They say that working with children is one of the riskiest things performers can do, as you can never predict children’s behaviour.
The same thing applies to formal ceremonies – weddings, vow renewals, etc.
One option is to make the event child-free, which is absolutely fine, so long as you make this clear on the invitations.
However, not everybody wants – or is able – to do this. So how can you reduce the risk of your ceremony being taken over by over-tired little Orville or attention-seeking Annette?
Here are some ideas.
If you can give them jobs – and show due appreciation afterwards – they will feel valued and will aim to please.
At the ceremony
Children aged between 4 and 8 or so can serve as flower girls (or boys). One tip here is to make sure that their clothes are comfortable, so they do not become fidgety and, indeed, grumpy.
Older children (between, say, 8 and 14) can be pages or ladies-in-waiting. They may do errands (such as fetching a glass of water or passing messages) and will enjoy the responsibility.
Gift-attendants will suit 12-14-year-olds (assuming the event is big enough for this to be relevant). The children can simply watch over the gifts or possibly tag them with the name of the giver.
You may want a guest-book attendant. Provided that the child is reasonably outgoing, he or she can invite all the guests to sign the guest book. This will probably suit a friendly child over the age of about 14.
Ushers are always useful. Older children may do this best, but they can even have a little train of young ushers to look after. It’s nice if the youngsters can take adult guests by the hand and lead them to their seat!
At the Reception
Food and Drink
Work with the caterer to ensure there is kid-friendly fare out there. I’m personally all for a healthy diet, but on the odd occasion I think we can turn a blind eye. So bring on the chips, mini-burgers, cheese pies, spaghetti hoops, jam or peanut butter sandwiches, Pringles and the like! Provide juice (and if you serve it in goblet-like cups, the children can join in the toasting) and also still water.
Colouring books, sticker books, box decorating, fabric painting are usually popular with children. If you have a separate room for them, then they might be able to watch a video or even play games like bingo or musical chairs. They may need activity directors to organize these activities (pre-teens are often excellent at this).
Bubble-blowing is another popular option.
Finally, don’t forget to offer, if you can, a chill-out space.
Of course, you may be able to enlist the help of a parent or adult friend to supervise what goes on, or hire an entertainer such as a magician, but you might be surprised how successfully youngsters may run the show. And they come somewhat cheaper!
At any rate, the children will appreciate that they have been included in the adults’ celebration in such a way that they can feel useful and really enjoy themselves, and their behaviour should reflect this.
So everyone’s a winner!
Michael Gordon can help prepare and conduct a tailor-made civil ceremony in or around London or, indeed, in Europe.