By Ava Carroll-Brown*
There is much to be said about the attendance or participation of children at a wedding. Watching a little girl sprinkle petals down the aisle or a young boy proudly carry a satin pillow tied with rings is guaranteed to bring a smile to guests’ faces. However, a wedding is an adult situation, and asking a child to act like an adult, with no display of misbehavior and certainly no meltdowns, is impossible. Keep these considerations in mind if you decide to include or invite children.
Including children in the ceremony
I feel that the perfect age for a child to take part in a wedding ceremony is 5 and older. At this age, children understand the duties of their important role and can usually be encouraged to complete the job with little or no drama. But if the child is a toddler, the opportunity for reasoning is limited and the child’s comfort zone must be considered. The length of any aisle is a long way to walk for a child, especially if the seats in the ceremony space are filled with unfamiliar faces.
If very young children will take part in your wedding processional and ceremony, I suggest the following:
- Incorporate a familiar face: When the child is walking down the aisle, have the child’s parent in full view of the child. This may mean having the the parent sit in the first or second row next to the aisle or, if the parent is a member of the bridal party, step forward a bit. The parent can encourage and guide the child by smiling, talking quietly and even holding up a little toy or box of crackers. When small children are focused on a parent or familiar face, their attention is directed on that person and not on all of the unfamiliar faces, making their entrance a simple walk instead of a terrifying journey.
- Excuse children from the ceremony rehearsal: Most people, including many wedding planners, insist that all members of the bridal party should be present to practice the processional and to become acquainted with their placement at the unity area. If the child is younger than 5, I suggest to not have the child attend the ceremony rehearsal. Most children will try something once, and that includes one journey down the aisle with little or no episodes. Reserve that one journey for the actual ceremony, rather than take the chance of a wedding day meltdown.
- Have children sit, rather than stand: When the children arrive at the unity area, don’t expect them to stand properly and quietly throughout the entire ceremony—they are children! Instead, have the children sit in the first row with family members or a sitter so they can enjoy a snack or play quietly with a small toy, giving the attention to the bride and groom, as it should be. The prelude, processional, ceremony and then recessional is a minimum of 30 minutes—a long time for a child to be expected to be perfect!
Following a wedding ceremony, many couples offer a cocktail hour, allowing the bridal party members to have their formal photography taken while the guests enjoy hors d’oeuvres and beverages. A cocktail reception is definitely an adult situation and most often not geared towards children. If a child is part of the bridal party, after the photography, have a relative or sitter take the child to a guest room or home if convenient. Children can change into comfortable attire, enjoy a meal in a more suitable area, play and go to bed at their scheduled time.
If children are allowed at the wedding reception, you must make some special arrangements. These may include:
- Offering a children’s meal and snacks.
- Providing items such as crayons, quiet games and books.
- Having an adult sitter at the kids’ table to supervise the activities and behavior.
- Making sure children have had a late nap or that parents are willing to leave early when children get tired.
*Ava Carroll-Brown is a nationally known event planner and etiquette expert with more than 30 years of experience. She is the founder of Brownstone Place, a wedding and event planning company, and the author of Where IS Your Mother: A Simple and Suggestive Guide to the Basics of Proper Etiquette and Simple Grace.