, so I can only make one per person. My “one per” line that I prefer is: “Everybody gets one!” I like using this because it’s short and has several meanings. It shows that every kid will get something, but also that there are limits.
  • Need some one liners to tell them one balloon per child, without sounding gruff or bossy?
    • “If you want another balloon, you’ll need to get in line again.”
    • “I only make one per person per turn.”
    • “I’ll get fired if I give more than 1 per child.”
    • “I only have enough balloons to give one to each child.”
    • “If I give you more than one, the next person might want more than one . . . for each of her 3 kids and 7 grandkids and 16 great-grandkids, not to mention the neices and nephews.”
    • “I get accused of a lot of things, and most of them fall under being fair.”
    • Discuss it with the boss before hand that you can blame it on them and say, “The pay check said one per child. You gotta get them to change the rules.” The boss may even say, “Only one turn.”
    • “I’m donating my time and balloons, and I’m afraid I’ve only brought enough to entertain the people here at this event. However, If you’d like for me to come to your house and make balloons for one of your special occasions, here’s my card (brochure).” It occurs to me that it might be a good idea to make up a second set of cards that you keep in your left pocket to give to parents for whom you don’t want to work. You could put the phone number of a competitor on the card, or just have a few numbers transposed.
  • If you’re busking with a set price (e.g., selling one-balloon sculptures), then I’d make as many as a customer requested (a pigeon in the hand is worth 2 on the street). If people walk away, chances are they’ll come back when you’re less busy, or other customers will step up to take their place. Be sure you tell the line that you’ll be making several sculptures for the person in front, and do your patter to the whole line rather than the specific individual you’re sculpting for.
  • If you’re busking for tips, letting them set the amount, beware of those who ask for a handful, because I’ve found the tip goes _down_ in proportion to the number of balloons you twist. You might get two dollars for one sculpture, two dollars for _two_ sculptures, five dollars for six sculptures, etc. If they really want a pile of them, you tell them that you’ll alternate between them and the next person in line, to keep the line moving.
  • If you’re twisting at a birthday party or event with no tips involved, the rule is one sculpture, then go to the back of the line. If kids get to pestering you (continually running to the back of a very short line, that’s an excellent time to take a break. Only the most intrepid kid will wait around for ten minutes to get another balloon.
  • You may benefit from handing out numbers or tickets. This is a physical and visual way of not letting people demand that everyone in their extended family get a balloon.
  • Never let the kids see your balloon stock. If you follow that sage advice, you can always claim that you don’t have enough balloons to give people two balloons. _Enough_ is one of those wonderfully nebulous words that can’t be disputed easily. For example, I never have _enough_ money to lend some to my older brother….
  • How do you handle people who want three or four balloons for kids at home? I wouldn’t care if they were paying for the balloons, but this happens a lot when I do charity work.
  • If they waited until it was their turn, I make the balloons for them and give them a couple of post cards to boot. If the crowd is large enough to make the wait seem long (which it almost always is), I say something like “OK, but it’ll have to be something quick so it’s my choice,” and I give them dogs and rabbits or whatever I want. If that’s not good enough for them, they lose their place in line.
  • When I have people who want balloons and lots of ’em (now!), I just tell them that “there are other people who don’t have balloons yet, and I need to make some for them first. You wouldn’t like it it if I spent all my time with someone else and never made anything for you, would you?” This works, 99% of the time; the other 1%, I just blow-off the kid, or the parent takes control of the child’s selfishness.
  • My guess is that this tactic could work for this sort of situation too: “Well, I have to make balloons for everyone else here **first**. You wouldn’t like it if I spent all my time making balloons for people who weren’t here and never had the time to make any for you at all, would you?” I can see it now. “why can’t **I** have a balloon? She has 15 balloons, and I don’t have any.” Response: “Well, I had to make balloons for all of her friends, and I just didn’t have time to make **you** anything. Sorry.”
  • I always set a limit of one balloon per person on volunteer jobs and even on paid jobs where I am going to be mobbed. We explain very nicely that we can’t make a second balloon for them until everyone else who wants one has one. Luckily, I have a child with me who can be more blunt than I am and get away with it. She is quite vocal about the rules and we rarely have problems. In the cases where we do, I step in and explain our policy, saying it wouldn’t be fair if someone else didn’t get one, because they got two. People are usually very understanding. If you let yourself be pushed around by people, they will pick up on it and push you to the max. So you have to be firm, and you can do it in a very nice way. Usually where we have our problem is shutting down the line in mob situations. We use the ticket or balloon method, but there are always people who will beg, cajole and even demand that we give them a balloon. The best way to handle this situation, is to let the people who are hiring you say NO for you.
  • I ALWAYS have problems with folks in general being balloon hogs. I just have to put my foot down and insist that “I can only give one balloon to each person, after all, YOU wouldn’t have liked it if I had stayed at some other kid’s table all night long and never came to see you would you?. . . but if I get absolutely everyone else a balloon before it is time to go home I will be more than happy to come back and make you another one. Does that sound fair to you?” (I always get an affirmative nod.) It seems reasonable to me, and it gets a chuckle out of the parents who understand that I probably won’t have time. There are occasions when an out and out “no” is necessary, but people don’t like to hear no. For some reason “Maybe” seems to be the option they would rather hear.
  • People have a tendency to get greedy when you say free, unless you say one to a customer, or one animal for every trip through the line. “I’m sorry, but I have so many people to see to, that the only way I can be fair about it is to only give one animal per person that is in line. If you want another, I’ll be glad to make it the next time you go through the line.”

