How to Handle Uncooperative Kids During Family Photos

You may read that title and think, “my kids won’t be uncooperative!” Or you may think, “why would I want photos if my kids are not going to cooperate?” If the second response is you, I encourage you to read this entire post and let it help you feel encouraged. If you’re the first, I applaud your optimism! But you may want to read, just in case!

Let’s begin with a true life example.

Let me tell you a story about a family session I had in January. This was not just any family photo session, it was an extended family session, including siblings, grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles. All this and one family was coming from the East Coast. We had set a date, and there was no wiggle room. We had a back up plan, in case of rain. However, that Monday morning was sunny, cold, but gorgeous. I could not have asked for a better day for a family session in winter in Seattle.

Keep your cool (no matter what) because kids will be kids.

As we were walking to our first spot, one of the little girls was not excited about the process. She wanted to be held and she was not happy. I’m sure she would have rather been anywhere else. This could have gone very wrong right here. If mom and dad had been angry and putting the pressure on her, even tossing in a threat, I’m certain the girl would not have responded well.

Instead, her parents were very laid back and did not let this get to them at all. I had them hold her, snuggles her close, and love on her during the first big group photos. She wanted to be held, so we capitalized on that. Again, mom and dad were rock stars, as they just smiled at her and loved on her (even if they may have been feeling frustrated, they didn’t let it show).

Uncooperative Kids During Family Photos, Neyssa Lee Photography, Seattle Family Photographer, Issaquah Photography, Photo of Mom and dad holding toddler girl

Then when I split the families up, I had mom (who was still holding her) just play and dance with her. It wasn’t about smiling for me, but for playing with mom. And did she ever smile big. Because mom and dad kept their cool, just loved on her more, and then we made it more of a game, we were able to capture beautiful photos of her.

Uncooperative Kids During Family Photos, Neyssa Lee Photography, Seattle Family Photographer, Issaquah Photography, Photo of Family of four with mom and daughter smiling big

Pack snacks for younger children.

Sometimes our kids just need a break and a little pick me up. Prepare ahead of time by having a few snacks packed in the diaper bag or your purse. Keep in mind that you’re still taking photos, so select “clean” snacks. Things that can stain or leaves mouths messy (think chocolate, cheese crackers, etc) are not ideal. If you want a “treat” fruit snacks are the perfect option as they are little, and have many in a pack you can divvy out as needed.

Make the photo session seem like an adventure.

When photographing kids, I love to make it seem like an adventure out with family. This isn’t about sitting still for photos, it’s about exploring with your family. When I can tell we have exhausted an area of our location, I will suggest, let’s go explore and see what we can find! This usually gets them excited to run ahead, and help find a fun new spot.

For this family session, that is just what happened. This girl was ready to walk down the trail and see what else there was. Mom and dad encouraged her. Because they had kept their cool and went along, she was happy and all about time at the park with her family.

Bring warm layers for your kids that you are okay with in photos.

Cold kids are uncooperative kids. They may start off okay, but as they get cold that will be all they can focus on. (Trust me, I shared all about how unprepared I was for my own family session and paid the price. Read about it at What I Learn From My Own Family Photo Session). This family was well prepared so cold was not an issue for them. Hats, gloves, scarves, not only keep heads and hands warm, but can add an adorable dimension to your photos.

The key is to make sure whatever you bring and offer to your children, you are okay with in photos. Do not expect to bring a coat you don’t like and ask them to take it off after putting it on as we move between areas for your photos.

Uncooperative Kids During Family Photos, Neyssa Lee Photography, Seattle Family Photographer, Issaquah Photography, Photo of baby girl in bear hat in gorgeous backlight

Sometimes things happen outside of our control.

At the beginning of our session, this sweet boy (remember, this was an extended family session) had huge smiles and was ready for his picture to be taken. But as our time progressed, he became more and more standoffish and not wanting to participate. It felt sudden, but I told the family not to push it and we would give him a little break. We took photos of the grandparents with most of the grandkids and focused on the other family again. When it was time to photograph him, he still didn’t want to participate. Dad was holding him and I directed dad to just continue to snuggle him and bring him over, but not make him do anything. What we got was a beautiful, and intimate family photo.

Uncooperative Kids During Family Photos, Neyssa Lee Photography, Seattle Family Photographer, Issaquah Photography, Photo of Family of five

Moments after this was taken, mom got really sick. It turned out the boy and mom had come down with the flu and symptoms were starting to show during their session!

Now, this was at the end of their session and we had managed to get many great family photos at this point. However, when something happens that is out of our control, like getting sick, it is okay. We can always reschedule for another day!

Trust in your photographer.

I may sound like I’m on repeat if you’ve read other blog posts, but I cannot stress this point enough. If you have never had a lifestyle family session with me (or another photographer for that matter) you may go into it with images you’ve seen on my feed imaging how “perfectly” those kids were behaved. Trust me when I say, that it may not feel like those photos look. It may feel a little chaotic, like your kids never stop moving. So how could we possibly get any good photographs of your family? But trust me, we are getting gorgeous photos that show off your family beautifully, while showing off your personality.

If you do trust in your photographer, just love on your kids, smile, play, let go, you may find yourself saying at the end, “that was fun!” (I’ve had many a surprised parents say that at the end, and I know my job was done!)

Now that you are prepared, schedule your own family photo session.

With these tips right here in this blog post, are you ready to take the next step and schedule your family photo session? Once you pick a date (at the link below) I will contact you and provide you with everything you will need to know to prepare you for your family session. Then on picture day, you just show up and love your family.

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