You are so excited about an upcoming newborn session. You can’t wait to cuddle the new baby, as you soothe them to sleep and pose them. Then you find out that the parents want to include their toddler, or even worse, toddlers! Now the excitement has changed to anxiety about throwing a toddler into the mix. Toddlers can be unpredictable, difficult to bribe, and sometimes want nothing to do with the new little person in their life.
Take a deep breath and remain calm. You can do this! Here are my three secrets to getting amazing toddler and newborn photos:
1. Friend the older sibling
What are their interests?
Remember that just a couple weeks ago, they were front and center in their parents’ lives. There have been a lot of changes, and most likely a little less attention for them.
Talk with the parents to find out about big sister. What does she like? Does she have any favorite songs or shows? What is her favorite treat? Talk with mom and dad beforehand, and see if they are okay with a little reward. Make big sister the center of attention when you arrive. Get down on her level, tell her about yourself, and ask her questions. Have her introduce you to her new baby sister. You want big sister to trust and like you.
Siblings make great helpers
Toddlers are so curious, and love to help. Show them some of the hats or headbands you brought for their little sibling. Ask them to pick out their favorites. Once they are comfortable with you, it will be a lot easier to get them to listen, when you want to take a picture with their new baby sister.
After you are done setting up, ask them to help you test out the light. If you can get them to lie down, the battle is half over. Tip: have baby all wrapped up and ready to go, before you have big sister help by being a light tester.
2. Let the toddler rule the session
Now that you and big brother are friends, give him some choices. He needs to know that he is in charge. Forcing him to do something he doesn’t want to do, can backfire.
Some choices could be:
- Do you want to lay down on this cream rug or this blue rug?
- Would you like your baby brother on this side or that side?
- Would you like to kiss your brother or look at the camera?
- Do you want the red truck or the blue car as your prize?
Choices make big brother feel in control. If he doesn’t want to cooperate in the beginning, that’s okay. You can try again later.
Do you want to take the picture now or come back in 5 minutes?
Let him take a break and then you can try again in a little bit. Use this break to get some images of baby alone. After big brother has had a break, you can give it another try. Sometimes multiple breaks are needed.
Tell big brother what to expect, and how long it’s going to take. Children have a much easier time if they know what to expect, and that there is an end time. You want to tell them what they’re going to do, how many pictures you’re going to take, and what happens after (the reward!).
“We are going to take a picture of you and your baby brother for mommy and daddy. It won’t take long. I will take five photos, then we’ll be done and you can pick out your prize! I’m going to start counting. 1 – 2 – 3 …”
Counting works great as even young toddlers can understand counting to three or five. You can take multiple photos while you draw out one number so you’ll end up with a lot more than five. With squirmy toddlers, multiple images are definitely needed. Once you hit the number, they are done.
If you don’t think you got a useable image give them a choice of counting again or taking a break. You want it to be short and sweet so big brother is more likely to cooperate.
3. Praise and Reward
After big sister has done what you have asked, give her a lot of praise. Even if all she did was make a choice to do pictures in five minutes instead of now. You asked her to make a choice, and she did. Great job big sister! It might not seem like a big win, but it will help when you try again.
Praise and thank big sister for every little thing she does. Kids love being praised, and to know that they are doing a good job. There is no such thing as too much praise when you are trying to get a toddler to cooperate.
Make a toy chest or prize bin. You can add toys that your children don’t play with anymore, or find items at the dollar store. When you first meet big sister and are becoming friends, show her what you brought. Point out a few items in your prize bin, and tell her that after she takes some pictures, she’ll get to pick out any one item to keep.
While you are praising big sister, remind her of her reward. “You are doing such a great job with your little brother. I can’t wait to see what prize you pick out!”
You can show the prize bin during breaks. A toddler’s attention span isn’t the greatest, so sometimes they need reminding that they’ll get a prize soon. For a real challenging toddler, you can let them pick out their prize ahead of time, and put it on a shelf or with mom and dad as a reminder.
Do you have any other tips for working with toddlers and newborns? Let us know if you try these and how you make out. Please share your results in the comments below.