Dealing with Balloon Thieves

  • Bold children will often try to steal your balloons and may even stick their hands into your pockets! You need to be ready for this.
  • I have found that a quiet word to the offending child works best. If I let them fluster me, then I am more likely to get out of character and loose the “effect”.
  • I first ask them to return the balloons (unless they have already found their way to the child’s mouth). if this doesn’t work, or if the child steals more… “OK folks, this kid here has taken my balloons. If you want any more critters, go to him.” At this point, I think it’s important to just ignore him and everyoneelse. If you persist with the child, he’s getting attention. Chances are, even if it’s bad attention, he won’t care… he’s the center of it, and that’s all he wants. Since you ‘seem’ to be packing up, the other kids will now turn THEIR attention on him. This usually is NOT what the kid wants and he’ll relent.
  • If a child sticks their hand in my stuff/pockets for any reason, I kindly ask them not to do that. If it happens again I yell out “Attention all KMart shoppers, there’s someone trying to get into my pockets”. This gets a laugh but usually stops the child right then and there or get the parents to stop the child. However, if he/she persists a third time I gently raise the child’s hand with mine in the air and say something to the effect of “Attention all KMart shoppers, there is a little lost boy/girl. Would their mom or dad please pick them up?” This puts the onus on the parent to handle the situation (and not me). Then I wait for the parent to claim the child – I’ve even asked “who’s child is this?” (all with a smile on my face). You would be amazed how quickly parents will jump to and stop the pick pocketing child. Then I kindly ask the parent to keep their child out of my pockets/stuff until it is their turn and most are willing to comply.
  • One thing I learned in dealing with mobs of little kids was: “Never let kids see the full extent of your balloon supply”. To help with this, I always wore an outfit with lots of pockets, which I loaded when I was far away and out of sight. That way, I could finish off a pocket full of balloons and end things at any of many reasonably convenient points. This also afforded me relatively good control over the dispersal of balloons, since I could whack any hands reaching into pockets and kids are somewhat more reluctant to steal balloons from pockets than from an apron. Perhaps this falls into the category of “An ounce of prevention…”
  • When some unsupervised child sticks his hand in my bag to grab a balloon, I snake my hand out and take hold of the balloon. I am careful not to grab the child, just the balloon. With a friendly smile, (I stress FRIENDLY) I say, “If you don’t play in my toy box, I won’t play in yours.”
  • If the kid starts to cause a real problem, tell him plainly, in a friendly, loving, but not joking tone, that you won’t tolerate that behavior. Smilingly, firmly take his hands and remove them from your apron and take back any balloons. Don’t be rough, don’t hit, don’t yell and don’t frown. Just physically overpower the child in a kind and loving way (I know it sounds funny, but if you’re thinking this as you do it, your body language will communicate it).
  • One time I kept finding a particular hand in my pocket, and I was getting upset. The child thought it was a game. The next time I mistook the hand for a balloon and pretended to try and blow the thing up. I said, “I wonder what this would make? Why it’s your hand! Oh, my that doesn’t belong in there!” (then I leaned down and whispered to the child “That’s Enough!” and she got the idea). Being a silly clown sometimes has it’s disadvantages because I’m not always taken seriously. The 4 and up crowd is not as bad as the toddlers left to wander around and who don’t understand.
  • Yes, it’s a little hard on the young “self discipline” to leave a bag of balloons on the floor. I have a strict policy that I will refuse to blow up a balloon that I don’t personally remove from the bag. But I typically blow up by mouth. I have allowed the kids to pick out their balloon, as essentially a color choice, before I make the figure. This is a double edged sword, as inevitably they soon form several smaller groups of kids with one or several members of the small group attempting to blow up the balloons, and one or several heading to the washroom or drinking fountain to fill them with water, and one or several that interrupt you and ask you to just “blow this balloon up a little” so they can give it a try themselves. All in all I’ve found this anarchy leads to burnout and disappointment on the part of the kids, as they soon lose interest, and as well they get into mischief that reflects upon the “balloon guy”. Such as having a parent of an infant walking up to you with a balloon shred and saying “I just took this from my baby, would you mind trying to control where they’re going”.So after a few of those type of scene I personally keep a bag of balloons between my legs, and make it clear that I take it personally to have a kids grab for “my” balloons. They immediately seem to respect that attitude, and almost immediately the “better” kids start a system of “self policing”.

    I never let anybody touch my balloons. I have devoloped a tactful routine to explain to grabby people who feel combative when I move out of their reach. I just don’t want any food, snots or germs on my balloons. I never say, “Hands off the merchandise you *@$%&~*!!!!!” No matter how much I may feel like it, I never hand out uninflated balloons. I don’t like handing out my supplies. Do face painters give away their paints? Also, as a newbie, I gave out one at a restaurant gig and the guy made an anatomically correct dog whose lunch grew when you squeezed it’s backside (really cool in the right situation, anybody have directions?) but not cool in a family restaurant.

    I’ve NEVER had a problem with the children. But when the adults start getting into my balloon bag and trying to use my pump, I draw the line. I handled it by telling the host that I was charging for each adult too. (I charge per child after ten). She paid, and she was the one who made them pay her. It was handled with a good nature, and no one got mad. But I guard my balloons with my life when the big people are around.

