Unless you're having a black-tie affair, chances are good that at least a couple of kids will be guests at your wedding. Whether they're nieces, nephews, cousins or your own children, it's generally a good idea to make a few provisions to keep them (and thus, their parents) happy during your ceremony and reception.
Kid-friendly wedding ideas run the gamut from cheap and easy to costly and elaborate. The ideas you choose to use hinge directly on your budget, as well as the number of kids in attendance.
To get you started, here's our list of 10 ideas for child-friendly weddings to make the event more memorable and enjoyable for guests of all ages.
10: Kids' Meals Matter
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No one's saying you need to have a Happy Meal at every child's seat, but it's worth investigating whether your caterer can provide kid-friendly menu alternatives. Although some children might enjoy the filet mignon and asparagus that the adults will be eating, younger munchkins are more likely to scarf down a plate of chicken fingers and french fries.
If you're going with a buffet instead of a seated dinner, there will probably be some kid-friendly options somewhere down the line. Kids might go crazy for cheese and fruit platters -- or even a fancy ham and cheese from the carving station. It's nice to cater to kids, but the more options you provide to all your guests, the more likely there will be something kid-approved.
Be sure to ask parents about any food allergies their kids might have. You want your guests to safely enjoy their meal rather than making a dash for the nearest emergency room.
9: Fun Favors
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One way to make your wedding more enjoyable for younger guests is to provide favors they can appreciate.
Rather than mints or matches, consider giving candy favors as an alternative. Among today's delicious options are personalized M&Ms or chocolates molded into the shape of wedding bells or hearts. Some brides create candy shop favor tables, where guests can fill up bags or boxes with selections from jars filled with favorites -- everything from jelly beans and sour worms to peanut butter cups and lollipops. It goes without saying that this new tradition is popular with grown-ups and kids.
But not every favor has to be edible. You can hit up the dollar store for small toy favors that kids can enjoy during the party. These extra treats don't have to be over-the-top. A princess crown or some plastic cars are often all it takes to occupy tiny hands and minds for hours on end -- or at least until the wedding cake is cut!
8: Go the Destination Route
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Face it: Most kids anticipate a wedding with all the excitement of a doctor's appointment, thanks to the uncomfortable clothes, cramped accommodations at Aunt Mildred's and long church ceremony they have to endure.
Weddings held at a more exciting location are another story altogether. Tykes attending a beach wedding might enjoy sitting at their mothers' feet during the ceremony and playing with a small toy truck in the sand. And the beach is just one destination venue! Many fun-loving couples are selecting less traditional locales, such as the San Diego Zoo or Disney theme parks for their event. Few parents with the financial means to attend would balk at the opportunity to turn a wedding excursion into an all-out vacation.
7: Give Them Responsibilities
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Some kids are energetic by nature, while others get restless only when they're bored.
Keep the wiggles at bay by giving children of all ages some responsibility during your ceremony and reception. Obvious role choices for children you're close to include serving as a flower girl, junior bridesmaid or ring bearer. Other kids who might be hurt they're not included in the festivities, or who just like to help out, can take on other tasks. Kids of all ages can roam the reception taking photos with disposable cameras. Older children can pass out wedding programs, party favors or cake on nonbreakable plates.
Whatever the role, dishing out a little bit of light responsibility on such an important occasion often leaves a child feeling appreciated and respected.
6: Help the Parents Plan
Brides who plan on having formal photos taken with younger guests might want to snap their shots first, before they get too restless, cranky or (heaven forbid) hungry.
It's impossible to know the stress involved in taking a child to a special event unless you've experienced it firsthand. When any parent receives a wedding invitation, he or she is automatically faced with a barrage of questions. Will the ceremony interfere with naptime or bedtime? What if Jack gets cranky and cries during the ceremony or the reception toasts? Will he strip down to his diaper and streak during the bride and groom's first dance?
Help parents navigate the event by letting them know the general itinerary ahead of time. That way, they can plan naps, feedings and potty breaks accordingly. Also, be sure to tell them in advance if their child will be necessary for pictures and during what time frame the photos will be taken.
5: Consider the Time
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Even the sweetest kid can morph from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde as bedtime approaches!
If you want to have young children at your wedding, it's best to hold the event well before bedtime. But if only nighttime nuptials will do, appease parents of infants and older nappers by offering up a quiet room at the ceremony or reception site where kids can retreat for their regular siesta.
The event coordinators at these venues can arrange for the use of an extra room ahead of time, and you can stock it with a couple of playpens borrowed from the on-site nursery or from friends and family. Sometimes, a short snooze is all it takes to re-energize a baby or toddler and turn him into the life of the party.
4: Keep 'em Separated
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Kids are unpredictable, at best. If you don't mind a few murmurs during the ceremony or some excited squeals at the reception, mingle with the munchkins! After all, that's why you invited them, right?
But, you can opt to keep kid-related distractions at a minimum by establishing a separate playroom for children under a certain age. Surrounded by toys, movies and snacks, kids will be thrilled to wreak havoc under the watchful eye of a background-checked babysitter. Or, family and friends with kids can rotate watch so kids are with a familiar face and adults get to enjoy the party, too.
Of course, you can't require a parent to leave his or her child in the care of a stranger, but chances are good that grown-ups will jump at the opportunity to enjoy a few hours among party-goers who are capable of cutting their own food.
3: Provide Reception Entertainment
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There are other options worth exploring if a separate, staffed room isn't available or within your budget. Kids who are distracted, kept busy or entertained in the main event area will be much better behaved than those who sit idle at the grown-ups table and get bored.
Consider hiring a balloon artist, caricaturist, clown or magician to entertain kids in a designated corner of your reception room. Just don't let the magician abracadabra away the bride's bouquet!
If that kind of specialty entertainment isn't in the budget (and none of your friends will volunteer to don a clown suit for a few hours), opt for some low-brow fun. Kids can also be remarkably distracted by a few strategically placed activity tables with non-messy crafts, board games or toys. For a seated dinner with several (read: booooring!) courses, provide activity sheets and crayons for children to color between courses. Or, cover the kids' table with butcher paper and let them draw on the "tablecloth." Talk about fun!
2: Protect Yourself and Your Guests
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We know you don't want to be a completely uncool hostess, but an underage kid who gets drunk at your wedding is a liability and a tragedy waiting to happen.
Be aware of the underage crowd, and instruct bartenders to ask for identification from the younger guests, particularly since some of the older "kids" will look more like adults.
1: Lower Your Expectations
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Even the most mild-mannered kids get antsy or yell out funny phrases from time to time.
If you want to have kids at your wedding, be aware of the risks that are involved, and make an effort not to sweat the small stuff. Opt instead to see how sweet and unique their presence is at your ceremony and reception (dollar dance with the flower girl, anyone?).
If the idea of child-related disruptions is too much for you to handle, you should probably make your soiree an adults-only affair. Just be sure to communicate this in a polite way, so that parents can make other arrangements for their little ones. According to basic wedding etiquette, make this clear by addressing the inner envelope of the invitation with just the parents' names. Should parents RSVP for four instead of two, a simple phone call can clear up the misunderstanding.
It's not the bride's responsibility to provide childcare for young guests, so don't feel obligated to do so. One courtesy you can offer is to put guests with young children in touch with one another so parents can go in together on the cost of a babysitter.