San Diego Moms: How Family Entertainment Venues Should Train Their Employees


Three professionals experienced in working with children or in the training of interveners give their advice to places of family entertainment.

The satellite facility at the New Children’s Museum in Del Mar. Courtesy of the museum

If you’ve visited a family-oriented business, like a theme park or entertainment center, you know they’re often filled with young employees who have little or no experience working with children. Often visiting these businesses can be frustrating. Of course, we can’t blame a teenager working at their first job. However, we can recognize that companies need to better train their employees in working with children. After all, working with children isn’t for everyone.

I don’t blame the employees who are frustrated working at one of these family entertainment venues. As a mother, I am often frustrated! However, I often look for ways to communicate effectively with my children. I think family-oriented businesses should do the same when training their employees. It would make work and the customer experience infinitely better.

I’ve spoken to several people who are familiar with working with children from all walks of life about how companies can better train their employees. Here is what they said.

Meredith Tekin – who is the president of the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards, an organization that trains and certifies individuals to work with children with autism, mental health and cognitive disabilities – said there is a a number of items that companies can add to their employee training checklist. First, business leaders should consider working with a “credible partner or vendor, such as a certification body that has been running programs for a long time.”

“Make sure content comes from multiple clinical and expert perspectives, including the perspectives of individuals who have lived experience (are themselves autistic or disabled, etc.),” Tekin said. “Also, repeat and reinforce training – make sure staff and managers talk about all the implications of the process and provide written materials for reference.”

When communicating with children, employees must be versatile in the way they communicate.

“Speaking in a friendly but direct and clear manner can help avoid confusion – many people may not understand certain jargon, sarcasm or take things at face value,” Tekin said. “Sometimes kneeling or getting to the child’s level can be helpful, but not everyone is comfortable with eye contact or with others nearby. Also keep in mind that some people with autism or other differences may be nonverbal, but that doesn’t mean they can’t communicate. The best policy is, when in doubt, to ask!

Above all, Tekin said the greatest success comes from hiring and selecting employees correctly.

Is there a checklist these companies should have when hiring new employees? For example, experience working with children in previous jobs, etc.

“Training can help build empathy and understand different perspectives, especially for visitors with disabilities in case the staff member doesn’t have personal experience,” Tekin said. “Providing specific, up-to-date and relevant training can fill knowledge gaps, empowering and empowering staff to do what they do best – helping visitors through a fun and safe time.”

Whitney Shavedirector of education for the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum, recommends following the “three Cs” when working with children.

“Keep your expectations clear, concise, and consistent,” Raser said. “The shorter your ‘rules’ are, the stickier they are for a child and often the easier they are to understand. Most of our expectations are no more than three to four word statements. For example, “Use kind words” and “Stay with your adult”. Additionally, these phrases are the same whether used by a Visitor Services Associate in the field or a member of the management team. Consistency is the key.

Raser also recommended using visual aids to communicate with children.

“Children may have linguistic differences or neurological abnormalities from the employees of a place – Having signs, as well as kinesthetic movements associated with each expectation, helps children hold on to what is required of them. them in a space,” Raser said.

Finally, Raser said it’s important that all employees “approach work with a sense of humility, empathy and lifelong learning.”

“Organizations should reach out to local nonprofits that work with children from neurodivergent or linguistic backgrounds,” Raser said. “Often these non-profit groups are eager to share best practices with other community partners. These groups can offer culturally relevant and/or research-based approaches to better support children. It is important to engage in this work and these partnerships frequently, as new ideas and learnings can support ongoing work to make a space inclusive.

Janelle Owens — the director of human resources at Test Prep Insight, an EdTech company, who also previously worked in human resources for Target and Wells Fargo — said her best advice for companies is to play a role with employees.

“Role-playing during employee orientation and training can have a huge impact on their behavior once they start working on their own,” Owens said. “Role-playing provides a safe and controlled environment in which you can subtly expose employee preconceptions and biases. Role-playing can play a pivotal role in preparing employees for all that could come from interacting with as wide a spectrum of humanity as family settings could offer.

Owens also said business leaders should remember that “HR training shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. It must be flexible and dynamic.

“For younger team members working on maybe their first real job, I would double down on training via role-playing,” Owens said. “With veteran employees, you can leverage their previous experiences and general maturity to discuss training issues. You can seek their input and find out how they have handled certain issues in the past. However, with green employees, you need to lead and train by example, which role-playing is perfect for. In a sense, it is a form of “learning by doing”. Additionally, using role-playing games to train young workers has the added benefit of being more engaging. It is a more active and participatory form of training that is attracting the attention of young workers, especially teenagers.

As a parent, what is your advice for businesses that work with children? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


San Diego Moms is published every Saturday. Do you have a story idea? Email [email protected] and follow her on Instagram at @hoawritessd.

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