How to Get Kids to Be “Good” During a Family Photo Session | (Bribery is Not the Answer!)

“Smile nice for the camera and I’ll give you ice cream later!”

“Sit with your brother and I’ll get you chocolate.”

“Want to go to on that playdate later?  You’d better behave now!”

I’ve heard all of this and more during my NY Family Photography sessions over the last ten years.  Parents mean well.  And I get it – there’s a lot on the table.  They want their time with me to go smoothly and to result in the photos they’ve seen in my portfolio and imagined for themselves.  And let’s face it — little Johnny is the wild card.  He, like all kids, is unpredictable. How do we get him to tow the line?

How do you get your kids to be “good” during their family photo session?

I’ve popped in here today to tell you that in 99.9% of cases, bribery is NOT the answer.

Bribery creates a power struggle.

Candy/cupcakes/skittles/privileges are things kids want, of course. But withholding things kids want does not make kids happy, generally speaking. And the threat of withholding those things doesn’t give them the warm fuzzies, either.

Also, can we talk about what candy/cupcakes/skittles DO to kids?  First, they’ve got them on their faces/hands/outfits/teeth.  Not good for pictures.

Moreover, the effects of sugar on children go way beyond the aesthetic. Sugar turns most little kids into whirling dervishes – racing to and fro and bouncing off the walls.  I like high energy in my sessions, but if it’s chemically induced and mixed with the wagging finger of a stressed out parent, the results are rarely what we’re going for.

And then.  After the rush comes the crash.  Poor babies.

Even if your ‘ransom’ comes in the form of a privilege (a playdate, a birthday party, etc), promising that privilege in exchange for “good” behavior creates a tension between you and your kid that is NOT what you’re trying to create and capture and save for yourself and future generations to remember.

So, how DO we get little Johnny to tow the line?

It’s pretty easy, really.

Think about what it is you want to remember.  Snuggles, games, smiles, laughter?  Guess what?  Little Johnny likes those things, too. Little Johnny, in fact, would LOVE to spend a morning with you doing those things.  Having your full attention as you play with him and put him up on your shoulders and brag about his reading skills and ability to do party tricks.  That, in fact, would be little Johnny’s dream morning.

So.  Here’s what you do. Explain to little Johnny that your friend Jaye is coming over and that you and your entire family are going to drift around the house and yard doing the things that you most like to do as a family.  And that you hope he can remember how to make his silliest faces and his best jokes, because you really love to laugh with him when he does that. And would he like to show Jaye his legos when she comes? How he’s learned to sound out words in his books?  Or how gentle he is with his baby brother?  I’ll bet you Johnny will look forward to my visit if you spin it that way.

Be sure to tell Johnny that I love to play games, too, and that I’m wondering if he’s ticklish.  Then, just leave it to me. And trust me – we’ll capture that beautiful smile, that melodic laugh, and the whole story of the mischievous little boy that he is right now.  Poop jokes and party tricks and armpit farts and all.

Thanks for looking,

~Jaye

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