Little Helpers

  • at least one kid always wants to be my “helper”, but they seem to get in the way more than help. Is there a way of giving them something to do and not have them get in the way? They want to use my supplies and blow up the balloons. I just don’t have the heart to tell them to scram. I don’t want to appear mean, and I don’t want them to waste my things.
  • I, too, sometimes resent being the baby-sitter, but it is not the poor kid’s fault, so I choose to look at it like a challenge. The same challenge I accept with each child: how can I make their day special? How can I show them they are important? How can I help them to laugh?
  • I explain that I need to inflate the balloons because each one needs to be inflated just the right amount and that takes a lot of practice. Just so that it doesn’t get “too serious” I add, “If you would like to go on the road, first you must study to be a professional balloon blower-upperer, so make sure you study in school and go to a great university because only a select few can become balloon-blower-upperers, — look around –do you see any others here?”
  • One job I have always found helpful is to put them in charge of keeping the line. Sure they need some help from you, but it is helpful, and as long as they really are doing something it is good for the kid too!
  • Giving them a job helps. Sometimes just assigning them the task of chasing the popped pieces keeps them happy, or I let them honk a horn I have hanging off my cart or give them a half blown up 260 to try to come up with something on their own. Often they are curious to see balloon art up close, and at times I’ve had kids make some wild suggestions that led to other creations.
  • I’ll make a deal with the kids that belong to other booths and are going to be there all day. They have to help clean up or get me a coke or something to eat. They get to watch my stuff if I need to take a break and I’m alone.
  • Your area should look neat. I carry a party type goodie bag in my pocket for trash and about once every hour check to see if the area needs to be cleaned up. When your balloons start to pop, don’t forget to pick up the pieces (the “clown droppings”). If kids have no money but want balloons, have them earn their balloon by cleaning up your area.
  • When I’m out and the balloons start popping, I usually ask for the broken pieces back. I take them, tie a knot in the end and dispose of safely at home. Keeps the area clean and out of the hands of babies and mouths of the unsuspecting animals.
  • What to do with all the broken discarded pieces of balloon? I had a competition! The persons who bought me the most broken bits of balloon would get a special balloon sculpture. The children took less than two minutes to bring me all the pieces of balloon, and all the bits of balloon were safely placed in my bin.

Should I Make Weapons?

Boys will be boys…

  • When we married my wife really wanted to keep weapons our of the home so that we wouldn’t encourage violence, BUT the kids (we have three boys) created weapons out of everything imaginable and still shot, stabbed and otherwise maimed each other (and me). So we gave in and got a few Nerf type guns. Now our house and possessions are safer and the kids have more fun.
  • We have a story regarding a mother and her ‘politically correct’ birthday party: The mom booked the party with us stating emphaticaly that there were to be no weapons of any sort made from balloons. No problem we said. When it came time to do the balloon portion of the party we made lots of dogs and teddy bears, etc. The little darlings proceeded to bash each other over the head with balloon dogs, etc. Just goes to show you how truly creative children are….
  • Bored children of a certain age will wack each other with whatever is at hand.
  • I feel that our children _understand_ less and less about weapons and violence. I remember being taught respect for weapons (I still shoot recreationally, albeit infrequently), and respect for other human beings. I can’t dictate how others educate and raise their children, but I can keep from opening the door to behavior I find uncomfortable. Telling a child not to hit anyone with his sword is not my job, but if the parents won’t or don’t care, I gotta do it my way. I don’t like to make swords at parties. I have no problem with youngsters having toy swords and guns, it’s just that kids will be kids. As soon as they have swords, ALL control is lost and the parents decide that perhaps balloons were not such a good idea after all.
  • I am one of two working parents. It’s terribly tempting to abdicate your responsibility to _raise_ your child when he is content to be a cartoon zombie, parked in front of the TV as if it were a babysitter. One has to make the effort. There are some weapon “toys” in our house, and our son has clear rules about them. Any of his friends have to abide by my rules in my house (namely he can aim them at targets… and the targets may not in any way resemble any creature… I tell him if he tries to shoot a creature, he better be ready to skin and eat it and he doesn’t like the taste of stuffed animals).
  • When I was a kid I had a gun on each hand all the time. Point the index finger, and cock your thumb. This wepon would even shoot around a tree if need be. Plus any time I wanted a bigger one I’d just pick up the first stick I saw and presto a bigger gun, Racket launcher, or whatever I wanted it to be. You guys sound like a bunch of old Lady’s. If you want to play with your dolls, that’s okay. Just leave my guns alone…
  • I’m reminded of the episode of Thirtysomething where Ethan’s parents didn’t want to get him violent toys, so they bought him a farm set. When they came back later, he had lined up the sheep vs. the pigs and was having a war.
  • Last time I gave a boy a bee (his choice) he used it to sting everyone. That bee was just as rowdy as any sword I have ever made and just as violent.
  • I once did balloon twisting at a party a church was giving for its children’s choir. Being a church event, I thought it would be appropriate to make some of the children crosses, nice ones with a pinch and pop series on the horizontal piece. So there I was, telling these kids they couldn’t have swords, then handing them a cross-shaped object in the belief they’d accept it on those terms. A major DUH! on my part. LOL


