As fun and beautiful as weddings are, there’s no doubt that they can be tiring and stressful events for everyone involved – especially children. Weddings are day-long affairs that involve travel, crowds, noise, and having to sit still for a long time.
If you’re a parent to a child that must soon attend a wedding, you may be a little worried about the prospect (especially if they’ve never been to one before). You’ll want to make sure they stay in good spirits, and behave well for the bride and groom.
This guide will talk you through how to prepare your child for a wedding, whether they’re a guest, or have a role such as flower girl or page boy. We’ll discuss how to explain the events of the day in a kid-friendly way, and share our top tips for keeping your little one entertained and on their best behaviour.
1) Explain What’s Going to Happen
First of all, have a very frank conversation with your child about what weddings are, and what the day will involve. Use age-appropriate language that they can understand.
Explain that a wedding is a very special day for the bride and groom, and that it’s important for everyone to be well-behaved. It may be a bit boring, and the officiant may say a lot of grown up words that you don’t understand, but that’s okay.
If your child is of school or nursery age, use this as an analogy. You have to sit still and be quiet while the minister is talking, just as you do when your teacher is talking. But afterwards, you’ll get to run around and play with the other children, eat yummy food, and even have cake!
Does your child have a role in the wedding (such as flower girl)? If so, explain exactly what they’ll have to do, in a straightforward and easy-to-comprehend way. You can even practise in your living room, so that they feel more at ease on the day.
2) Give Your Child Plenty of Notice
Don’t spring a wedding on your child last-minute. That’s a great way to induce panic! Your child will be able to cope with the big day much better if they have been informed of what’s coming in plenty of time.
We suggest telling your child about the wedding as soon as you receive the invitation. As the day looms closer and closer, keep bringing it up and going over what will happen, so they’re prepared. Invite your child to ask questions each time you discuss it.
Children that find it hard to adjust to changes in routine may appreciate a countdown in the month leading up to the wedding, similar to one you might have at Christmas. Each night, cross off a day and talk about how many sleeps it is until the wedding.
2) Get to Grips with the Venue
It’s important that all parents have an idea of the wedding venue’s layout before the day arrives. This way, if a tantrum or meltdown happens, you’ll know exactly where the exits are and have a plan in place for somewhere to retreat to.
Once you find out the name of the venue, you may be able to find a floorplan online, or even be able to visit in person. If not, consult the bride or groom (or their wedding planner) to find out. Ideally, there will be a private room, grounds, or quiet corridor somewhere that you can whisk your little one off to if need be.
If your child still takes daytime naps, use this opportunity to scope out an appropriate place to settle them down. (Not all venues will have a private room, so you may have to walk them around the grounds in a pushchair, or take them to sleep in the car.)
3) Prepare a Wedding-Day Schedule
Before the big day arrives, make a rough plan for how the day will pan out, and what will happen at what time. It’s important that you try to fit the day around your normal schedule as closely as possible, particularly with regard to naptimes. Children quickly become cranky and overwhelmed if their normal routine is badly disrupted.
Consult with the bride and groom about:
• Food. What’s on the kid’s menu? If you get a choice of meal, pick something that you know your child will eat without a fuss. Though we all like to encourage our kids to try new things, a wedding isn’t the best time for a food-related tantrum.
• Mealtimes. When will the wedding breakfast be served? If it’s much later than your child’s usual mealtime, you may want to pack a lunch for them to eat beforehand – a hungry child is an emotional child.
• Quiet time opportunities. Ask to see the ‘order of the day’, and identify a few key times when you will be able to take your child for a sanity break.
Also, ask for a rough idea of what time the wedding is expected to end. If it’s much later than your child’s usual bedtime, expect to leave early – or arrange for the child to go home with a babysitter while Mum and Dad stay for the party.
