“I can’t say I was unhappy as a child actor in films. I had a particularly wonderful time.”
When speaking to adult actors, one of the most often repeated sentiments is to remind them that this is all about play. We “play” parts, we act in “plays,” in rehearsals directors will sometimes give you leeway to “just play” as you are creating a character or working a scene.
It’s a business where the most successful people never let go of that sense of joy, and discovery, and wonder that is childhood.
How lucky, then, to have a kid who has discovered he or she enjoys acting at a young age!
As every parent knows, kids are custom-built for play. And when that side of them is nurtured – along with imparting some small doses of technique and a bit of work – you as the parent can create a life-long love affair in your child for the joy of acting, and you can both have a great time while you’re at it.
But of course we have to face the facts: this can be a demanding and stressful business. That’s why it’s vital that parents pay attention to how much their budding actor is actually enjoying themselves. And It’s up to the parent to do all they can to make sure that continues.
Remember, this applies even to those kids who really love acting; even adult actors from time to time get bored or fed up waiting around to audition and would rather be outside playing in the park! Of course kids are going to feel that way sometimes.
So with that in mind here are a few tips on how to make sure the kiddos are enjoying themselves as much as possible throughout the process.
Life is all about priorities in a way: what value do we place on work versus home life, what value do we place on living in the city versus the suburbs, etc. It’s the same with kids in acting. Yes, we have to teach them discipline and skills and focus they will need on set or on stage, but we also have to remember they’re kids. Therefore, the overall priority when it comes to your kid’s life should always be on kid stuff. If every waking moment outside of school is devoted to acting classes, auditions, modeling sessions, rehearsals and performing, you’re setting the stage for a case of burn-out. Heck, it works that way with adults too! Make sure your budding talent has plenty of time and activities doing “normal” kid things: playing sports, having scheduled play dates with friends who aren’t necessarily actors, and even just unstructured free play time. Balance is super important in everyone’s life, especially when it comes to kids and their shorter attention spans.
Success breeds confidence, and confidence breed success. With every positive acting experience, your child actor is going to be more relaxed, more eager, and more excited about the next opportunity that comes along. So make sure you’re doing all you can to help him or her build that confidence in their acting. Even if you aren’t an actor yourself, you can have a huge impact on their growth as an actor by making sure you get them in situations where they can succeed. Before enrolling your kid in a class, audit it yourself, and audit it with your child actor too. Make sure it looks like something that will fit his or her temperament, as well as skill set. Of course you want your child to learn and get better, but if you push too hard and throw them into a class that’s far too advanced for them, it can be devastating to a fledgling actors’ confidence and have long term effects. Same goes for making sure your kid is going out for appropriate parts that match his or her skill level. Sometimes agents – often with their hearts in the right place – will send kids out to read for roles on productions they’re just not ready for. A key skill for moms and dads to work on in themselves when it comes to nurturing their child actor is patience. We all develop at our own pace. Don’t feel like your kid has to go from zero to 60 right off the bat.
3. Supportive, Not Overprotective
You are of course your child actor’s go-to confidante for advice, critiques, suggestions – and comfort when it doesn’t go well. Nurturing is what it’s all about, and gentle nudges in the right direction to expand the child actor’s comfort zone. That said, it’s really easy to fall into the trap of being that stereotypical overprotective stage parent. You don’t want this, for you or your kid. That said, the short term effect of easing your child’s disappointment – say, by assuring them they SHOULD have gotten the role – may be tempting. Who doesn’t want their kid to be happy, or at least not sad? Still, don’t give in to your instinct to protect your child from all disappointment. The fact of the matter is rejection is a real, actual part of everyone’s life, not just actors. Auditioning and being told no is a great way to teach the concept of acceptance, and how to move on, and look forward to the next thing. Acting for kids is a valuable opportunity to impart this life lesson and help them develop coping skills that will serve them well no matter what they end up doing with their lives. It’s also important to let them know that their value as actors or as people does NOT hinge on whether they get a part. There will be many, many auditions, and they will be okay no matter what happens in any of them. There are plenty of adult actors who still don’t get this, so teach your children well!
4. Mix It Up
If there’s one thing the bouncing, babbling, boomeranging brain of a child is all about, it’s variety. There’s no reason in the world that any child actor should already be considered a “specialist” in any given skill set. This is ridiculous. And it’s often the product of over-stressed parents pushing too hard to create a Star rather than an actor. Let your kid take all kinds of classes, dance, voice, improv – everything under the sun in short. If Hugh Jackman had only focused on singing and dancing, he might never have landed the role of Wolverine. Remember that performing is a cumulative thing: all performing feeds all other performing. If your kid plays music in band, great! If they like to make videos with their friends, great! Nothing is a waste of time when it comes to acting.
5. Have Fun!
This one applies to the parent as well as the kid. They look to you to be a role model: if you roll into every audition grumpy because you’re going to be late for your dentist appointment or whatever, snapping at the PA who is trying to take headshots and resumes, well, you’re making an impression. Not only on the production team, and the other parents, but on your kid as well. Circle back to the first tip on this list and remember the sense of play that is vital to an actor’s success. It’s vital that your child sees that the business is all about play, and about fun, and that means you have to be in on the game as well! Enjoy this magical opportunity to have fun and play with your child on a level that most parents can only dream of, and you will create a happy, healthy child actor in the process!