Trickiest of all can be knowing what’s age-appropriate. Wedding planner Emma Newman says couples often misjudge this, especially if they don’t have wee ones of their own. “Young couples might think that a bouncy castle is the way to go, up to the age of 12, but even an eight-year-old is probably going to be too old for this.” She also points out that today’s kids are
savvier than adults might expect them to be. “Today’s kids are exposed to more through technology and TV – they don’t want to be treated like babies.”
So what’s the best approach? Enter our by-the-years guide to helping you host a family-friendly event that will cater to all your guests’ needs, no matter their age.
Many couples feel nervous about having babies at their wedding – what if they cry their way through the ceremony? But courteous guests will be mindful of the fact it’s your big day
and will slip out of earshot if their baby starts fussing. Help these parents to keep their child contented by providing an area for breastfeeding with comfortable chairs, jugs of water and glasses, a change table, wipes and portable cots.
If you’re the parent in question, ask a trusted family friend or two to play the role of back-up parent for the day, choosing those who won’t mind missing part of the service if they need to step away. Arm them with everything your baby will need, including bottles and formula or breast milk, toys, a dummy, nappies, wipes and a couple of changes of clothes.
Says celebrant Melanie Kerr , “In an ideal world, your baby would be right there with you when you say ‘I do’, however, if the unexpected happens, as it so often does, the bride should not be the person left to handle it. A crying baby or grizzling toddler equals a stressed mum and that’s no way to spend the precious moments of your wedding ceremony.”
If you can’t imagine your special moment without your bundle of joy, include them in your ceremony by carrying them down the aisle, or holding them close during the service.
- Prepare for the unexpected, but smooth the path by keeping your baby to his or her usual routine as much as you can on the day.
- Nana is often the perfect person to hand your baby to after the ceremony. She can circulate around guests, showing off her grandchild while you’re busy being congratulated by everyone.
- If your baby tends to spill, don’t change them into their wedding outfit until just before the ceremony and don’t feed too close to the start of proceedings (if possible) and provide towels or cloths for whoever is burping them.
(18 months to four years)
It’s this age group that’s most likely to provide the unforeseen little moments that everyone will remember fondly for years to come. Melanie once paused a ceremony so the groom could take his four-year-old daughter to the bathroom. Another ceremony was halted temporarily while the bridal party searched for the wedding rings that the two-year-old ring bearer had tossed into the crowd. “If you want everything to go perfectly, don’t include your toddler, but if you’re open to the unexpected, then having that young energy and laughter is lovely,” says Emma.
Preschoolers make gorgeous flower girls, page boys and ring bearers, so if you want them in your day, that’s a wonderful way to do it. Bear in mind their personality, however, as the pressure of performing in front of an audience can send little ones into a spin, so you might like to walk down the aisle with them or have an older sibling or cousin hold their hand. An alternative is pairing them with an adult they know and trust, for them to carry a sign saying ‘Here comes the bride’, and scatter confetti when you exit the ceremony venue or blow bubbles when you arrive at the reception.
As with babies, it pays to organise someone to take responsibility for your preschooler if things turn to custard; seat them on the aisle at the ceremony so they can make a quick exit
if there’s a meltdown. If your guest list includes several young children, it may be worth hiring a nanny or two to help their parents keep an eye on them. Or try Auckland-based Event Childcare , a mobile crèche service with fully qualified staff, toys and resources, safety equipment (including fences and gates) and child-sized furniture.
Ensure preschoolers have the time of their lives (and allow their parents to, too) by enlisting the services of a children’s entertainer. They’re worth their weight in gold for this age group – think magicians, fairies and clowns (hire one who puts his make-up on as part of the act, so children won’t be frightened of him). Provide goody bags containing healthy snacks and toys, ensuring the toys are safe for all ages.
- Feed little ones straight after the ceremony, before the adults eat. A nutritious and well-received option is roast chicken and potatoes with fresh fruit for dessert.
- Many a newlywed has said there was so much happening on the day, that it wasn’t until afterwards that they realised they didn’t get any special photos with their children. Avoid this by having pictures taken before the ceremony or ask someone to ferry your children to and from the photo session and make sure those shots are prioritised.
- If you and your guests will be partying into the night, make sure arrangements have been made for babysitters, neighbours or friends to collect the kids and take them home.
(five to 12 years)
Kids of this age are easily incorporated into proceedings, making them feel special and creating memories they’ll treasure for years to come. Ask your children or a friend’s to do
a special reading at your ceremony, be part of the bridal party, hand out order-of-service cards or usher people to their seats. Older children could even sign the marriage license – there’s no age restriction but they would need to be old enough to understand what they’re signing. Work with their age and personalities, advises Emma. “If your 11-year-old niece feels comfortable speaking in public, have her do a reading, but if she doesn’t, don’t make her.”
There’s a big difference between what will engage a five-year-old and a 12-year-old, so you might like to ask their parents for suggestions as to how to keep their offspring occupied and quiz them as to which foods they like and don’t like to eat. Emma suggests working with kids’ love of technology and making your wedding a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) event. “You could put a little note in the invitation saying, ‘Please don’t worry, we’re a device-friendly wedding’ and even make a joke of it: ‘… as long as you promise to keep an eye on the ceremony and listen to the speeches.’”
Melanie suggests giving kids disposable cameras and asking them to capture the day through their eyes. “You’ll be amazed at the perspective kids have – you’ll get some really unique and fun photos.”
How about setting up a games room with a variety of board games? Or provide a zone with seats and cushions where kids can watch G-rated movies or DVDs of popular kids’ TV series. Sometimes the television series are the better option because the shorter episodes are perfect for short attention spans. They also give parents the ability to change what they’re watching frequently, catering to everybody’s tastes. For an outdoor event, scatter oversized beanbags on the lawn where kids can lounge with snacks and colouring-in books.
- Don’t assume older children will eat from the kids’ menu. “Most eleven- and 12-year-olds wouldn’t baulk at the adults’ main course,” says Emma. It can pay to check with their parents beforehand to avoid any issues during the reception.
- Scheduling your wedding for late morning is a good child-friendly option. Says Melanie: “This way you can celebrate together for hours and still be home for 6pm bedtime. If you have lots of friends with children, a picnic-style wedding could be the ticket, with blankets on the lawn, hampers and lawn games. Keep it relaxed and get the local Mr Whippy to swing by.”
Not quite adults but no longer children, this age group will appreciate being treated accordingly. Roles suitable for five- to 12-year-olds are also applicable to this age group.
Your teen may be comfortable with making a speech at the ceremony or reception; Auckland’s Jocelyn Taylor recently attended a wedding where the bride was given away by her 18-year-old son – there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Activities wise, Emma suggests providing older kids with their own area that is set up with bean bags, Wi-Fi and teen-friendly food like pizza, where they can retreat when they’ve had enough of the adult conversation. They’ll be happiest with their devices, but make sure they know they’re expected to interact with the adults at some stage too.
- For some children, their parents’ wedding day can be a bittersweet affair, no matter how much they might like their step-parent. “A remarriage can magnify the fact there has been a breakdown of their own family unit,” says Melanie, “so I always like to include in the ceremony some special words for the children, no matter what their age. I’ll always mention how very proud the bride and groom are to have their children beside them as they become husband and wife. Respectful acknowledgement of them in the ceremony goes a long way.”
- If you are becoming a step-parent, it is also a special opportunity to acknowledge and talk about the children in your vows.
- We guarantee that most teens will appreciate being shielded from seeing their aunts and uncles letting their hair down on the dance floor, so if they’re keen to go, send them home early with the younger kids.