children acting silly flower girls ring bearers wedding

Photo: Carley K Photography

Whether you’re hosting a kid-free wedding or welcoming little ones with open arms, you may face some etiquette dilemmas related to your youngest guests during the planning process. Check out these most-asked questions, and how to handle them.

I want to host a kid-free wedding. How do I communicate this to my guests?
There is no need to write “adults only” on your invitation. Be clear about whom you are inviting by using both outer and inner envelopes as part of your invitation suite. Use the inner envelope to clarify who the invitees are—excluding children’s names if they are not invited. Usually, the exclusion of the words “and family” or children’s names will send a clear enough message. If you’re truly concerned that your guests won’t get the picture, you can hand-write the names of the guests who are invited on the RSVP card for them so they can’t add any additional names—it doesn’t get much clearer than that!

There are a few children who I’m very close with whom I want to invite, but I don’t want a million kids at my wedding. How do I limit the list without offending anyone?
Make a rule and stick to it. If you have children yourself, or children in your family who you are particularly close with, feel free to include them in the wedding party. If anyone questions you, simply say that you are including a few children from your immediate family in your wedding party but that’s all you can accommodate.

What’s the difference between a flower girl and a junior bridesmaid? Can I have junior groomsmen too?
A flower girl is usually between the ages of three and eight, while a junior bridesmaid is not quite young enough to be a flower girl, but not quite old enough to be a bridesmaid, usually between the ages of nine and fourteen. Junior bridesmaids wear an ensemble similar to the bridesmaids, and walk down the aisle as a bridesmaid would. The same goes for junior groomsmen!

flower girls and ring bearer at wedding

Photo: KMH Photography

One of my guests wrote her kids’ names on the RSVP card—but they’re not invited! How do I tell her that her kids aren’t invited without upsetting her?
There are a few ways to handle this situation—but if you’ve decided you’re having a child-free wedding, don’t cave. Call the guest directly and let them know that unfortunately, due to venue capacity and safety, you are unable to accommodate children at your wedding. If the guest protests, be firm but polite. You can also ask a close relative, wedding party member, or future in-law to approach the guest with the same message, if you don't feel comfortable doing so.

Can I invite kids for the ceremony only and make my reception adults-only?
It’s not a great idea. It puts added strain on the parents to find care for their children during the reception, unless you are offering babysitting. For everyone’s sake, invite the kids to both the ceremony and reception or not at all.

How do I ask a child to be my flower girl or ring bearer?
Before speaking with the child directly, ask their parents’ permission privately. Parents know their children best, and will know if a role in the spotlight is best for their little one. If they give you the go-ahead, ask the child if they would like to be a special helper at your wedding. Kids love the idea of being helpers, so that’s a great way to approach it. If you wish, you can even give the child a small gift to sweeten the deal.

How do I get little ones to walk down the aisle without having a meltdown?
Practice, practice, practice. If you have access to the music that will be playing when the child is walking down the aisle, play it for them in advance and practice walking. Giving children something to hold while they walk down the aisle, whether it's basket of flower petals, a sign or a ring pillow, can help, too. Having a parent at either end of the aisle sometimes works—telling a young child “walk to Daddy!” might get them moving. If all else fails, bribe them with candy or a toy. For the youngest of attendants, a parent may need to hold their hand during the processional—and that’s okay, too.

flower girl in wagon

Photo: Krista Lajara Photography

What if the child refuses to walk down the aisle?
No matter how much you have prepared a child for the ceremony, little ones tend to have minds of their own. If your ring bearer or flower girl refuses to walk down the aisle, don’t force them—they will get even more upset. A parent can carry them down the aisle, or if they are particularly unhappy, they can stay with a parent or other relative in a quiet part of the venue to calm down, and then attend the ceremony if they are able.

Where should children sit during the reception?
It is usually best to seat children with their parents. However, if you’re hosting many children who all know each other, they may be happy sitting at their own special kids’ table.

How do I entertain the littlest guests during my reception?
Some kids may enjoy dancing and running around the venue, but others may get bored and need other forms of entertainment. Provide little ones with small games or coloring books at their table. If you are hosting a lot of children and it’s within your budget, you can even create a children’s room with movies, toys, and babysitters—there are actually services in many cities that can set this up for you.