Child Modeling: Everything Parents Need to Know

Sure, your kid is the cutest ever, but does she have what it takes to be a model?

Child model playing

If you've been online in the past few months, you may have come across child model Lucie Loria. She's the ubiquitous face of J.Crew Baby, and the frequent star of the line's banner ads and catalog. Think your kid can work it like Lucie? Read on to find out what the child modeling biz is really like--and what parents should know before they sign up.

Model Behavior
It takes more than a pretty face to make a go of modeling. Though there's a trend toward diversity right now, there's no one preferred look; it really depends on the client, or even who's been cast as the child's parents. More important is your child's temperament. Can she nap in the stroller on a noisy set, and hold it together past snack time? High-strung, strictly scheduled kids need not apply. Also, "If your kid has separation anxiety, this is not the right business for you," says Alyson Gaspin, owner and founder of Product Model Management, the modeling agency that represents Loria. "The set director might take the baby and send the parents off set, where they are in view but not nearby." Another note: A petite child who can play younger but has a bit more maturity has an edge.

Getting Started
Because almost all shoots are in the New York Tri-State area, with smaller markets in Miami and Los Angeles, you need to live within easy driving distance of these locations to make it work. If you do, submit your child's photo via a modeling agency's website or snail mail (be sure to include a self-addressed stamped envelope). Product Model Management will give you a yes or no in a few weeks, but it's not uncommon for some agencies to contact you only if it is interested. To be safe, check the agency's submission policy. A reputable agency will never ask you for money up front; they get paid only when your child works, Gaspin says. She also advises against paying for a professional portrait. Instead, send a simple snapshot, free of hats or fancy clothing. According to the New York State Department of Labor, parents must also apply for a free Child Performer Permit and set up a trust in which 15 percent of the child's earnings will be placed until he's 18. Permit laws vary by state, so check yours before your child books a job.

What to Expect on Set
A flexible family schedule is essential for child models. Often, agencies give just a day or two of notice before a casting or an audition, which can occur three or four times a week. If your child is cast, a playful "baby wrangler" might be at the shoot to make your child feel more comfortable and get her smiling, but "parents need to be hands-off and can't try to be the set director," Gaspin says. After arriving at the shoot, don't expect to be there long, as labor laws prohibit your child from working excessive hours. In fact, infants under 5 months can be on set for only two hours, babies 6 to 12 months for four hours, and kids 2 to 5 years old for six hours (and they can be actually shooting for a portion of that). But for those few hours, you may have to call a babysitter for your non-modeling children. According to Meryl Salzinger, a baby wrangler who's worked on shoots for Gap and Target, siblings are not welcome because they add to the chaos on set. Most important, parents must develop a thick skin for rejection, which isn't easy when it comes to your kids. "No one cares if your feelings are hurt or you think you have the most beautiful kid on the planet," says Caitlin Reed Lorie, Lucie's mom, whose oldest child also models. "I don't make it our life...because this business is a business."

The Pay
If you're thinking your baby shouldn't get out of the crib for less than 10K, get ready for a reality check. Although pay varies widely, a typical gig pays about $100 per hour, with a possible bonus if your child's shots are chosen, Gaspin says. The agency takes 20 percent, the travel costs are often on your dime, and you usually don't get to keep the clothes. But in the end, you're left with gorgeous images of your child, plus the thrill of seeing your cutie in an ad campaign.

How to Play Photo Shoot at Home
You don't have to be on a set to get stunning photos. Salzinger shares these pro tips for cajoling a smile from your little subject at home:
- Babies respond to a high register, or something with a gentle element of surprise, like peekaboo or dramatic kisses.
- A big feather used under the chin or to tickle a foot can delight even a shy kid.
- For preschoolers, it's all about saying goofy things, like singing the ABCs wrong or saying you forgot how to count. Enlist their help to set you straight.
- The time-honored "no smiling allowed!" rule also works like a charm.

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