  • I am of the school of give the customer what they want; if the kid is happy the parent will be happy also.
  • I do make swords. The kids love them and they can’t hurt each other – as weapons go they are pretty mellow. The sword is also a classic balloon that kids have seen and expect.
  • Frankly, I’d rather have two kids go at it with balloons and learn to work out their aggression without hurting one another, than to let them really hit each other.
  • I have no qualms over making a sword and scabbard, and rarely get requests for much else in the weapons field. I don’t believe that toy/balloon weapons foster aggression. I think it’s an aid to using your imagination, which is a skill that seems to be sliding into the “endangered” category. (I also think that by refusing to allow this play, that you are only delaying the inevitable). At the same time I don’t believe that weapons should be the _only_ aids to developing and using imagination. The last thing we need is to have the Rambo Generation.
  • I also make laser guns and tell them to be careful ’cause they’ll get light all over people that they laser.
  • the ray gun is the only politically correct gun to make!
  • I do make swords but very few kids challenge me. This is because I carry a pair of scissors in my pocket, and, when I am challenged, I pull out my scissors and face the kid (I haven’t had to pop one yet).
  • I’m a pacifist and a vegetarian, and I’m opposed to guns, but conflict is human. I’d like to guide kids toward a better understanding of violence and its consequences, rather than just make it another exciting taboo.
  • To me, it’s all about I M A G I N A T I O N, When we put a balloon pirate hat on a child, are we encouraging them to go rape and pillage…? I’d much rather see all future wars fought with balloon weapons at 20 paces…. At least then, win or lose, everyone gets to go home in 1 piece when it’s all over………
  • Are swords okay? Sure because swords are a “fantasy” weapon. Do you ever hear of a drive by swording? How many people do you hear of on the 10:00 news who were killed by swords? They have very little tangible meaning in todays world. If it were the 1300’s, I probably wouldn’t make swords though. When giving a sword, I often get a laugh from the parents if I make them promise not to slay anyone until they get outside.
  • Here’s a fun bit of business I use when asked to make swords. ‘You want a sword?’ ‘Have you got muscles?’ I flex my bicep; so do they. ‘You’ve got to have muscles to get this sword.’ ‘Listen, have you ever heard the story about the boy who wanted to be the king of the country? No. Well there was this boy who wanted to be a king/prince, but they told him that he had to find the magic sword first. So this boy – about as old as you – went out and looked for the sword. ‘Well he found the sword, but there was a problem’…{pause for dramatic effect}. At this point the balloon is just about complete I wave it around and say, ‘Yeah the problem was the sword was stuck in the stone.’ At this point I stick the sword under the top of my arm. ‘And nobody could pull it out, except the boy with the muscles…’ At this point I start to twiddle my thumbs and softly whistle and look around as if waiting for something to happen… and I am. Sometimes the kids scratch their heads unsure of what the heck’s going on, while their parents laugh and eventually prompt them to get the sword. I sometimes restate that the sword is stuck in the stone… and say how that nobody but nobody except the boy with the muscles can get it out…. They eventually catch on … Then watch out – every boy and girl wants to play. Also, I mention that the sword is huge, quiet a bit, before I make it and I’ve usually told half the story before I inflate the balloon with a one inch bubble… offer it and say ‘bigger?’ Inflate a bit more… ‘bigger?’ You guys get the idea. To finish I get the boy or girl to flex their muscle. ‘Show me that muscle again.’ At this point I pretend to squeeze his flexed bicep and say, ‘Wow! Solid as a rock! What do they feed you?’
  • I often dub them sir (or madam) playalot and make them promise not to slay anyone while still in the building.
  • Before giving a child a sword I sometimes ask – “Should we see if it works?” On getting an affirmative nod, I bash the parent over the head with it ! (Beware, I once had a parent complain to the store!)


  • When I work a party I ask the parent (host) up front if they mind If I make swords. This is done away from the children. I make whatever is requested but:
    1. I first pass it by the host/hostess/teacher/parent or whoever is in charge.
    2. I tell the kids that if they hit someone with a balloon sword or wave it in someone’s face, they have to give the balloon to that person. Parents enforce this rule when a kid gets out of control.
    3. I make ray guns and say that “they shoot smiles (or kisses), not bullets.”
    4. I make swords and say that “you are only to use them to protect the weak and fight evil.”
    5. Make TICKLE swords by leaving about an inch of uninflated balloon on the end. Tickle each child as you give them the sword, and they run off tickling each other and laughing hysterically.
    6. Make GIGGLE swords. When asked for a sword, I tell the kids that my swords are giggle swords, and they are used to find the giggles in people. After making the sword, I tell them that giggles usually hide behind the ears and then I “test” the sword. If my test fails to produce at least a smile, then I say that this one is defective and start to pop it. This usually get a grin, and then I give it to them and say it has a delayed action, so they should be careful with it.
    7. I make lazer guns and say “They work automatically, but only against aliens, and only if they are a threat to national security! If you encounter aliens who are a threat to national security, the lazers will immediately zap them off the planet. Otherwise, the lazers will remain dormant!!!” I say this very quickly and then say, “do you understand????” in a very serious voice. I usually get a big-eyed open-mouthed nod.
    8. I ignore the poking until the thing deflates or pops.
  • I only make swords and bow and arrows because these weapons give the other person a sporting chance.
  • When it looks like a lamp or two is in mortal danger, I suggest that they play with the swords outside (much to the relief of the adults) while I make the animals for the kids who really want them.
  • If we make a sword we are sure to hand it to the child like this: lay the sword over your other arm, hilt first, and say in a deep “kingly” voice, “Go ye forth, and defend thy kingdom!!” Gives it a bit of dash and takes out a little of the violence. Half the time, during the ensuing inevitable “swordfight” between knights, the swords bend 90 degrees at the hilt. Makes for lots of giggles.
  • When I make a sword I turn it upside down and make it balance on my finger ( like a peacock feather) all you have to do is watch the top of the handle and balance by moving your hand in the same direction as the top is going. Many times the child likes the ideas and will try the balancing act himself.
  • I do do a sword or two. It’s part of my patter to ask the child while I am making the sword if they know the sword rule. They either fake it or say no and then I tell them ” The sword rule says that whoever you stab with your sword (pause for effect) gets to keep it! Isn’t that a good rule. It includes your little brother” I got this from Lindy who has a balloon company in our area. Goes over great with the parents!
  • When I twist swords for kids, I hand them over only after they swear an oath to use it only in the defense of the weak against evil oppressors. Same is true of my way-cool laser pistol – it’s used by Jedis to protect the innocent. This has an immediate effect on the kids: they proudly wear it in the scabbard, rather than whacking their little brother (at least until their kid brother oppresses someone, then whack!).
  • What do I do when someone asks for a weapon/gun? I may make a “sword” but call it a balancing sword and show them how to balance it. They can even try to balance it on their nose. That usually does the trick.
  • I haven’t read the entire guide, but here’s some tips regarding balloon swords, which I call tickle swords- no slicing or dicing:
    • I always give out three rules:
      1. You can only tickle people who also have a tickle sword.
      2. No running on couches and jumping through windows *just ’cause you have a tickle sword*.
      3. When someone tells you to stop – *stop*.
    • I’ll give out all the other items- hats, animals, whatever- but hold onto the tickle swords until all the other balloons are done. It saves on wear and tear, both for the balloons and on the parents.
    • I take the tickle swords as I make them, give them a quick swipe on my sleeve or head – and stick ’em to the wall! The static holds them up, and they make a neat looking display. I tell the kid to remember the color of their tickle sword. I put them high up to discourage grabbing. I haven’t have a problem with that with the tickle swords, but why risk it?
    • You may suggest to the parents that they may want to hold onto the tickle swords until just before the child is ready to go, or until after the next activity, such as the cake and ice cream or gift opening segment. If the kids are a little extra, uh, enthusiastic, seriously consider doing this. (BTW, I *always* recommend that the gift opening segment be done last, and give them my little spiel on how to simply but effectively run that segment. It’s not balloon related, but if enough of you want me to descibe it I’ll consider it a mandate.)
    • I always give my line about my balloons being guarranteed to pop; more so with tickle swords, and ever-so-much-more-so when they’re outside.
    • That being said, I make a bunch of extra ballons at the end and give them to the parent in charge to give out for popped balloons, or for siblings, but only when the child is ready to walk out the door to go home.
  • I do make swords. But whenever a kid ask(usually a boy) the first thing I say is “A sword! You always get a sword! How about a dinosaur hat?” I’m keeping an informal survey, but I’ve found that 95% of the kids that asks for swords do always ask for swords. Mom and Dad seem grateful that I’ve tried to talk them out of another boring sword.
  • Don`t worry about the swords. Boys always want swords. If you can, first make something for a little girl and make it a bit more complicated looking, like a teddy bear or something. Girls rather have something that looks nice. This may make the boys jealous enough to request anything other than a sword.
  • I do not offer swords at parties because I think it tends to make for more running around and a higher activity level. I do offer lazer pistols though. Children don’t seem to want to poke someone’s chest or eye with these as much. The girls like them too.


