6 Solutions For The Scrunchy Faced Child

By Ilea Wakelin

6 Tips to dealwith scrunchy face

My husband (who is also my face painting partner) calls it the ‘sphincter face’, though not in front of clients of course lol.

This is when you are trying to paint a design on a child, you ask them to close their eyes and what you get is this

"Am I Spider-Man yet?"
“Am I Spider-Man yet?”

This face is more liken to Popeye trying to have a bowel movement than a face that is ready to be painted.

Luckily I happen to have MANY fixes for this issue, because not every child will respond to the same method there are many that I use to attempt to get them to relax. 

6. Use Different Words


Kids are dumb. Ok that sounds bad; what I meant to say is kids are inexperienced little people, and don’t yet have a developed complex vocabulary (yes that sounds better, hire me?). So you have no idea if they even understand the full meaning on the word ‘gentle’ or ‘relax’ to them these words probably only mean a few things at this stage in the game.

“Gentle is what mom tells me to be when petting our cat…. what does she mean gentle eyes?”

“Relax? You mean like what dad does when he gets home from work? Good god what does this have to do with face painting?”

As boring old people, we some times forget that kids have only been around for so many years and probably haven’t heard these words used in as many different contexts since they stopped pooping their pants.

"What do you mean *scream* isn't a word?"
“What do you mean *scream* isn’t a word?”

You have to be a thesaurus of words, and descriptions some times to get them to understand what you want them to do.

Here is what I say in the order I try to get the child to understand what I want them to do.

“Can you close your eyes gently?”

“Close your eyes like you are sleeping.”

“Can you relax your face for me?”

“Not so tight please, you need to un-scrunch your face.”

If that fails…

5. Show Them An Example



If none of the above work, I get them to open their eyes and watch me.

“Ok open your eyes. Watch. This is what you are doing. *exaggerated scrunch face complete with sound effects* But this is what I need you to do *relaxed face with eyes closed*. Can you try that? :)

You can also call it “Wrinkled blankets” and “Smooth blankets”.

When they get it right, make sure you congratulate them. Tell them they are doing a good job and that it’s good team work. Lots of encouragement here.


4. Warn Them About A Possible Bad Result

"Hey! This doesn't look like the one you have on the sign!"
“Hey! This doesn’t look like the one you have on the sign!”


This sounds harsh but hear me out. Though a lot of younger kids really don’t know any better, believe it or not a lot of kids are exaggerating their expression on purpose in order to get attention and think they are being silly (my brother was like this, trust me I know it when I see it). But as soon as you tell them that their over exaggerated scrunch face will make their chosen design less good, they smarten up right away.

If I suspect a kid of doing this some times I will say “relax your face please, otherwise it’s going to be a wrinkly tiger/spider-man/etc. lol” That gets the attention!

But this will also work with other kids simply to remind them to concentrate and the end result will be worth it!

3. Narrate Your Painting


Another great way is to describe what you are doing as you paint. For example: when I paint Spiderman eyes, this is what I say.

Ok first we are going to outline this part, and we go tickle in the corner of the eye, then up to a point here, then down and around back to where we started. Now the same thing on the other side. *repeat*

Now we got to fill the whole thing in like a coloring book, have you ever been a coloring book before? Well first we fill all this top part in, and we get lower and lower, across the eye brows now, not across the eye LIDS, across – sweep, and across – sweep, one more – sweep. Now we do the bottom, under -swoop, under -swoop. Now we do the same thing to the other side. *repeat*

Ok that was the tricky part, and it’s all done, you can open your eyes and now we fill in the red part!

I find talking to them no only helps them relax, but it distracts them from the sensation because they are focusing more on what you are saying instead of what they are feeling. Neat trick.

2. Light Handed Technique


The above solution will solve most of your immediate scrunch face problems, but painting around the eyes will always be harder then the rest of the face. Even the stillest of models will have issues with this area if you don’t practice the proper technique.

This one is harder to explain. When I was in makeup school I noticed right away as my classmates were practicing on each other and myself included, that some were more heavy handed, and others were not gentle at all! Some I think forgot they were painting on people.

There are 3 parts to achieving a light brush hand for face painting:

  • You have to be aware of which way the muscles and skin naturally go, and work with it not against it.
  • When you are painting some one who has their eyes closed or you are painting near the eyes, place your other hand on their face/head as well. Place your hand under their chin, or on top of their head; where ever is comfortable and doesn’t interfere with your work. This will help to steady yourself AND make them feel more secure, which goes a LONG way.
  • Go in slowly at first. Your first contact with the skin should be made slowly, most of all when the models eyes are closed. Let your brush barely tough them at first then lay it down for the full contact with the face. Never just dive right in, as this will cause the ‘jerk back’ or squint reaction. After you have made contact you can pretty much lift and paint anywhere in that area with out issue, but if you got back for more paint, or jump to a totally new part of the face, you have to ease back into it. With practice, you can actually do this slow technique much faster as it becomes more second nature to you.

1. Wait…. or dive right in!


If all else fails, try waiting about 20 seconds or so, use this time to tidy your area, or clean a brush. The logic behind this is that it actually takes a lot more effort to hold a scrunched up face than  a relaxed face. So let them tire the muscles for half a min, and they are more likely to relax as you begin.

The last thing you can do is just dive right in! Some kids will hold the scrunchy face right until the sponge or brush touches their face. Also they tend to relax more after feeling that “hey this isn’t as bad and shocking of a feeling as i thought it would be.”

Thank you For Reading!

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