My kid LOVES Elmo. We have toys with Elmo, shirts with Elmo, toothbrush with Elmo. Even his first word was Elmo. Inviting Elmo character to the birthday party seems like a great idea, right? Well, honestly, it depends. It depends how on your party organization. Most of the time kids’ favorite character shows at the party, and the birthday kid jumps screaming into his mommy’s arms. Imagine: your favorite book character shows up: not a little, cute, cuddly, saying reassuring words… but huge! furry! scarry! dead silent, helplessly gesturing! Birthday parties can overwhelm the most stoic little party animal, but a character often becomes the last drop even for the strongest birthday kids.
Yet, I think a character can become the best part of the party… provided it is done right!
If your character is a person (Cinderella, Batman, Bell, Fairy Godmother) – go ahead, invite her whenever you like – “human” characters are usually less intimidating. But if it is a big and furry monster, take some precautions: you might think that Winnie The Pooh is a sweet childhood friend, and,your kid might have a totally different idea when that huge mass of yellow takes over half of the room, stumbling into furniture as it is stomping around!
1. Skip the Surprise
I personally LOVE surprises! When it comes to characters, most of the kids – don’t. When I know there will be a character at the party, I tell my little ones in advance: “Do you know who wants to join you for your party? Grandma? Yeah, but I was talking about a different monster…”
2. Invite the character towards the end and avoid closed spaces!
Lots of guests, decorations, sounds, colors, food…. oh, they are fun, but SO OVERWHELMING! Kids need time to get comfortable. Also, if the only doorway is blocked by the scary creature, it is a lot scarier, then if your kid feels it is their choice to stay, watch, approach when they are ready. Somehow bringing the character into our basement playroom was always a lot more challenging. Not impossible, but surely challenging.
3. Make all the games connected to your character
I always found parties with a theme easier and more fun than just games following each other. Character provides such theme. Besides, the more the kids hear that he is coming, the easier it is for them to get used to this idea, the better prepared they’ll be. So, as we are running through the obstacle course, we are carrying pieces of toy-food and dumping it into a plate – for our Winnie The Pooh to enjoy! If we are running around the room pretending to be little cars – we are helping our Blue Clues to drive to us! If we are pulling out a parachute, we say that as Santa was coming to bring us some gifts, he saw this huge and colorful lake… and we help him cross it, by running over the parachute, under the parachute, and playing all of our other favorite games. Even when we are playing the musical instruments, we say that Tiger loves singing (or dancing, or anything you are about to do), so we do it for him, or like him!
4. Guide the Characters!
Unlike professional Broadway and Disney character costumes, that come equipped with a cooling fans and all sorts of tricks to make it more tolerable, most of the costumes are bizarrely uncomfortable. Especially if it is Daddy who is stuck inside, keep in mind that it is terribly hot, itchy, with barely anything visible. Poor characters can’t see neither their own feet, nor the kids somewhere below. Keeping your entertainment program short, holding your character’s hand as he is maneuvering around, alerting him everything that happens in front of him (“Oh, Elmo, Zach was waiting for you for so long and wants to give you a hug!”, “Winnie, Emily wants to hold your hand!”) really helps both the poor daddy feel better inside, and look more believable outside!
5. Play first, photos last!
Some kids would just run right into a hug. Some leave the party without ever coming even close.
Still, there is a much better chance of a great picture, if you play, dance, interact with a character first, and take your long awaited photographs later. I usually say that Elmo loves to dance and wants to play with us first! An offer to play coming from Elmo is hard to resist. This is the great time to do a Chicken Dance, Hokey Pokey, Makarena, even Limbo.
And after you are done dancing, help your character sit down, and let the kids come over one by one for a fantastic photo opp! While we have a few little friends who can still be quite apprehensive even so much preparation, after all of these precautions most of the kids will be ready for a big, furry and happy hug!