My son and the many children I have spent time with over the years have all taught me a lot about celebrating. From them, I have learned that children love to be in community. They love to wear special clothes and have special jobs and be a part of something important and meaningful. But they also can get tired, shy, overstimulated, hungry, and cranky, and need to be protected and cared for. Celebrations are full of energy.
Whether acting as a ring bearer for a favourite uncle or a flower girl for a grown-up cousin, being honoured themselves at baby naming's or special birthdays, or simply attending a family reunion, children thrive at events like these when they are feeling good, when they are accepted for who and where they are, and when their grown-ups stay a few steps ahead of them (true in life too, right?).
The suggestions below can help you prepare yourselves and your little ones for a great celebration:
For a ceremony honouring a child:
Choose a time that best supports the child’s rhythm. Does your child nap in the morning and have a midday burst of energy? Does an older child start to wind down around 2:30? Watch your child’s energy over a few days before setting a date, to decide when might be the time that he or she is at their best to handle the excitement of a celebration.
Have loved ones close by. On the day of the ceremony, arrange to seat parents, siblings, grandparents, caregivers, and other immediate family very close by, so this is who the child sees. Limit the number of guests: this can be very hard, I know! Remember, although it is fun, a ceremony is also “hard work“ for a young child—a lot of stimulation to take in.
Build in break times for the child. Right after the main event, give yourselves and your child (or children) a cozy ”rest moment” in a quiet room for some down time, a healthy snack, and a nappy change or potty break. Let the party continue to swirl around you as you take a slow, precious breath together.
Keep it short and sweet. Plan on ending early (earlier than grownups probably want!), or have a family member or caregiver take young children outside or back home if the adult group wants to continue on. Even an hour is a lot for a young child to experience, and two hours may be the top limit.
For a ceremony in which the child is a participant:
Steady on. Wedding and other event weekends are often quite a whirlwind, with travel, hotels, new people, missed naps and late bedtimes. As best you can, keep your child’s world as steady as possible—a few favourite toys, built in play times, meals and sleep as close to normal schedules as you can manage. Have healthy foods on hand throughout events, including protein and water, and feed and soothe your child especially just before a required “performance.” A favourite security object to hold on to is nice, as well as quiet activities for necessary sitting-still times.
Practice. Your little one is probably very excited for his or her special role, but could also be nervous—or might be when suddenly facing all the guests!
A rehearsal will be very helpful; bring your own version of whatever “props” are necessary if not available (pillows or baskets or bouquets, etc). If there is not a rehearsal, calmly walk your child through his or her role on the site before guests arrive with lots of reassurance, and permission to come to you or a family member anytime. And of course, if your child decides—even at the last minute—that the role is too much for him or her to do at all, explain this quietly to the adults in charge, find a seat for the child, and keep the mood light—everything will be all right!
Relax and go with the flow. No matter what happens, welcome where your child is and what unfolds. Bring smiles and humour, and relax your fears of performance and perfection—simply be present. This sense of acceptance is a truly welcomed.
Even if you and your family are not an integral part of the ceremony, your child may still need some special attention and want to feel included. Pace yourselves, stay connected, slip out for some play time if necessary, and enjoy!
Jade Gracie is an Independent Civil Celebrant and Celebrant Trainer, a mum of two, and a perfectionist, living in Lancashire. She has Served in the Royal Navy. She enjoys listening to children tell their own stories, as well as supporting adults in telling theirs. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or here. If you are interested in becoming a family or funeral celebrant have a look here.