  • If I am getting NO help from the adults in maintaining the little darlings, I will start to make the swords. When it looks like a lamp or two is in mortal danger, I suggest that they play with the swords outside (much to the relief of the adults) while I make the animals for the kids who really want them.
  • At a birthday party full of wild kids and parents who stay in the background but do nothing to control them, I’ll make 20 or more swords right before I leave. Everyone thinks it’s a bonus and I get my revenge 😉
  • Other times when they say “make me a sword”, I ask in my dumb clown way, “make dinosaur?” and sometimes they like that idea better and say, “Yes!”
  • For guns, I tell them I don’t make weapons for kids but ask if they’d like something else really cool? Sometimes for a gun, I inflate a balloon tie it off. I then do a fold twist so it is like a gun handle. I then say something like “See? A gun!” I then squeeze the handle so that it pops the balloon. “Sorry. It only fires once. What else would you like?” They are always happy with the alternative.
  • When I’m doing balloons in a classroom or for a church function, I try not to make guns. When I’m doing balloons at a restaurant or a birthday party, I let the parents or the birthday child’s parents decide if guns are ok. It’s not my place to decide what this child plays with. It’s not MY child! But when I’m in a classroom or church, I don’t think it’s appropriate, and the parents aren’t there to make that decision, so I just don’t. Also, swords and guns tend to enhance the rambunctiousness (if that’s a word) of children. You make swords and guns, and all of the sudden they are running, screaming; chaos sets in. I try to avoid it in those situations, for everybody’s sake!
  • For Chanukah parties, I make the only exception to my no-swords policy. The fact that Chanukah is a celebration of an important military victory is heavily emphasized at most parties, and, if you normally refuse to make swords or bows-and-arrows, you may decide to make this occasion an exception.


  • NRA stands for National Rifle Association not National Rubber Association. No weapons from my balloons has been my personal policy for quite a few years.I never make wepons for several reasons:
    1. I don’t want to be poked all session long with a balloon sword.
    2. I don’t want the responsibility for providing an irritating device to a problem child who pesters the parents all picnic long.
    3. Any other one balloon animal or sculpture takes less breath.
    4. Being a balloon artist is like being a clown. You (whether you want to or not) are a role model for these kids. You can’t do anything that might jeopardize that. If they only see me making weapons (and they may well only see me once, so it’s possible), they’ll think that I think that violence is OK. There are a lot of standards that we need to abide by. Right down to eating in front of kids… if you’ve got to do it, then make it healthy (juice, or water, fresh fruit of veggies; no junk!), because if they see you eat junk, you set a bad example.
  • To ease my way out of situations where I am asked to make weapons:
    1. I say “I can’t because swords are sharp, and the balloons keep breaking!”
    2. I suggest snakes or dinosaurs. “Weapon kids” love them.
    3. When I twist at schools I say the school has a “no weapons on school grounds” policy.
    4. At the restaurant I say “We don’t allow weapons inside the restaurant.”
    5. I hide behind the new law that requires a 3 day waiting period by saying “I can make a hand-gun but you have to fill out some forms and come back in 3 days.” Funny enough, some of these little rednecks understand the concept and change their request to a rifle!
    6. When they ask for a (Blast That Jim Carey!) machine gun or a gun of any kind, I say, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is I can make just about any gun you want. The bad news is that there’s a 5 day waiting period.” I’ve yet to have a parent get mad.
    7. If you use a pump, blow up bunches of 260s and show how to shoot a balloon to sail the furthest and make it a game rather then promote fighting.
  • I stopped making any kind of weapon. When I stopped, I noticed that parents received my response (“I don’t make weapons of destruction… how’s about a non-violent T-Rex? &lt wink &gt “) _very_ well and most children were able to come up with something else they liked. I found that children only ask for weapons to “use” them against each other. Dropping the ordinance from my repertoire hasn’t hurt me and I feel good about beating balloon swords into plowshares.
  • A weapon is a weapon. TICKLE swords may be a great bandaid for the sword problem but I wonder how many kids are going to get poked in the eye. I also have a hunch that a tickle sword gets to be annoying very quickly, causing the annoyee to snatch it and pop it.
  • Though I can make a number of different gun and sword designs, I don’t give them out to children. My opinion is, I’ll let the military teach our kids how to kill, it’s not my job. I tell the parents and the kids that. The boys just start thinking how cool it’s going to be to grow up and join and then ask for a lion (so it can eat the teddybear I just made for a girl) or a monkey (so it can rip up the girl’s flower) 🙂
  • I get real antsy about making weapons, especially swords, for kids. They tend to flash them in people’s faces, and that increases the risk of them popping in someone’s face. Also, what do they do with the guns but shoot each other? I think we should really think about what kind of balloons we give our children, and the lessons that we may be teaching them, even if it is for “fun”. With so many balloons that would please them, why resort to making weapons?
  • When asked for a gun balloon, my husband and I just say, “Sorry, I don’t make gun balloons – I only make friendly things.” We’ve never had a child or a parent object in the least. They just instantly think of something else.
  • Speaking as an elementary school teacher, I really believe making balloon guns is a bad idea. Children are exposed to guns on television everyday. Any step away from guns is a good direction to be stepping. DO NOT GLORIFY THE USE OR EXISTENCE OF GUNS! Many of the kids you are making balloons for already look up to “Gangsta Rap” stars who are more often than not pictured in Rap videos with guns and such.
  • I just tell people, “Sorry, I don’t make guns and I won’t even learn to make guns. That’s my political statement for today. I only make weapons that you have a chance of running away from.” That gets a great response. You just need to put a pause (reaction time; watch them react) before you add each part. People seem to understand why I’ll make swords when I give my reasoning. They nod and get this look of understanding on their faces, as I say it.
  • I suggest not doing swords. Something about them just gets the kids up and running. Stick with other sculptures.
  • I also don’t do weapons, because that is almost a guarantee to get kids up and slicing each other in half or shooting their buddies down. Most parties I do, I make it clear that the kids need to stay seated even after they get their balloon… and this has been successful for the most part. Sometimes a gentle reminder is needed – but that’s about it.

