Spoiled divas and overbearing stage moms are just a few of the stereotypes often associated with child modeling. Parents also worry about eating disorders, self-esteem issues and the perceived over-emphasis on appearance that a modeling career can bring. However, modeling doesn't have to be all about looks. Instead, dealing with competition, overcoming shyness and following instructions are a few of the benefits your kid can reap by becoming a professional model.
Child modeling is extremely competitive. "I receive over 300 submissions a month," says Jennifer Fite, kids model booker for established southern California modeling agency San Diego Model Management. Of those 300 submissions, Fite ultimately selects only about five for representation. Long odds—and this is just to get a foot in the door. To book a paying job, child models will attend casting calls with hundreds of other children, all hoping to land a place in the commercial or advertisement. Parents can expect to take their child to around 20 auditions to book just one job.
Despite parental concerns, research from North Carolina State University shows that competition can actually be beneficial, helping your child hone problem-solving skills and learn to lose gracefully, as long as parents "stress the basics of fair play, good sportsmanship [and] putting forth good effort." In fact, modeling can teach children many valuable life lessons—but only if parents approach the job in the right way. Here are some tips on how to make the most of the learning opportunities from your child's modeling experience.
· Build confidence. Modeling can help to bring a shy child out of her shell. Child models are expected to interact comfortably with a range of people on-set, including casting directors, photographers, and other competitors. Treat each casting call as an opportunity to practice speaking clearly, walking tall, and smiling brightly in front of people. Praise your child's attempt to learn how to get along with others.
· Develop your child's work ethic and budgeting skills. Rewarding your child with a percentage of her earnings from each modeling job will teach her how to save money and spend it responsibly. Allow her to spend the money on whatever she wants, within reason, and talk about how much work she would need to do to save up for a more expensive toy. Discuss how her hard work has allowed her the money to buy that bicycle she's wanted since Christmas.
· Emphasize listening. Following direction is a critical skill for children to learn. Models are expected to work in tandem with others, wait their turn and listen carefully to the photographer's instructions. Compliment your child on her photo shoots, not by referring to her looks, but by praising her attentiveness to direction and willingness to listen.
· Remove the fear of rejection. Rejection seems like a harsh lesson for a child to learn, but it's crucial to understanding the concept of not always getting what we want. Emphasize the importance of being a good sport by encouraging her to congratulate her peers when they land a gig. When your child does get hired, congratulate her success, while stressing that you would have been proud of her, regardless of the outcome.
· Relax. Your kid can learn to take potentially stressful or high-pressure situations in stride, a skill that will be useful for exams, job interviews and many other situations in life. When mistakes happen, be a relaxed role model and don't overreact. Instead, encourage having fun while trying your best. Don't stress if you forget paperwork, your child ends up with wrinkled clothes, or spills juice on her dress before a casting call. She'll get much more out of the experience if she's not constantly worrying about what could go wrong.
· Be a role model. If you emphasize looks, your child will too. Instead, focus on being professional—saying "please" and "thank you," being punctual, waiting quietly and listening—and emphasize that her behavior is more important than her appearance. Don't be pushy, pester the casting agents or criticize the other children. Avoid focus on landing the job, and help your child enjoy the experience for what it is.
· Increase your child's self-esteem. Contrary to common stereotypes about the modeling industry, child models aren't expected to be stick-skinny, and parents should be wary of any agency encouraging your child to diet or lose weight. Your child will hear many admiring compliments during casting and photo shoots, and you can build her self-esteem even more by reinforcing the praise she receives on set: "The photographer loved your big happy smile!"
· Check your motives. Think critically about the reasons you entered the entertainment business to make sure modeling is your child's dream, not yours. If she doesn't like striking a pose, let her bow out. North Carolina State University found that competition can be harmful when it solely benefits the parents, or if moms and dads are overly involved. Reliving your own missed opportunities through your little one could be harmful to her happiness.
Above all, make it fun. Driving to various modeling jobs is the perfect opportunity for some one-on-one bonding and conversation. Enjoy the chance to spend some quality time with your child, and don't forget the other really significant educational advantage a modeling career can provide—college funds!