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The Elusive Smile: Do’s and Don’ts to Get Your Kid to Cooperate for Photos


Yes I am gratuitously sharing a photo of my little guy. But, this will also be for the greater good, I promise. Hopefully the fact that I was a teacher for seven years, and that my kid is seriously one of the MOST stubborn and independent kids you will ever meet will work in everyone’s favor here.

Yes you read it right- the cute kid with the smile on his face above is the same one who literally does the opposite of everything I ever ask lol…but you wouldn’t know it from the photo above, right??

If you are one of the lucky ones whose kids are awesome and look at the camera and smile without any prodding, stop and thank the universe right now, because you are totally the minority! If you, like me, have a kid who whines, makes weird faces, jumps around, and looks anywhere BUT at the camera….half the time flat out refusing to look at the camera, welcome to the club.

The bad news is, I don’t have some magic spell for enchanting your kids into smiling. But the good news is I will share all my secrets so that you have a much better chance of getting some smiles! Photo sessions can feel like work if you have stubborn kids who don’t feel like cooperating. Hopefully these tips will take some of the stress out of it, and will help you get the most kid “smilage”. (<– Yeah I just made that word up haha).

I will keep this a quick and easy read, since we all know parenthood doesn’t afford us much free time to do things like read blog posts haha.

Before I give you my list of suggestions, let me start by admitting that the large majority of this list is basically me giving you tips on how to play major mind games with your children in order for them to do something you want them to do without them really knowing they are doing something you want them to do lol. If you are against things like white lies or bribery (for a good cause haha) you might as well stop reading now. If you, like me, will go to great lengths to get a smile in a picture, read on!

Also important to note- these tips are mostly applicable for ages 3 and up **


1. Have your kids try on their photo sesh clothes ahead of time.
This way you can avoid roadblocks on the day of your photos- for instance: if they say they are itchy you know they need a shirt underneath, etc. Also, consider making a huge production out of how special they are, how they look like a princess/superhero/otherwise awesome something-or-other in them. Don’t tell them the clothes are for the pics.

In fact, just say they are ONLY for VERY SPECIAL times and they can wear them again if they listen. This will (maybe/hopefully) get your kid interested in the clothes which they otherwise would most likely  have wanted to avoid. Little tricks like drawing a batman symbol on the tag and calling it a “secret batman” shirt can entice them. (And for more awesome tips on outfit selection click here!)

Also, if you find that your baby will NOT keep on the headband or your toddler keeps pulling off the clip on tie, this is the time to decide whether to nix it completely, find a replacement, or find a way to convince them to wear it. Knowing this stuff ahead of time will help alleviate day-of headaches.

2. Practice posing
Some kids (even those who are willing to smile) have super fake or, let’s be honest, kinda weird smiles haha! My kid is one of them. My nephew is another one of them. If I say “smile” they usually look like this lol:

Of course both of these looks are hilarious and adorable and full of personality  and I love them. In fact, the photo of my son on the left is actually hanging on the wall. But I also want a few where he is smiling in a little more “natural” way haha. So practice. Show them in the mirror what a funny smile looks like and what a cute smile looks like. It is OK to make crazy faces! But it is also good for them to practice making a less wacky face too. Make this practice session fun- its not drilling them, just having them notice how it feels to smile in the way you want.


1. Be prepared with age appropriate bribes.
Think about what YOUR kid likes. If they are younger, it is good to have something on hand to give them between shots (food!) so that when they smile they get immediate gratification! For older kids, pick a little dollar store toy or something. For us, we went to the store ahead of time to pick a toy. He didn’t get to open the toy until after the whole session was over.

2. Be prepared with an emergency back up outfit change for your kids.
Don’t expect to have time to use both outfits, because honestly that probably won’t happen, but have something on hand in case of a chocolate milk crisis, etc.


OK, now for the actual session, this is where it is do or die haha! This is the part where all you can think about is how much money you spent on the outfit and the photos and how you want to strangle your child for wasting everyone’s time crying about the rock in their shoe, or throwing a tantrum…etc, etc etc….

Although I can’t guarantee success, I will say these tips should make the whole process a bit less painful!! So here is my official list of Do’s and Don’ts for Optimal Kid Smilage 🙂



In daily life, I am not really a fan of bribes, and I am more of the mindset that my kid should be doing something because I said so. However, this is a whole different set of circumstances haha. For photo sessions, I not only suggest bribes, but I advocate things they don’t normally get on a daily basis- kids will work harder for treats than for snacks they get all the time. It is also a good idea to let your kids pick them: they will work for something they want more than they will work for something you thought they would want. (You don’t want them crying that they wanted the blue fruit snacks when you brought the red haha). Candy is great as long as it isn’t sticky, messy (aka chocolate) or something that takes forever to chew/eat. So lollipops are a no-go because they are sticky and kids can’t eat on or two between shots. Things like mini marshmallows or fruit snacks are my personal go-to for little ones, and for older kids it can be something a little bigger like a small toy or a trip to the ice cream shop or dollar store. Sometimes it is best to have the bribe with you though, just so that you can literally hold it up and remind them of it!

Because what is the quickest way you smile? Seeing someone else smile or laugh! Even if you are stressed out, try to put on a relaxed face. If you are taking pictures with your kids and you are in the shot, this is a big one. You set the tone. Laugh, smile and have fun and chances are they will too.

