Nothing sets a romantic tone like a child screeching, ‘I need a wee!’ as you utter ‘I do’. But little ones can bring fun and spontaneity to your big day, with magical one-liners such as ‘You look like a princess’, delivered without a hint of irony. From your ceremony to your carriages, Brides shares the experts’ tried-and-tested tricks for avoiding those tantrums every step of your day…
1. Think easy breezy
‘If you know you’ll have lots of mini guests, consider a venue where everything’s on one site, so parents aren’t stressed out with travel time between the ceremony and reception,’ advises wedding planner Jenna Hewitt (jennahewitt.co.uk) who plans around 30 nuptials every year. ‘The ideal is outdoor space plus accommodation (you could even consider tents), so kids can dip easily between downtime in their rooms and the party zones.’
2. Be crystal clear
If you want to invite children but also ensure they’re kept under control, you need to inform parents from the get-go, says Jenna. ‘On your invites, try something like: “Children are welcome but if you’d prefer to be carefree and let your hair down, leave your little ones at home”. It will clarify that parents who keep an eye on their children are welcome, but it’s also a great excuse for those who want to be child-free for the day.’
3. Get savvy with your selection
‘It’s OK only to invite children of close family – many people do – just make sure you send the appropriate invite to the right guests,’ adds Jenna. ‘You don’t have to make allowances for other parents – it’s your day.’
4. Reveal your running order
When Liz Mossop, 37, married David, 42, last year, 50 of their 200 guests were children aged from six weeks to 16 years. Fifty out of 200! And nope, the couple weren’t even parents themselves at the time. ‘We made the running order really clear on our invites, so that all the parents knew what kind of entertainment we would provide and the times when we’d be eating, meaning that they could be prepared with snacks and distractions,’ says Liz.
5. Keep the ceremony sacred
The only tears you want are the love-struck variety. So how do you lock down tiny howlers? ‘We had a church with a side-room – which many have – and we filled it with toys and broadcast the service into there,’ says Liz. ‘In the order of service we specifically asked guests to take their children there if they couldn’t manage the ceremony, and the vicar tactfully reiterated this before I walked down the aisle.’ Get your ushers on board, too. ‘If the parents are part of the ceremony, sit them at the front, but at the far end of the pew, so they can evacuate in a hurry,’ says Jenna. ‘Put other families at the back.’
6. Supply tricks and treats
‘Think stickers, puzzles, crayons and colouring-in books,’ suggests Susie Young from The Little Top, which offers bespoke wedding childcare (thelittletop.co.uk). ‘Ribbon wands will look really cute in the pictures too.’ And forget blue for boys and pink for girls. ‘Stick with your colour theme so there’s one less thing to argue about – plus your wedding photographs will look more sophisticated, too,’ says Jenna.
7. Handle demonic flower girls
Don’t be fooled by her cuteness; she thinks this is her big day. ‘Keep your flower girls’ involvement really simple to eliminate any stress,’ advises Jenna. ‘Give her a prop like
a basket of rose petals to scatter, or bubbles to blow, and ask her mum or dad to practise with her at home before your rehearsal. Also have her parents swoop her into a pew instead of standing to watch your vows.’
8. Plan cocktail-hour capers
While the grown-up guests dig into Pimm’s o’clock, wow the kids with a wedding guest scavenger hunt. ‘Children have a sheet and pen, and have to spot things like a bow tie, a candle, a blue hat and red lipstick,’ suggests Susie. ‘You could personalise the items to you, and illustrate the list for children who cannot read.’
9. Know your audience
Younger children love anything playful – so think about games where they can jump up and down, and provide a fancy dress box with lots of balloons (then watch them jump up and down with balloons wearing fancy dress). Older children love anything that’s competitive: why not set up your own beach-ball volleyball contest? Ask Snapchat-obsessed teenagers to live-blog your day, (with flattering camera filters, obviously). Everyone loves a bouncy castle and croquet – just watch adults don’t get competitive…
10. Free the beasts
‘Children are more likely to sit still when needed when they’ve had a chance to blow off steam,’ says Susie. ‘A bouncy castle is ideal, but even inexpensive items such as footballs can keep school-age kids occupied for hours.’ Outdoors not an option? ‘Ask the venue in advance for an extra room to create a family VIP area,’ suggests Jenna. She advises zoning one end of the room off as a crazy space, with loads of toys and board games. ‘Then fill another corner with rugs, cushions, books and Frozen playing on a loop so parents have a calm and cosy space for feeding, naptime or talking down a tantrum.’
11. The three Ps of catering for children
i. Personalise: ‘Giving children a smaller portion of fancy food could backfire,’
warns Jenna. ‘Ask your venue to hand out a lunchbox and theme it to your day.’ Try heart-shaped sandwiches and Hula Hoops, so mini guests get a ring on their finger, too.
ii. Prepare to party: ‘If children eat and then leave the table, this can upset a seating plan, leaving lone parents having to shout across the table or missing out on the adult fun,’ says Susie. ‘Try a separate supervised children’s area – with a childminder – where they can eat their packed lunch and play. Activities like Lego challenges will keep them happy.’
iii. Ply with food they can play with: If you prefer to have children at the meal, make their food double as entertainment. ‘Give them biscuits to decorate with icing pens and edible dyes, or set up a fruit kebab-making area,’ suggests Susie.
12. Project a speech-saviour
‘We hooked up lots of wireless “silent disco” headphones to a laptop and then projected a film on to a wall at the back of our venue for the children to watch,’ says Liz. ‘It meant the adults could enjoy the meal, plus speeches, undisturbed. We put a 13-year-old in charge of swapping over the DVD when the first finished. Win, win.’ (Silent disco equipment hire, from £95, silentdiscodirect.co.uk)
13. Get the party started
No need to worry about getting people on the dancefloor – children have no qualms about dragging their parents on to it, so use it to your advantage. Play Tiny Dancer by Elton John to score some cute points.
14. Alcohol 101
Though kids are basically like squiffy adults – they make mischief and fall over a lot – a party heaving with tipsy big people can be overwhelming for kids. ‘Saving the really boozy drinks, like strong spirits, for when children are in bed will stop the party peaking too soon,’ says Jenna.
15. Throw a pyjama sleepover
‘We set up sleepover dens with films, popcorn, and story time for all the little ones so parents can stay late and party with you guilt-free,’ says Susie. Alternatively, set up a corner with blankets and cushions at the end of the marquee farthest from the DJ. Partied-out children curled up together are a sign of the Best. Wedding. Ever.
… Not inviting children? Here’s how to handle it without the parents having tantrums
‘Traditionally, the rule is only those whose names are on the invite are invited,’ says William Hanson, author of The Bluffer’s Guide To Etiquette (£7, Bluffer’s Guides). Nonetheless, some people assume that their little darlings are included. ‘Printing “no children” in black and white sets the wrong tone, while saying “We’re sorry, we can’t accommodate children” is far more palatable,’ he advises. Even so, you may receive a few personal requests – every parent thinks their child is special. How to respond? ‘Try “I’m sorry, please don’t take it personally, and please don’t put us in a difficult position”,’ suggests William. ‘Ultimately, your guests need to act like the grown-ups that they are.’