Children at Weddings: Yes or No and What to Do with Them

It is increasingly becoming the norm to exclude children from weddings, presumably to make life easier for some of the adults and also to save money.  For us, having children at our wedding, and involved in the ceremony, was a given, but should you invite them to your big day or not?  And if you do invite them, what to do with children at the wedding ceremony itself and all day long?

When is it OK to not invite children?

Not inviting children to a very formal do, or one that is just in the evening is OK, but people may expect to bring their little ones to a more casual daytime affair.  If families are local and can use their usual childcare or babysitter, it is more acceptable than expecting parents to travel long distance without their kids.  This would also work well if you only want children at the less formal part of the reception.  Parents can leave them with a sitter for the service, meal and speeches, then pick them up for the fun and dancing later.  If families are coming from out of town, find a babysitter here.

Can you invite some children?

I would say no.  Some etiquette experts say it is OK to include the children of immediate family only, but explaining that to your closest friends could be rather tricky!  Better one rule for everyone, so only babies under 1 for example, or only children aged over 7, or none at all, for example.

Lara's first wedding, 6 weeks old

How do you let people know either way?

If you are not inviting children your invitation envelope should state only the parents names.  If the whole family is invited, all names should appear on the envelope or a simple 'The Jones Family'.  A child over age 18 still living at home should receive their own invitation.

As to wording, a simple 'children welcome' should suffice for yes.  For no, a simple message such as 'As much as we love your little ones, our wedding/venue won’t be suitable for children under X years.  Since there are no crèche facilities onsite, we kindly request that you leave them at home with a babysitter.'

This should be backed up by a telephone call to all affected guests telling them yourself, so there is no confusion or upset.  For more important guests, such as family or members of your wedding party, this issue should be addressed far in advance.  Your best friend may not want to be matron of honour if her children cannot attend.

Beware of the affect your decision may have.  If someone is breastfeeding or doesn't want to leave their baby or child at home, don't get upset if they say they can't come.  Again it's better to avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings by actually having a phone conversation early on.

If you are able to offer childcare for part of the day, for example the ceremony or during the meal, let all friends and family who have children know.  If you are including an information sheet with your invitations, let people know that children's activities or entertainment and/or childcare will be available.

So, what do you do with small people all day?

The Ceremony

Ask ushers to remind parents that they are welcome to leave the room if necessary, and make sure everyone knows where the loos are!  Ask them to subtly seat families with young children at the ends of aisles for easy escape if necessary.

Provide a comfort space for feeding or changing babies, and to give them a breather from a long service.  Have quiet bags of assorted snacks and small activities handed out to toddlers and under 7s, in case they get grumbly tummies and moods.

Talk to your minister in advance and see if there is some way to include the children in the ceremony.  Our vicar suggested this and it was a brilliant idea.

Supply baskets of dried flower petals for after the ceremony, bubble blowers and ribbon wands also work well.

The Reception

Where should kids sit and what should they eat?

For the meal a children's table is great for older children, but those under 7 or 8 will be more comfortable seated with mum and dad.  You could even have a separate ante room for young children, with childcare assistants and an entertainer to keep them occupied.  (This may be more challenging for children with disabilities, so consult their parents.)

A separate children's menu is essential, and will usually be less expensive.  Try to choose meals for this just as you would for adult guests, offering a few options, and not just 3 chips with everything meals!  Teenagers would usually choose from the adult menu, but check with parents first.  For very young children, find out if they need a highchair and if special food needs to be provided.

Remember that little tummies need to be filled often, so have snacks for children available throughout the day, to avoid tantrums.  Make sure water is always readily available all day too.  Check your caterer will supply child-friendly cups too, breakages won't be a good idea.

Go easy on the chocolates and sweets, the parents may not want their child stuffed full or Haribo and cavorting on the dance floor till midnight!

How can we keep them busy?

You could hire a conjuror, puppeteer, children's entertainer, or childcare assistants who will being play and craft materials with them.  If you want to manage it yourself, set up a fun area especially for children.  You could have an arts and crafts table, with piles of paper, colouring books, art supplies, glue sticks, crafty bits etc.  (Avoid Play-Doh and stickers, particularly in historic venues.)

Buy board games and books from car boot sales and charity shops for the children to play with - make sure any games are battery-free, noiseless ones though!

If you have outside space invest in some over-sized garden games such as chess, draughts, Jenga, Connect 4, Snakes & Ladders etc.  Traditional fairground games like a hook a duck and splat the rat would also work well.  In a larger space, a scavenger hunt is a great activity for children of all ages.  You might even be able to bribe a willing friend or family member, or some older teens, to organise some good old-fashioned kids party games.

You could also supply individual goody bags at the tables giving them some small toys, finger puppets, crayons, notebooks etc to use during the meal.  Pound shops, The Works and supermarkets have a good range, or try party bag supplies companies online.  Disposable cameras for the children are also a great idea and will keep them busy.  You may even get some interesting snaps!

If you have access to a separate room, set up bean bags and a TV to play a couple of recent children's DVDs on.  Make sure they are U-rated so suitable for all ages.  A photo booth and a dressing up box would also occupy them for ages!

Some parents may ask to bring their own nanny or au pair, and you are under no obligation to accept of course.  If you do agree, remember that she will also need meals and a seat, whether at the table with parents or children, or in the separate space.

Whether you decide to have children at your wedding or not, have a fabulous day!

All photos © Attachment Mummy
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