Boys And Girls

  • With a few exceptions the boys seem to like the animals (dinosaurs, frogs, snakes parrots, monkeys,turtles, dogs, lions, giraffes), and objects like the fishing pole, helicopter, airplane and motorcycle.
  • Girls usually ask for the bear, cat, dog, flower, princess hat, hummingbird, bunny, mouse, ladybug,mouse, monkey, parrot, frog, things like that and they seem less afraid of blue than the boys are of pink. Some small boys will ask for the bear or the flower, and sometimes they will want pink. Unless the parent insists, I go by the child’s preference.
  • I like twisting Birds and Bugs and Bees of all kinds. Boys and girls both like them.

Giving The Child The Choice

  • Has this happened to you? You go to a table and a little boy asks for a pink flower or something like that. The parent says, “No! You can’t have that!!” Then, aside to me, “Make him a motorcycle. Black.”Same thing reversed….some parents don’t like their girls to have a gun or sword even though it’s okay for their sons. Why don’t they just force their daughters into nursing school and ballet class right now, and make their sons become firemen? I love my job, and I love children too. It really hurts me to see parents pigeon – holing their kids and stifling their creativity.
  • I try to let the kid choose their color. If the parent butts in, I still get an ok from the kid. It’s how I would want to be treated if I was the kid.
  • How many of us make a mermaid for a girl child, and a motorcycle for a boy….. I used to be guilty of this…”ohhh, you’re a boy… well here’s your discombobulated space laser” ( or something to that effect 🙂 or “my what a pretty dress you have on, miss…here’s your very own Barbie balloon.” To me this is offensive…..why can’t a female have a sword and helmet….? why does a male child have to be given MANLY things….? I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to stay away from this trap…and go with what the kids would like…and if they’re not sure, to stay away from the stereotypes of what a male should like, or what a female should like…. let them experiment, play…imagine…..then decide for themselves what they’d like……
  • I agree that it is offensive to tell boys they can’t like pink or girls can’t have swords just because “They are for boys!” Haven’t you ever seen Xena (if not, you’re lucky; try to keep it that way). Nothing makes me angrier than to hear a clown tell someone they should or should not have something because they were born with an X or Y chromosome! In PC terms it is called SEXISM! I actually had a guy lecture me on the “idiocy” of sexual fixedness, when it comes to gender specific toys. I made his daughter a truck.
  • I don’t wish to promote a double standard, but I don’t think it can be avoided. It’s the nature of our society, and I think we need to be aware of it to make our customers happy. One aspect is the use of the color pink. Most boys and even more of their mothers will object if I make anything pink for them. I’m amused by this reaction (especially from the mother) when I make something pink (or anything “feminine”) for a young boy. About the only Pink things I can make for boys are a Pink Panther, John Holmes Battery Bunny, or part of a hat or weapon. Flowers seem borderline (some Dads especially seem to get their “dander up” if their son asks for a pink flower) and 999 times out of 1000 a pink motorcycle is out of the question.
  • The other side is interesting too. Girls that request something made in black or brown seem frowned upon by some parents. Go figure.
  • Making the customers happy is the bottom line to me, and I suppose that since the parent is footing the bill, they’re the customer. But to me, it’s the child that I want to see smiling.
  • I had a dad say that he was concerned, but I told him from my experience that they usually stop asking for pink around five years old. In this case, his older sister just got something pink, and he was simply following the leader. I have had parents get their concern turned around on them when the child was asking for the item to give to the parent. Many little boys will get flowers or teddy bears for their moms.
  • I never restrict the type of balloon I give to anyone based on gender biases. I have had parents complain to me that their little boy shoudln’t have received a pink balloon, even if that’s the color the kid asked for. Oh, well. I try to be fair, and the parents just enforce the silly discriminatory beliefs they grew up with.
  • I love South Park and the Simpsons because they are smart and satirical. They help develop a healthy cynicism of which I approve. If kids ask for those characters, their parents are probably okay with their watching the shows, and it isn’t the place of the carnival balloonist to impose his/her attitudes on the customer.

