Kid Control: Behavior Management for Children's Entertainers by Julian Franklin
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii May, 2006)
Julian Franklin is a children's magician who performs extensively in public libraries and schools. "Formerly a behavior management specialist in the Texas public schools for eight years," as the jacket copy informs us, Mr. Franklin has also worked with extremely autistic children and school "children with severely emotional disturbance." Thus he is eminently qualified to teach as all something about managing children's behavior in this useful manual intended for kid show magicians and similar entertainers. The author has also owned his own martial arts studio, training which perhaps is equally useful for dealing with audiences of difficult children, but not specifically addressed in these pages.
As Mr. Franklin points out, he has not written a guide to running classrooms of problem children, nor a book about how to raise your own children to be better behaved although I think many teachers and parents could probably stand to pick up some practical tips from his book. Rather, the author presents a kind of real-world handbook of very practical techniques for maintaining order amid kid-show audiences, without resorting to shouting or any other kind of strong-arm discipline. In fact, the author does not believe in presenting a set of rules to his audiences, as some kid-show performers are in the habit of doing. "The truth is," he writes, "that children, during a one-hour show ... don't need a laundry list of regulations in order to behave." Instead, Mr. Franklin explains that he performs "in conjunction with his audience," not by exercising the constant pres-sure of discipline, but rather by structuring his show "by working with a child's natural desires and tendencies rather than against them." Thus, he explains early on, while "you cannot control children" on the one hand, "you can guide a child's behavior."
The author's chapters address subjects such as "Why Children Misbehave," how to handle the incessant clamor of "I Know How You Did That!", why and how "Children Need to Express Themselves," how to go about "Establishing Expectations," and how to mold and direct behavior through concepts such as "mirroring," "prompting," "redirection," "request," and "ignoring." Further chapters discuss "Proximity Control," something called "The Premack Principle" (to wit: "If you want someone to do something, offer them something they want once they complete the task; the name comes from the author of a psychology researcher associated with the principle), "Increasing Behaviors," "Creating a Fun, Safe, Caring Environment," along with "Dealing With a Particularly Difficult Child," as well as "Dealing with Shy Children," and finally, "Power Struggles," a subject near and dear to the sanity of any parent.
Mr. Franklin is an educator turned entertainer; he is not a scientist, and so readers are cautioned that he apparently believes the full moon can be responsible for human behavior, a bit of folk nonsense that has been readily and repeatedly disproved by scientific study. He also joins the long list of pop psychology types who endorse Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), dis-cussing the concept of "mirroring," one of those all-purpose terms which always seems to me like, well, the title of a Penn-and-Teller series currently running on Show-time. In one example, Mr. Franklin says that if you lower the volume of your voice, others with whom you are speaking will speak more softly because they are "mirroring" your physical behavior; elsewhere he observes that if you lower your voice, the audience will quiet down so they can hear you. Uh ... which is it? I vote for the latter: It doesn't require a cutesy pop psychology term and the explanation reflects common sense. The occasional pseudo-scientific hiccup notwithstanding, I suspect this book would be of great use to any children's performer. Eugene Burger has said that he likes children, "but only when prepared in the proper sauce." For those whose tastes run to entertaining them rather than putting them in the stew—(I myself am somewhat on the fence in this regard) the pleasures of performing for children will doubtless be enhanced after studying this pragmatic manual.