4) Arrange a Backup Plan
If there’s one consistent truth about young children, it’s that they’re unpredictable. Due to their brains constantly growing and changing, a young child’s mood and attitude can shift dramatically from one day to the next. They might even get up on the wrong side of the bed and spend the entire day in a tearful tantrum.
That’s why you should always have a backup plan in place, just in case you find that your child cannot handle the wedding on the day. Keep childcare on stand-by, such as a hired babysitter or a friend or relative who isn’t attending the wedding. Let them know you may need to call them at a moment’s notice to come and collect your little one if they’re unable to cope.
5) Get Plenty of Sleep the Night Before
We don’t need to tell you, as a parent, that a well-rested child is a happier child. Tantrums and meltdowns during the day often stem from tiredness.
So if at all possible, ensure that your child gets a full night’s sleep before the big day. If you are going to have to get up earlier than usual on the morning of the wedding, adjust their bedtime the night before accordingly.
And don’t forget that Mum and Dad need their sleep too! If you’re tired and cranky, your patience will be tested more easily and your bad mood might rub off on your child.
6) Dress Them in Comfortable Clothes
Everyone loves the idea of dressing their child in a dapper suit or a beautiful frilly dress for a wedding ceremony. It’s understandable – you want your little one to look their best in the photographs, and garner a lot of “aww”s.
However, the problem with stuffy formal attire is that it can be downright uncomfortable. If your child’s outfit is:
• Made of stiff, rough, or scratchy material
• Difficult to sit, run, play or dance in
• Too tight, or rubs uncomfortably
Then you’re asking for trouble. You should value function over fashion, and choose something practical and comfortable. Remember that your child will have to wear it all day long.
If your child has a role in the wedding and you can’t choose what they wear, bring something comfy to change into after the ceremony. Always bring plenty of spare clothes, wipes and nappies (if applicable) in case of accidents.
7) Bring Your Own Entertainment
A wedding can be an extremely boring event for a young child to have to endure. They’re forced to sit still and keep quiet throughout a ceremony that they couldn’t care less about, and listen to the minister waffle on in grown-up jargon. They’re then expected to stay seated throughout the wedding breakfast, even once they’re finished their meal.
The solution? Bring something for your child to do. You’ll find that your child finds it easier to keep quiet and seated if they have something with which to amuse themselves.
• Small, quiet toys such as a stuffed animal, fidget spinner, tangle toy or stress ball
• Books to read
• A small notepad or colouring book and some crayons or pencils
• An iPad or tablet (with headphones, so that the sound doesn’t disturb people sat nearby)
• Activity books such as word searches or ‘spot the difference’
You should also pack some snacks, just in case your little one gets peckish outside of mealtimes, or doesn’t like the food served.
8) Encourage Good Behaviour
Though it might not always feel like it, children naturally want to please us. They love praise and positive attention. Most of the time, if a young child is being ‘naughty’, they’re not doing it on purpose; they simply feel overwhelmed and don’t know how to handle their emotions.
So, rather than punishing bad behaviour or making threats, try to notice and acknowledge everything your child is doing right. You don’t have to give physical rewards for behaving well, or make a song-and-dance about it. Throughout the day, making simple comments such as “I can see that you’re staying in your seat and trying your best to behave - I’m proud of you” can go a long way to encouraging good behaviour.
9) Don’t Expect Perfection
This last tip is perhaps the most important of all. You can’t expect your child to be behave perfectly all day long, especially if they’re a toddler or pre-schooler. Kids naturally get tired, bored and overwhelmed at weddings. It’s a fact of life, and getting annoyed or shouting when they misbehave won’t help.
Instead, use your child’s cues to recognise when it’s all getting a bit too much. Take them out of the room for a break before things escalate into a meltdown – even if this means missing part of the wedding. Once the ceremony is over, take advantage of any opportunity for your child to run around, play, and let off steam.
Finally, don’t be embarrassed if your child does end up making a scene. As long as you remove them from the room promptly, nobody will mind, and they certainly won’t judge you. Everyone knows what kids are like!