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Expert tips on bringing kids to weddings (and other etiquette advice)

little girl at a wedding with flower crown

It’s a question that plagues any parent with a wedding invite. Does it include kids? And if so, what’s the etiquette for bringing kids to weddings? While most people consider it an honour to be selected to be in a wedding party, if your preschooler were asked to be a flower girl or a ring bearer, would they see it that way? They might feel excited and happy; but then again, they might feel anxious, shy, frightened or even downright confused! For example, four-year-old Kevin was super psyched about the idea, until he found out that the ring “bear” didn’t get to growl, wear a fuzzy brown costume, and head up the aisle on all fours! The news about a pillow and tuxedo was a big letdown.

Our experts agree that when it comes to weddings there are lots of variables, but one thing is certain: young children are predictably unpredictable! “There’s really no magic formula for success because every kid and every situation is different,” says Fabian Aird, a wedding consultant with Weddings I Do in Richmond Hill, Ont. He says that “setting the right expectations” is one of the most important things for parents to do ahead of time. That translates to not expecting perfection.

Rebecca Chan of Rebecca Chan Weddings and Events in Toronto says that certain children can’t handle the limelight at all. “If you know your child will act up or not do well in the role, it’s best to be honest and decline graciously. Couples typically don’t like surprises on their wedding day. Knowing your child and being upfront about what it might mean will do everyone a favour.”

The main thing consultants emphasize is to never force your child to participate if he gets cold feet. Laura Olsen of Laura Olsen Events in Burlington, Ont., tells her clients that getting a child down the aisle is a huge win. “But if they decide that they just don’t want to, or they throw a fuss, then no problem. We just continue with everybody else.”

It’s essential to be flexible and have a solid plan B. Back-up plans might include switching positions from first-down-the-aisle to just-before-the-bride so that there are others to follow, or being ready to escort your child up the aisle if necessary. Children have even been carried in a pinch and the result was still adorable.

Many brides and grooms include their own children in the wedding party, and this can present its own challenges. Fabian says, “The key is to make it a ‘family day’ – not an ‘all-about-you day.’” He warns against an attitude of “too bad these kids are distracting us.” Parents who adopt the right mindset from the early planning stages, and who keep sight of it, have great weddings. Little Kevin, for example, loved his tuxedo after all, because he got to shop for it with Daddy. He and his twin sister Sabrina, the flower girl, sat proudly at the head table with their parents. The music started with a four-person “family dance”. At no point did the kids feel like afterthoughts, and everything went amazingly well!

More tips from the pros

Keep it simple. Don’t set too many fussy rules about how petals should be sprinkled, or how the pillow should be carried. Let the kids ad lib a little. Trying to remember a lot of rules will only make them nervous, and they’ll panic if they get something “wrong”.

Bribe them. Whether it’s to warm them up at rehearsal or to get them moving on the big day itself, there’s nothing wrong with the lure of a favourite treat. Many a lollipop has been dangled at the top of the aisle with great success.

Practise, practise, practise. Rehearse at home. A lot. Make it as realistic as possible using props. Visit the actual location and practise there, if possible, or try a similar looking venue, like your own church.

Let them sit pretty. Few children have the patience to stand during the entire ceremony. Position yourself near the front and wave them over to sit comfortably with you.

Prepare for boredom. Bring toys, colouring books or trinkets to keep them from getting fidgety. Pack some snacks and water, too (but nothing that might stain).

Make the clothes as comfy as possible. Nothing’s worse than scratchy labels or too-tight shoes to induce crankiness.

Go faux. Use fake jewelry on the pillow for a ring bearer. Remember, these little guys are unpredictable!

Pint-sized wedding guest etiquette

  • Respect the wishes of the bride and groom. Unless the invitation specifically names your children, leave them at home. Don’t take offense that they have not been included, either.
  • If in doubt, ask the bride and groom. Never assume kids are invited and don’t take it personally if they aren’t.
  • Even if children are welcome, still connect. Couples often want to know specifics about what sort of food to offer and whether a booster seat or high chair is needed.
  • If your little ones get noisy or fussy during the ceremony, make a quick and quiet exit.
  • Bring a survival kit with favourite snacks, drinks, books and playthings – even a tablet is OK—to keep them occupied during the “boring parts” (think long-winded speeches).
  • Dress them up appropriately for the occasion, but consider comfort, too. For example, little-girl party dresses are often sleeveless; a sweater is a good idea in air conditioned venues.
  • Consider organizing a sitter to pick up your children part way through the event so that they get to bed on schedule and you get some adult-only time to let loose.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, May 2015.

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