11 Tips To Get Kids to Stay Seated During Your Show

Birthday ShowFor any children’s performer one of the biggest problems is getting the kids to sit for the entire show. It isn’t because they’re bored or restless that they squirm, instead it’s because they’re so excited and they want to be involved! But, standing children causes lots of problems… 

The reason standing children are such a problem is because it’s distracting for everyone in the audience, it blocks the view of others in the audience, a child is more likely to come up on stage even if they aren’t asked to, and they end up getting closer and closer to the stage making it more difficult to perform.

However, by using a few simple audience control techniques you can create an environment that will result in a better show. I’ve compiled a list of 11 Tips to Get Kids to Stay Seated:

  1. The first thing is to make sure you’ve setup the space properly before the show begins. If there’s a mat on the floor, or a natural line on the gym floor, you can tell the kids to stay within that zone. Personally I’ve found that tape/cones/etc don’t work very well for me, however other performers claim to have good success with them. I have had success using it for library shows and school assemblies though.
  2. Set the audience further back than where you really want them. Kids will always move closer throughout a 45 minute show, so set them back further at the start knowing that they’ll move closer during the performance.  Kids will even do this in chairs. Just be prepared for it. By having a larger initial buffer space the audience will feel like they’re part of the “audience side” and you’re on the “stage side”. I have a theory that kids in the front row are unable to recognize that there’s people behind them too that are trying to enjoy the show, so by having this extra space, they become more aware of the people behind them.
  1. Pick your battles. If a kid is standing by themselves at the outer edges of the audience and I can tell that they aren’t going to come up on stage, then I just leave them alone. Pay close attention though that the behavior doesn’t ‘spread’ to others in the audience. Younger children, infant to 4 and a half, are more likely to wander around but the older kids should still stay seated.
  2. If the front row of kids are getting too close try moving YOURSELF intentionally forward up to their feet. The first row of kids will need to look straight up at you and they’ll notice that they’re too close. I’ve found that kids will start to move back if you walk up this close. What’s nice about this technique is that it’s non-verbal. I will intentionally move close to the kids for routines where I don’t necessarily need the space, like a coloring book routine, then when I move into another routine, like the linking rings, I can move backwards and I’ll have the necessary space.
  3. Teachers use the phrase “Criss cross applesauce” to get the kids to sit down. They’re preprogrammed to respond to this phrase – use it to your advantage.
  4. Whenever you select a volunteer, always ask for someone who is “Sitting down cross-cross-applause, arm in the air, and sitting very quietly“. When the kids go from the loud roar of the previous routine to sitting dead quiet, I turn to a parent and say “Now that’s magic!” All the parents get good laugh over the bit of audience control. Then, when you select a volunteer say “Oh, you’ve been sitting so well the entire show!” This reinforces positive behavior that you want others to emulate.
  5. Know your material. For some tricks, like “sucker tricks”, kids are naturally going to want to stand up or get closer. Yesterday I was performing at a birthday show and the kids were sitting right at my feet because it was a small room. I ended up having to cut the PB&J trick because I could anticipate the chaos. The same thing goes for confetti, streamers, and anything else that lands on the ground. Kids will want to grab it, keep it, or “clean it up”. Either adjust your show to eliminate these issues for kids shows, or find a way to address them in an entertaining way.
  6. In gyms I don’t use floor-mats for kids to sit on. With the mats the kids will flop around. Instead I just have them sit on the floor. Kids are used to it and it isn’t a big deal.
  7. Deal with ‘toxic children’ as early as possible. Toxic children are the ones that have bad behavior that ‘spreads’ into the rest of the audience. It could be a young child, a hyper kid, or just a bratty kid. Scan the audience before the show and see if there’s a way to stop these things before they start. Sometimes moving these kids to the back of the audience helps, and other times it helps to move them to the front. Ask their parent or another parent to sit close-by. Or you can try and address it directly by saying to the child “I need you to do a big favour for me. I need you to make sure that you stay seated for the entire show, ok?”
  8. Have the parents sit with the children. Even if a child’s own parent isn’t there, they’ll still feel like there are authority figures around. By having other parents closer to the children it will be easier for them to step in and assist you if a child is becoming a problem.
  9. If things really get out of control, you can say “Would you like to see another trick? Well, before I can start I need everyone to <insert request>” This is great technique because you’re literally stopping the show until they follow your request. I would suggest though that you don’t rely on this too much.In my opinion it shouldn’t be used more than once unless it’s a particularly difficult audience.

I don’t believe that it’s my job as a magician to discipline children. During my show I try to incorporate the above elements of audience control and management, but ultimately I’m not going to reprimand a child for any of their behavior. Most of the time I’m able to find a way to make it work but every once in a while there’s going to be an audience that tests my patience. Thankfully I seem to have almost endless patience when dealing with children 🙂 The reality is that children are always going to get excited and stand up. By using a few preventative techniques, and structuring audience control into your act, you can minimize it as much as possible. By having a few related lines and jokes on stand-by you can turn these situations into entertaining moments that keep the show moving forward.

Edit (Dec 27th):

I’ve never understood the argument that “If you’re good enough that the kids will behave”.

It doesn’t matter how great your show is – you could have the best act on the planet – but that isn’t going to stop a 4 year old from standing up and wondering around at a birthday party, or stop a hyperactive child from wanting to grab at props or shouting or screaming. This is just a reality of performing for children.

I would say that a really strong children’s act will have audience control built right into the act. In fact, spectator management should be so ingrained into the performance, that the audience doesn’t even know that you’re creating the ideal circumstances for the performance.

In the same way we manage spectators during a close-up magic trick, a children’s performer will use techniques to raise and lower the energy of the kids throughout the performance in a controlled manner.

Additional Resources:

  • David Kaye (Silly Billy) has a great book on Children’s Psychology called “Seriously Silly“. In it he talks about his techniques for crowd control. It’s well worth the money if you ever perform for children.
  • Danny Orleans also has a 3 DVD set called the “Art of Presenting Magic to Children“.

If you have any tips of your own, please leave them in the comments below! Don’t forget to like and share the article with others as well.