Okay, it doesn’t sound that bad, does it? But there’s a lot more to it, so hear me out: it’s not just posing. I see families arguing with their little ones, even yelling at their kids to fake a smile for a photo at Disney. And you know what this does? The little one starts crying (exactly what the parents did not want happen), and that ruins that potential photo opportunity completely. This makes me so sad every time I see it, and I wish I could shake the parents and tell them, “Stop!! You’re at D-I-S-N-E-Y! Stop having this crazy expectations for photos with your three kids under six!”
While I don’t have a magic wand to whip up those picturesque model-family Disney photos, I do have three tips and tricks that I use for photo shoots and Walter’s Disney Instagram account to get those smiles and all the happy feels.
1. Positive reinforcement is everything. There is nothing that makes me cringe more than seeing a parent pressuring a kiddo to force a fake smile, or even yell at them to smile. Guess what that does? It adds so much stress to the potential photo-op, and it makes the photographer feel really, really awkward (I’ve been there, it’s awk-wardddd). Instead, hype up the photo session in advance, and tell them how excited you are about it! Encourage them with treats or something small for either during the session or after. Small cars like HotWheels work great as tiny treats, M&M’s are a huge hit, and stickers are our currency for smiles. Walter’s treat of choice at Disney? Popcorn, and he loves a good Mickey sticker or two 🙂 And while you’re in the the photo session, be sure to tell them how proud you are of them, and that you love their smiles, whether they’re showing them or not. If you look and act happy and cheerful, your child will be more relaxed and that little smile will come out a lot more easily. Walter loves stickers, and his favorite spot to put them is on his shirt, or his knees. What’s the best way to Walter’s heart, and his smile? Popcorn at Disney! He can’t get enough of it, and I’m more than happy to purchase it to keep those smiles coming.
2. Speaking of relaxed, you know your children best, and you know how to get them feeling more comfortable while having a stranger with a camera in front of them. A great way to break the ice (or if you have a distracted kiddo) is to have the whole family make silly faces; let your little ones see you get silly too! I promise, the giggles and genuine smiles after silly faces are always the best. A favorite way of mine to get Walter to show his real personality is to get him to dance- it’s his thing. And to be honest, I’d rather have a photo of him happy and dancing than to have a forced smile any day. This kiddo L-O-V-E-S to dance, and his smiles while dancing are my absolute favorite.
3. Take the pressure off. If you don’t get the perfect photo, don’t let your kiddos know that you’re disappointed with the photo that was taken. Don’t shame them for the lack of smiles, especially if the photo can’t be recreated (if it was taken on vacation, etc.). A few months ago, I had really high expectations for Walter to meet Mary Poppins at Disney; she’s my favorite character. I figured that after waiting in line to see her, he’d be just as thrilled as I was to see her. Guess what? He wanted nothing to do with her. And you know, it’s okay that I didn’t get that picturesque photo that I wanted to have. It’s now written in his Mom’s One Line A Day book that he doesn’t care for Mary Poppins, and it might show up in a high school year book one day 🙂… and Walter definitely wasn’t into a photo-op with the Red Queen. This one is also yearbook worthy, right?!
Whether you have a portrait session planned or just a quick photo opportunity that’s popped up, give yourself and your family some grace. Encourage smiles with small treats (hello M&M’s!), be as silly as you can, and if the photo doesn’t work out, you’ll still have the memory to hold onto. Like I said above, give yourself grace, mama. Smiles might not always happen, and that’s okay! Remember, they’re only small once, so embrace the emotions that your little ones show in photos.