5 Tips for Including Children and Animals in Your Wedding

Including children in the wedding ceremony is an old tradition, dating back as early as medieval times. No wedding would be complete without a ring bearer or flower girl, roles traditionally held by young relatives of the bride or groom. For modern day weddings, more and more couples are choosing to include their pets in the ceremony as well, often in place of children for the ring bearer or flower girl roles.

With both children and animals, certain accommodations must be made to help the wedding ceremony and reception run smoothly. Let’s be honest; dropping your dog into the middle of a bunch of strangers and exciting new stimuli isn’t exactly setting them up for success. Young children easily get tired, cranky, and whiny after a time if they’re not looked after properly.

The old-time comedian and actor W.C. Fields wisely stated “Never work with children or animals,” referring to how they always steal the show. As cute as it is, managing children and animals during your special day can still cause extra stress and take your attention away from celebrating this day with your new spouse. These tips will help you manage the situation and set realistic expectations for how including animals or children in your ceremony will look in reality.

Set Realistic Expectations

Before making the decision to include youngsters or furry friends in your wedding, it’s important to understand exactly what to expect from the experience.

If you watched a royal wedding, you may have the impression that the children in your wedding will be as well-behaved as the entourage that preceded Meghan Markle or Kate Middleton. Those children are royals and nobles, brought up in front of the public eye with pomp and circumstance ingrained into them at a young age. The children in your life more than likely do not have the same experience. Likewise, we’ve all seen adorable videos of pets behaving perfectly at a wedding. It’s important to remember that those are all carefully cut and curated clips; the original poster is only showing you the very best moment, not any of the chaos that happened before or after.

It’s not going to be perfect. Even if the child or animal performs flawlessly in the rehearsal, that doesn’t always translate to the big event with so many people with all eyes on them. Be prepared for mistakes, for children who get scared and refuse to go down the aisle, or a dog who gets too excited and wants to greet everyone in their seats instead of walk down to the altar.

Depending on the age of the children in your wedding, they may not fully understand the importance and significance of the event. An animal definitely doesn’t know why this day is so different than any other. Remember not to put too much weight on the moment; consider it just a photo opportunity for you to look back on fondly later. Anything more is unrealistic and unfair to the child or animal.

Enlist Help and Support

Having someone you trust to take care of your pets or young relatives before, during, and after the wedding is an absolute must. Whether you’re hiring a sitter to help for the day or setting up a plan with guests, the children or animals involved in your wedding will need more attention than you’ll be able to provide them from the altar.

Walking down the aisle might be their only job, but it can be one of the biggest challenges. Depending on the age of the child, they may need a helping hand to encourage them. Animals almost always need to be led down on leash. Making sure that you pair the child or animal with someone who they trust will help soothe their nerves and guide them down the aisle. Parents or older siblings are always a good choice. If your pet doesn’t have much experience with other people, help them get to know a trusted friend and practice walking together leading up to the wedding.

For pets in particular, the best thing to do after their limited involvement is over is to take them back somewhere quiet and comfortable for them. Rather than leave your own wedding, a sitter can manage the animal and make sure they’re well taken care of while you enjoy your ceremony and reception.

Likewise with children, having a sitter available to watch them while their parents enjoy the reception takes stress off of everyone, including the youngsters. Having a separate space for kid-friendly activities during the reception can also make the event go more smoothly.

Accept Atypical Traditions

In order to get the best possible outcome, compromises should be made. Changing the order of the processional and altering other wedding traditions can help optimize the event for the success of the child or pet participating. Remember, we’re going into this knowing that it will more than likely not be the perfect royal wedding we all hope for, but creating good memories is more important.

Instead of your flower girl being sent down the aisle just before the bride, send her down before the maid of honor. This way, if she gets distracted or choked up in front of everyone, the maid of honor can help usher the child down the aisle and keep the ceremony moving. Otherwise, the bride will be stuck waiting until someone is able to coax the child or animal down the aisle and can create a more awkward moment.

Even older children can get shy and nervous about walking down the aisle with all eyes on them. Instead of forcing a child to process down the aisle one at a time, consider allowing a small group to walk together. Camaraderie will help shy children feel less self-conscious as well as ensure that the entire procession goes more smoothly.

Seeing a friendly face at the end of the aisle can also do wonders for soothing a child or animal’s nerves and encouraging them to perform their role. Instead of freezing up with all of the people watching them, having your dog or young relative focus on a favorite toy or treat will make the experience run more smoothly. Consider allowing a parent or trusted friend to sit in the second or third row and help encourage the child or pet to come to them.

Keep it Brief

Your wedding day has a lot of new people, new experiences, new sounds and sights, and a whole lot of sensational and out of the ordinary stimuli. Young children and animals alike may easily become overwhelmed or burned out by the excitement, which is why we recommend keeping their involvement relatively short. Instead of expecting them to last the entire ceremony by your side, we suggest limiting the experience to just a walk down the aisle and a small photoshoot away from the crowd.

Not only do you want to avoid a meltdown in the middle of your ceremony, but it’s important to consider the comfort of the child or animal as well. As nice as it may be to have man’s best friend by your side for the entire ceremony, your dog may not be a fan of the situation. Likewise, children easily get bored, distracted, or tired the longer the ceremony goes on.

At the end of the day, it’s about setting up the child or animal for success. Taking the personalities of the children or animals into consideration is vital. If you know that your dog is anxious outside of their home or your ring bearer has a shy disposition and doesn’t like eyes on him, it’s important to make accommodations so that he’s comfortable and able to perform as best as he can. Your wedding should be about creating beautiful memories with family and friends; even if it’s not perfect, remember that it should be a good experience that you can reminisce about together as time passes.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

It’s easier said than done, but the hiccups and conflicts that come with children and animals in your wedding is just that: small stuff. You’ll laugh about the mistakes and blunders later. While it may not be a perfect performance, it can still be a perfect wedding. An event that everyone leaves happy and excited for the new couple is a success in itself.

Making slight changes and accommodations for the children or animals in your ceremony may be an imperfect wedding in terms of what we’ve seen in the royal weddings and online. They might steal the show, but it’s worth it to be surrounded by the most important people in your life on your special day. What’s most important is creating happy memories with your newly united families.

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