Preparing your kids for a family session can seem very daunting and overwhelming. After all, you’ve just placed a sizeable deposit for a photo session and you’re panicking at the thought of your kids being, well, kids. You’re not alone in your struggles! So how exactly do you prepare your kids ahead of time to ensure the best possible photo outcome?
Here’s what I suggest as a starting place. Your kids may have a different temperament and personality than mine, but I find these tricks seem to work well to get them in the mood for photos.
- Let them be a part of the process: When selecting your family photographer, let the kids see what you’re doing. Include them from the Google search to the booking. If they see what you’re interested in doing, they’re more likely to be on board when you do your own session.
- Avoid food and drinks with heavy dye or lots of sugar: The dye thing has to do with the fact that it stains, a lot. Did you ever drink copious amounts of kool-aid as a kid and turn to a friend to ask if your tongue was blue? Of course it was. You could see it from the next province over! If you don’t want a blue raspberry mustache on your 3 year old in the pictures, then please hold off giving them those drinks until after your session. The sugar thing? I’m sure you’ve guessed it, but the sugar rush kids can get on is awe-inspiring. Almost as much as the sugar crash conveniently as your session begins ;)
- If you can, visit the location before your session: Sometimes kids are timid and don’t want to be themselves because they are unfamiliar where they are. If your kids are the sensitive type (I have one of those!) you may wish to visit the location ahead of time to get them used to the place before hoping and praying they behave okay for your session :)
- Refrain from threatening to take away privileges: A photographer usually comes stocked with suckers or stickers or some sort of reward for after the session (they receive this reward regardless of how they behave). Kids in unfamiliar situations don’t do well at listening or acting natural if they are being reprimanded constantly (“Now smile nice or no Nintendo DS for a week”). I realize I’m generalizing a bit here, but your photographer should be capable of handling most behaviours from children. If your photographer needs your help to redirect your child, they will let you know. The more “hands off” you can be here, the better the results for your photos.
- Don’t be afraid to bribe a little: Yep, I said it. Instead of threatening to take away things, try bribery. Younger children may need to be bribed more often during the session than older kids. Some suggestions for bribery – make it an immediate reward. This usually means a snack or treat of some sort that they can have right away. Have some fruit snacks, or pretzels, or goldfish crackers, or whatever on hand in your pocket that you can give. If you’d rather not feed your kids snacks, that’s ok – try bringing a sticker chart along and have the child pick out a sticker each time a pose is complete to put on their chart. A little bribe goes a long way! Obviously bribing your child long-term isn’t the greatest parenting decision, but I happen to think an hour on a Saturday would be ok :)
- Let kids be kids: Kids will act silly, they will run, they will play… And that’s ok. As long as they are not doing anything dangerous or at risk of straying too far from the rest of the group, I say let them go. Kids need time to warm up and relax, much like we do as adults. A child with less restrictions is more likely to listen when needed during a session than if they are constantly reprimanded or corralled. I know it’s hard, I’ve struggled with it too during my own family sessions. Try to keep in mind during your session that your child is probably doing better overall than you think they are – and your photographer should reassure you of this as well.
- Don’t be afraid to discuss your concerns with your photographer: Either before (ideally) or after your session, don’t be afraid to bring up anything that you’re not sure about with your photographer. Be honest and upfront if your child has any disabilities or you are really unsure about how they will behave. Likewise, if you are worried after how the session went, your photographer can reassure you that many photos were captured that you will love.
- Don’t wait: Finally, many people wait to do a family session for many reasons. “The kids need to be older and better behaved”, “I just need to lose these last 10 pounds”, “I’m afraid of how my child will act”… The list can go on forever. I encourage you if you are hesitant to just GO FOR IT. Skilled photographers can make the best of any situation, and work hard to capture the personalities of your little ones just as they are. Even if you’re concerned about how you will look or if you have perceived weight to lose, your kids won’t care – guaranteed – they just want to see YOU in the photo with them.
Being prepared for your family session is the best way to make it run as smooth as possible. Being flexible, offering treats, positive reinforcement – all of it helps to relax your children and make them want to be engaged and happy during your shoot. Let them help plan out the session and include them wherever you can, and you will find your children happy to help you capture the memories you want to hang on your walls for many years to come.