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Kids at weddings: The dos and don’ts

Kids don't make for the most predictable wedding guests.
Kids don't make for the most predictable wedding guests. AP Photo/Tony Avelar

They can be adorable in their tiny dresses and mini-tuxedos, but when it comes to proper wedding etiquette, young children don’t always play by the rules.

Rare is the child that can sit quietly and calmly through a long wedding ceremony, followed by an even longer reception complete with receiving lines, toasts to the bride and groom and sometimes even formal pictures.

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But if you’ve got plans to bring your child to a wedding this summer, or to invite little ones to your own nuptials, there are a few things to keep in mind that should make things easier for everyone — the kids included.

According to Toronto-based etiquette expert Lisa Orr, the key is to plan ahead. From the invitation, to the ceremony itself and on to the reception, here are her top tips and tricks.

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Extending the invite

The invitation will set the tone for what guests with children should expect. If you’ve made the decision (like many couples are doing) to make your entire wedding adults-only, there’s nothing wrong with that.

In fact, a recent survey conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Global News revealed nearly half (44 per cent) of Canadian couples do not have children at their wedding reception.

It’s your day, Orr noted, but the policy needs to be made clear from the get-go.

“It’s pretty straightforward. When you send your invitation, you only address it to the couple that’s being invited,” Orr explained.

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If the entire clan is listed on the invite (“the Smith family,” or something similar), then that’s a clear signal that the children are welcome. But if you’re worried that your invitation might be misinterpreted, Orr says it’s OK to be more explicit.

“It’s not inappropriate to say, ‘This is an adult event,’ if you’re worried, if you have a sense that your family perhaps has not respected that in the past and has shown up with four or five children,” she said.

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“In the end, what you’re doing as a host is being respectful of your guests, by saying, ‘We know you’re going to need to make alternate arrangements so we’re telling you now so you can plan.”

If extra people (of any age) do show up, it’s an “incredibly difficult situation,” Orr acknowledged. At that point, it’s fine to let the guests know you were not prepared to host their children, but you’ll do your very best. This is where having a wedding planner who can intervene on your behalf and manage the situation can be helpful.

Saying ‘I do’

The secret to keeping kids calm during a wedding ceremony is practice. Orr says it might seem strange, but she always suggests putting them in the clothes they’ll be wearing at the wedding for a few hours before the big day.

Having the child sit and listen to a story while dressed up, she said, or even watching a pretend ceremony acted out, can get them interested in what’s going to happen and allow them to practice sitting calmly for more than a few minutes at a time.

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It’s normal for children to pipe up with questions during weddings, or to get bored and start looking for something to keep them occupied. According to Orr, that’s when you can encourage a quiet activity. Some children may even like “documenting” the ceremony by drawing a picture of the bride and groom, for instance.

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“Rather than having them disconnected from the event, use their curiosity and their creativity in a positive way,” Orr said.

“Some people will bring technology to entertain children during a ceremony. To me, that’s sort of the last resort if you’re absolutely desperate.”

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If the worst happens and your child has a complete meltdown, Orr says there’s really only one polite course of action: remove them from the area as quickly and calmly as possible. If you’re really concerned about tantrums, choose an aisle seat to make a discreet exit easier.

“If you normally make them cry it out, that’s a parenting choice that you don’t get to make there,” Orr explained.

“Everyone understands that children have a moment. As long as you manage it quickly, it’ll be remembered as kind of a cute child moment as opposed to a temper tantrum.”

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Party time!

The reception is likely to be a lot more relaxed than the ceremony, and kids will usually have the freedom to move around. Newly married couples can make things easier for their littler guests in a few ways, Orr says.

“You can create zones that are more friendly for children where you might have games or toys or even some videos if there’s a separate little room,” Orr explained, adding that making the whole reception space kid-friendly is never necessary.

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“Your guests who brought the children get to have a bit of a break, and the children, frankly, aren’t being shushed the whole time, which isn’t any fun for them either.”

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As a parent or guardian, it’s important to keep an eye on your offspring, and you can also create a small kid-friendly space at your table or nearby. You might bring a change of clothes that’s more comfortable, items to entertain them or even a small blanket to snuggle up in “if you know you’re going to be staying a little bit past their bedtimes.”

Some couples will spring for outside babysitting services that will watch kids at intervals throughout their wedding day. It’s not necessary, but a kind gesture.

Overall, Orr said, the biggest thing to keep in mind is that kids will be kids.

“You can’t expect them to be these perfect little dolls,” she said, laughing. “They’re wonderful to have at your wedding but they do need special attention so they don’t feel they’re getting in trouble the whole time.”