Dealing With Parents/Relatives

  • Another sore spot about the business: a grandmother (it really always IS a grandmother, I have no idea why) will force her way in front of all the kids who are waiting, tell me that she’s in a rush to get to her grandchild’s birthday party and want me to make a dozen special order balloons for her, to go. It really used to frustrate the living hell out of me. Now I just smile, hand her my card, tell her how much I charge for a birthday party, and, if she would just put the address on the back of my card, I’ll be glad to go to their party as soon as I’m done with the event I’m at… but right now I’m being paid to make balloons for the kids here. I have not gotten any jobs from this yet… but then again, I really don’t expect to.
  • The way to control grandma is to explain that your job is to entertain all the children there and that you really must make balloons for the kids. Tell her that if the line dies down later, you would be happy to make balloons for her to take home – as we all know, the line doesn’t die down. We also know that it’s not only the kids that want balloons, but grandmothers are usually willing to step aside when other children are involved.
  • You will always get at least one obnoxious parent/person in the audience. Explaining your situation (unpaid volunteer) is a good start. Try to explain that you’re doing your best to get to everyone as quickly as you can. Make them wait a little while before you give them a balloon. I don’t like to reward obnoxious behavior. However, sometimes it’s worth it to have some peace. If they are being really obnoxious, just give them a balloon, OR, just ignore them completely until they realize that their behavior isn’t getting them anywhere.
  • When you deal with parents, be polite. They don’t care if you are an employee or if you are getting paid. They want their kid to be happy. Just smile sweetly and say that you’re making your way over there. If they are just rude beyond control, then tell the kid to come back when you’re not busy. If you are working for someone, I sometimes just make them something quickly to get them out of the way. Remember, only one balloon per person. Those overwhelming parents are the type that demand one for their daughter at home, one for their brother, and another balloon with their kid’s favorite color.
  • As a clown, you don’t argue about things with the parents. You are working for the parents – they are always right. If you don’t like it, bite your tongue and don’t do the job next year.
  • Whether your balloon art is an hobby or your living, as a 260 twister, you can’t afford to have whole audiences forming against you. I have only walked out on one performance in my career. All the kids at the event were being malicious. And I still managed to save face by informing the parent that it was in our mutual interest for me to go elsewhere. I still got paid.
  • When I am confronted by really hostile situations with insistent parents, I try to have the crowd on my side. Principal is not the only factor here. Yes, it is only a balloon. I might have to swallow my pride a little, but we all do when confronted by an antagonistic boss. Ultimately, the general public becomes our boss when we assume the roll of street entertainer. They can hire and fire us. If we are going to survive in our chosen craft, we must learn discretion. Yes, we can pick up our toys and leave any time we want. When to leave is the hardest time to choose. Violence is not an option. Ultimately, when a parent is too insistent, it is physically easier to surrender another sculpture (perhaps simpler, smaller) than to waste precious time arguing over principal. You can always make them an example of improper etiquette after they are gone. If a situation is handled with tact and authority, violence is never necessary. Remember, it is your show.
  • Some times when mom or dad gets impatient because they waited 15 whole minutes for a balloon, I will tell them to think of it as waiting all night in a sleeping bag to get that concert ticket. It’s sad when a child is denied quality because it doesn’t conform to the parent’s schedule.