Try to laugh with and at them. Do things like tickling, funny faces, silly words ( if all else fails, for my kid this means even resorting to using a “potty word” like “poop” that we aren’t normally allowed to say lol! Wag you finger at me for it if you want, but look whose kid is smiling like a Gap model here hahaha!) Sometimes kids will laugh with nonsense words, phrases and songs too! Funny faces, jumping up and down, all options, especially if you are the one behind the photog while your kids are in the shot.

Saying things like “wow you are doing a great job, here’s a marshmallow” or ” it looks like you are really going to love going to get ice cream afterward with that awesome smile” will put the end goal back in their head.

Don’t be worried about time. Yes, you have a limited amount of it, but forcing your kid to smile for 30 minutes straight just won’t work. Let them have a breather and the photographer will probably get some good shots during the downtime. Let them have wiggle breaks, cuddle breaks, feeding/nursing/diaper changing breaks. Giving them downtime will make them perform better during the time you are asking them to focus/listen.

This is easier said than done because often we are stressed about the time (and money!) invested. But I promise you, sometimes kids acting silly, running and jumping can make for the best photos! Trust your photographer. If he or she says its ok for your kid to run around, let them. Most kids won’t just sit and listen for more than 5-10 minutes at a time. That is normal and it is OKAY! Worst case scenario the kids needed a break, best case scenario they are getting shots like this: 


I am all for letting kids understand there are negative consequences in life. And when my kid is acting like a maniac during photos, I want to tell him ” I guess you don’t want that toy we picked out, huh??” as much as the next person. However, trust me when I say that your photo session is not the time to use time out, taking away privileges etc etc. The reason is because those tactics are all used to help your child understand that they need to do what you are asking  (X ) to or there is a consequence, be it a natural consequence or one doled out by you (Y). For example, do your homework (X) or you won’t get a good grade (Y)- that’s stating a natural consequence. But when you state the natural consequence in this case, you aare saying smile (X) or we won’t have great pictures (Y), and this is not convincing them of anything haha. And adding in a parentally-created consequence (“smile or you won’t get ice cream!!”)  isn’t going to make them smile either, in fact it will most likely make them dig their heels in and pout or even cry lol. I am reminding you of this now and you will have to remind yourself of this during the session. Because this one is HARD. Even though I KNOW it doesn’t work in this situation, I have still been known to say it to my own kid anyway. So, take it from me, this merely makes it worse! It gives you a crying, snotty kid to deal with instead of a less than cooperative one haha!

Don’t spend too much on pinterest picking out family poses. Also during the session, don’t waste time making sure every single part of your child’s body is perfectly posed. Sometimes I have well-meaning parents jumping in to fix the direction of a child’s leg during a session, and right then and there I had a smiling happy child and I missed that shot. People aren’t perfect. Kids are unpredictable. Let your kids be themselves. Again, trust your photographer to know when a shot will still be perfect even if they aren’t positioned in the way pinterest told you they should be lol. Would you rather have a complicated pose be a total failure or a simple one be a huge success? If you look at the poses I did above, they aren’t really poses as all, just basically me trying to get my energetic almost-four-year-old to simply stand still. I still captured some that *look* like he is posing! This is an illusion because I was snapping away the whole time in order to catch that split second he happened to be looking my direction haha. Also, photographers can often crop, photoshop etc to fix the part that isn’t quite perfect. Let your photographer worry about that part.

Even during the most chaotic session with my own child or someone else’s, I can catch smiles. It may not always be the looking-directly-at-the-camera baby model smiles that you see here, but I will get a few smiles every time, and you will still love them. And, if you follow these suggestions, they chances of them actually cooperating will go up drastically. Worst case scenario the pictures you will get at a photo session will be better than your iPhone so don’t set a negative tone by being worried 🙂

A few more tricks:

* Use calming techniques, whether it be a wiggle break or having them take a few deep breaths, do things to help your kids feel comfortable and calm

*Have wiggly kids put hands in pockets to keep them from moving them in weird directions.

*Be flexible with accessories. Try some photos with a headband, tie or hat, but also be willing to let them take it off if they get sick of it. This is all part of that “go with the flow” thing I mentioned above. If you notice in the photos below, we lost the hat for a bunch and then he insisted on getting rid of the tie halfway through. Just remember, the accessories don’t make the photo, the smile does!

*Think about the types of photos that are most important to you and let your photographer know ahead of time (if they don’t ask). For instance, maybe you REALLY want a family photo, or you specifically want a sibling picture. This way the photog can gauge whether it would be best to try that pose right away, or whether to let your kids get comfortable and do it later on. But, going back to the list above, don’t stress if it doesn’t happen. You will most likely still love the photos even if you didn’t get the exact pose you wanted.

*If you see that something (a pose, for instance) just isn’t working, ask to skip it or come back to it. It is important to trust your photographer, but as a parent, you know your child’s threshold and it isn’t worth it to push them past it.

And, just because I really want a good reason to share these hehe, here are some more from my session with my guy last night! 🙂 🙂 Notice that they aren’t all perfect but that they capture his personality! That should be your goal,too 🙂 Good luck!!! 





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