When it’s Time to Meet Curious George in Person
September 23, 2016
Masks are extremely common in our everyday lives from carnivals and theme parks to cruise lines, sports games and even Storytime LIVE! at your local participating Kiddie Academy!
Regardless of the prevalence of masks in society, some children can be really anxious or scared about meeting their first costumed character – the ultimate mask. Some toddlers will develop fears about their world around 20 months, and then eventually outgrow their phobias whether it be a fear of Santa or a fear of strangers. A fear of people in costumes (costumed characters, for example) is one such fear and frequently the most intense for toddlers and young children. Chances are, if your child is afraid of mascots, masks or costumed characters (even nice ones like Curious George), they’re not alone.
According to KeepYourChildSafe.org, there are many reasons children are afraid of people in costumes citing most commonly:
- When someone is in a mask or heavy makeup, it obscures their facial expressions, which is something children rely on to judge a person’s intent and determine whether they are mean or friendly. With these cues hidden, it causes anxiety.
- These creatures don’t look human, but yet resemble human features just enough that they trigger what psychologists refer to as the ‘uncanny valley effect.’ In other words, they’re creepy. Most people, children included, are ok with cartoons and robots that look like obvious cartoons. But if a robot gets to look too human, it seems to trigger these unsettling feelings.
- People in masks or animal costumes represent a departure from what children are used to in the real world. It’s not everyday they’re asked to go sit on the lap of an 8-foot tall bunny. It takes time for kids to build up trust that these creatures are in fact friendly, which is why your 8-year-old may go up and squeeze a mascots nose and feel completely safe in that action, but your 3-year-old may start screaming bloody murder when it comes within 10 feet.
Here are the top two mistakes Kiddie Academy’s Vice President of Education, Richard Peterson sees parents making when tackling their child’s fear of costumed characters:
- Forcing them. Parents are sometimes not sure how to handle their child’s fear of a costumed character and they’re so eager for a photo opportunity that they’ll push the child toward the character, even if the child is screaming, crying, or in some cases – shaking in fear. Making a petrified toddler go near Curious George at Storytime LIVE! – however tempting the photo opportunity – will not help their fear dissipate. In fact, forcing them to confront something they see as a glorified inanimate object moving, motioning toward them when, in their minds, it shouldn’t be, could exacerbate their terror.
- Belittling their fear. I sometimes see parents telling their children, “don’t be afraid” or “don’t be a little baby” and these phrases can actually make toddlers feel more anxious about their fear, along with shame about how they’re feeling. Their fear can be better handled with acknowledgment of how they’re feeling and respect for their boundaries in dealing with it.
Kiddie Academy’s Director of Curriculum, Renee Thompson also added this insight:
“We have all seen the pictures on social media of the children crying and trying to escape from Santa or the Easter Bunny. While it might make a funny keepsake for the family, I would discourage any parent from forcing their child to pose with costumed characters. Even when a child loves a certain character to the point that everything he or she owns revolves around the character – from underwear to toothbrushes to bedding sets to sippy cups – you name it – that does not mean your child will necessarily be thrilled to meet the adult-sized live character in person. It can be very intimidating! Know that it is ok to step out of line even after you have waited 20 minutes for the picture if your child is afraid. Allow him or her to watch from afar, and if he or she decides at some point to try again, let it be the child’s choice.”
Peterson also praises an idea he sees some parents practice in response to seeing their child fearful of Curious George: offering to go first. “I see some parents approaching this by putting themselves on the ‘chopping block’ first and offering to take their picture with Curious George first or offering to hold the child’s hand while they both go up together. This can be a really positive way of dealing with an uncomfortable meeting between your child and Curious George.”
What should parents know going into Storytime LIVE! at participating locations on Saturday, Sept. 24?
“Parents should know that if they do get to the point of a face-to-face with Curious George at Storytime LIVE!, our experienced and trained educators are both under costume and escorting Curious George at all times. We see children who are fearful of George and understand the ways in which to handle those difficult situations to keep little ones feeling confident and relaxed,” said Peterson. “We would never approach a child with Curious George who didn’t seem prepared for an interaction with him and Curious George will typically try to move in ways that are unintimidating.”
You can RSVP to Storytime LIVE! happening at participating Kiddie Academy locations on Saturday, Sept. 24 by visiting www.kastorytime.com!