Losing/Keeping Control

  • Some general rules for keeping control when working with children:
    • Hold to the rules you set about how many creations one can have and stand firm.
    • You are an advocate for the children. Take the time and make the effort that the parents dont have time for – make it worth their wait.
    • Don’t give away uninflated balloons to appease the ones who will “whip up something later” You are an artist; don’t cheapen your work, and don’t give away the paints.
    • Don’t be intimidated by the guilt trips that will be laid on you when people complain within your earshot on purpose. Just like any other service, people line up when something is in demand. Do your best work for the size of the crowd! If the crowd is small, get more detailed and take requests. If the crowd is huge don’t take requests and just make the same for all; just be pleasant and fun when doing it.
    • Be yourself, let the love show, and people will respect you. The balloon is just a souvenir of their visit with you!
  • I made a big menu billboard with sample photos and my “Balloon Rules”:
    • Do not give to children who may put them in their mouth! It’s dangerous!
    • One balloon per person – you can have another after everyone has been served once.
    • You have to be here to get one.
    • I decide who’s next. Smiling people right away, annoying people last (maybe never).
    • When it’s time for me to stop, I have to stop. No, really! If you came too late, I’ll take you first next year!
  • I was all prepared with exactly what I wanted to do with them (12 kids in all ranging in age from 2 to 12). I would make a single balloon animal for each one, followed by either a hat or a balloon with a ball toy, and then conclude with face painting and hand out the goodie bags at the end. Well, let me tell you, those rich kids had other plans for me! Nothing went according to the plan at all! The kids wanted what they wanted and they wanted it yesterday…I made whatever they wanted, did face painting in between balloons, gave out the goodie bags within the first 20 mins, threw all my superballs out onto the lawn and had “an easter egg hunt”. By the end of the gig, I had lost all control and they were in my bag, pumping up the balloons themselves, twisting them, asking me to help tie or show them how to twist. In general, yes, I lost control of them, but I HAD THE BEST TIME OF MY ENTIRE LIFE!!!!! AND I MADE BIG BUCKS!!!! WOO HOO! LIFE IS GOOD!
  • Some of the best stuff that happens, comes about by accident, or by improv. Seize the momen! And learn from it. If it works, do it again!
  • As for “losing control,” you can’t be a lion tamer with kids ( least I can’t… Tom Mullica has one of my favorite lines “working for kids is like going thru Lion Country Safari in a hamburger suit.” :*) You can ride herd on them, keep them from doing anything crazy or dangerous, but you can’t be a dictator and really, IMHO, why would you want to be?
  • To me, balloons, magic, clowning; it’s all about imagination and fun. And if that’s what comes out of it, then more power to you!
  • There are no hard and fast rules about what constitutes keeping “control” of a group. What a great idea(!) – having an impromptu superball “Easter Egg Hunt” to get the kids busy, happy and not bugging the grown-ups long enough to set up the next activity. They have to find the balls. Then they have to bounce the balls. Then they have to count to see who got the most. Then they have to trade. Then they have to try sticking them in their ears. We’re talking a magical ten to fifteen minutes of activity. Those who know me will tell you that I’m a cheap son-of-a-gun (well, they might not say gun), and I hesitate to do things like this. But when you consider that a couple of dollars worth of superballs may make a huge difference in the “and here’s something extra for your trouble” category, what the heck! I’m keeping that little number in my bag of tricks. Letting the kids at your pump and balloon stash was gutsy, but you have to gauge the way things are going and roll with the flow. It sounds like the kids were boisterous and bouncing off the walls, but it doesn’t sound like they were particularly destructive. I think you would have taken “control” if the situation actually got out of hand. How else could this have gone? Picture Nancy (or me, or you, or Mr. Rogers, or Mother Teresa) standing in the middle of the group crying, and saying “You stupid kids! You’re ruining everything! I’m the one who will dictate how and when you will have fun! Sit down and shut up and watch me twist another giraffe!” Perhaps a bit hyperbolic, but I’ve seen people try this line of reasoning with a tribe of kidlets, and it results in less than complete cooperation. I personally have never had a bad experience with a balloon gig, giving tours, or performing on stage, but that means that I have to have a *very* flexible definition of what a *good* time is. Many times it’s nothing like I planned t, but I have fun, and I learn from what evolves.
  • Each crowd of kids is different!!! Have a bag of tricks for your crowd control, cuz the same thing won’t work with every crowd. Some events/parties I do orderly, some I do chaotically, some I do with partial control. Just be sensitive to each group of kids and how they react.
  • What I have found from being a mom and a Scout leader is that children will live up to your expectations. I have learned through Character Development Classes how to deliver these expectations to them without getting out of character, and we all have fun. Be prepared and then have a backup plan. Read the group and be ready for plan B.


Child Abuse In The Line

  • Abusive parents are a problem for twisters. They can scare away other customers. They can turn their anger toward you. They can make you feel heartsick when you see their children cringing in fear when they should be giggling with delight.
  • Child abuse is a complex problem that can’t be addressed in a balloon sculpture line. If there were an egregious event, such as a parent striking a child with a fist, I’m sure all of us would rush to the child’s aid. I have no tolerance for bullies (verbal or physical). The scope of what is “my business” seems to get wider as I get older. I have an advantage in that I’m a huge person (people on the street don’t necessarily know that my favored method of self-defense is to assume the fetal position and scream like a gibbon).
  • But what about a parent who gives a slap and says, “don’t be such an idiot”? That’s child abuse, and it’s sad, but it isn’t something I can deal with in ten seconds in a balloon line. There are many good, loving parents out there who do it the way their parents did it, and don’t think twice about a swat on the rear or calling names.
  • If a child is clearly at risk, it’s everyone’s responsibility to come to that child’s aid. But parenting is a highly subjective art, with no licensing involved, no “authorized” instruction manual, no absolutes. Parenting differs across religious and cultural lines. Intervening may actually increase the child’s sense of anxiety. The best approach, I think, is to try and steer things in a positive direction without making the parent a “bad guy.”
  • Here’s advice from my sister who works in family services (forster child placement). If you have real reason to suspect that the child is abused then make an attempt to do something but confronting the parent seldom does anything except make them angry (often at the child for whining in public which makes it worse on the kid). Sometimes anonymous reports come in with nothing more than a description of the child and parent and a car tag number. If a child is being smacked around at a table in a restaraunt then you can call and make a report and in most places (I have seen it happen here) they will send someone out right then to check on the child. If you ever think that a child is in immediate danger then get someone’s attention immediately. But we aren’t social workers and our contact with kids is usually short and sweet. If you just think the kid looks like maybe there might not be enough love in his/her life then do what you can do while you are there. Make him/her a special balloon. Take an extra minute chatting with him/her while you do it. Be sure to tell that child that you think he/she is special. You might even want to slip him/her a business card directly and tell them that they can call if they ever need to hear a cheery voice (but be prepared for mindless chatter often if you do this very often. Kids like to talk. And partents might worry that you are a pedophile if you are encouraging kids to come to you privately.) Maybe if they are abused they will at least have one safe adult to call.
  • In the end, we can’t change the world and we can’t get rid of bad parenting techniques. What we can do is love kids and show them that the world is a good and loving place at least for a few minutes, and sometimes one hug can make all the difference in a life.
  • Intervention, if not done with an extreme amount of care and knowledge of technique, may increase not only the child’s sense of anxiety but also the odds that the child will get a beating once they get home. It’s walking on eggshells…. If you suspect abuse, report it. I agree that slapping or hitting a child is wrong, but seeing an isolated incident is hardly an indication of that family’s condition. Before you start making hotline calls about child abuse, may I suggest that you first talk to some parents who have been falsely accused of abuse by well meaning, but ignorant, passers-by? If you had any idea what happens to a family once the child-protection gestapo barges in and kidnaps their children, then maybeyou’d see things in a completely different light.

MB 12/13/95
MB 12/22/95
SKB 01/13/97
SKB 12/23/97
MB 7/11/99
SMB 8/9/99