Kids at weddings: Tips for ensuring your kid rocks (not wrecks) the wedding


It was a wedding Deb Oliveira-Godinho will never forget—though not for sentimental reasons. While the grown-ups focused on the beautiful ceremony, Oliveira-Godinho’s then-five-year-old daughter, Isabella—the flower girl—decided to entertain herself by painting her nails with red polish, courtesy of her cousin. Her white silk dress was ruined and the bride furious. “It’s funny now, but that day I was fuming, too,” the mom from Port Colborne, Ont., says.

When you mix young kids and weddings, there’s always the risk that calamity will mingle with the cute. So if your little one’s in a wedding party, here’s how to set the stage for success.

Know your child: Not every kid is comfortable in front of an audience, and while many couples love the charm of having children in their wedding, you know best. “If your kid isn’t meant for the job, it’s OK to decline,” says Karen Cleveland, a Toronto etiquette consultant. “You’re probably doing the couple a favour.” But if your child loves the spotlight and is excited to participate, go for it, but consider skipping some of the formalities, like the fancy updo—she’ll be better behaved if she can burn off some energy pre-ceremony instead of sitting in a stylist’s chair. And keep a watchful eye throughout the day, even if you know what kinds of things she’s prone to do (and not do). Kids can be unpredictable, especially when they’re bored.

Prep for success: Preschoolers’ attention spans are notoriously short. “It depends on the child, but many will change activities every five to 15 minutes,” explains Andrea Nair, a London, Ont., psychotherapist and parent educator. “During the ceremony, give him a job to do, like asking him to be the ‘tissue keeper’ for emotional moments, or taking photos with a little camera,” she suggests. Letting kids know what’s expected of them in advance can also curb issues on the big day: Watch wedding videos, do dry runs and practise picture-perfect smiles. If a babysitter isn’t an option for the reception, Nair recommends setting up some toys in an out-of-the-way corner to keep kids entertained.

But she doesn’t think bribery’s the way to go—no matter how tempting it may be. Instead, keep the mood light and fun to avoid creating power struggles. If your child sees you stressed out or frustrated, it will impact his mood and willingness to co-operate. Try using phrasing that gives him a little control in the situation. For example: “It’s time to take pictures. Would you be able to stand here, or here?” Adding some humour is bound to help, too: “What do you need to find your smiling face? Some tickles?”

Put parenting first: Be prepared to mix parenting with partying. Some restlessness during the ceremony is no big deal, Cleveland says, but if your child’s behaviour disrupts others, take him out of the venue. You can help prevent meltdowns by making sure your little flower girl or ring bearer is well rested, has a full tummy and has already visited the washroom, but Cleveland also suggests lightening up. “Parents often worry more than the couple does.”

When Annemarie Tempelman-Kluit’s sister asked her daughters—then ages four and six—to be flower girls in her out-of-town wedding, the Vancouver mom was nervous. It was a long flight, the wedding site wasn’t kid-friendly and no rehearsal was planned. “I felt the anxiety of not wanting my kids to ruin my sister’s wedding,” she says. Tempelman-Kluit talked through the importance of the day with her daughters and conducted her own mini-rehearsal at the venue. Everything went smoothly—which she attributes in part to the girls sharing the role. “They gave each other confidence,” she says.

Have a plan B: In case things get hairy at go-time, discuss alternative strategies with the bride and groom. Is it cool if you have to opt-out at the last minute, or are they OK with you walking down the aisle with your child?

Cleveland says it’s important to remember that weddings are fun celebrations, not flawless events. “Little quirks that come with having kids in a wedding are what makes it feel authentic and creates wonderful stories.”


(First appeared in the July issue of Today’s Parent, and online here)

7 Wedding Nightmares and How to Handle Them


Weddings are meant to be a beautiful celebration of love. However, they can also be the source stress if couples aren’t careful. Our etiquette expert discusses different ways to tackle some of the toughest wedding nightmares with style and grace.

By Natasha Singh

7 wedding nightmares and how to handle them


Planning a wedding is stressful because there are always a million things to do and not enough time to do them. Add that to Murphy’s law — anything that can go wrong, will — and you could end up with a wedding nightmare. We asked Karen Cleveland, an etiquette expert and author of the Finishing School column, to offer tips to help tackle even the most stressful wedding nightmares..

Nightmare 1: You receive an invitation in the mail. A close friend or family member has invited you to attend their wedding . You’re excited, until you notice the date. They have scheduled their wedding very close to your own nuptials.

How to handle it: Cleveland’s advice is simple — leave it alone. “Inevitably, family members are going talk. You want to be the person they speak about, who took the high road,” she says. “Is it awful? Absolutely. Can anything be gained from being catty? Absolutely not.” She does recommend being considerate of your mutual guests, considering now they have to attend two of every event leading up to and including both weddings.

Nightmare 2: Someone is angry or upset that they weren’t asked to be in your wedding party.

How to handle it: Cleveland admits bridal parties are tricky. “I liken it to a high school popularity contest, because in what other situation in adult life do you have prioritize your friends?” she says.

Avoid drama by having a private conversation with anyone you think might be unhappy with your decision. Cleveland says there are no rules with wedding parties (other than needing two witnesses to sign your marriage license). If you were a bridesmaid at a friends wedding, you’re not obligated to ask them. You don’t have to have a ring bearer, flower girl or even an equal number of bridesmaids and groomsmen. “The decision should be heartfelt and sincere, rather than couched in any sort of obligation,” she says.

Nightmare 3: Your venue or budget (or both) can’t accommodate everyone you and your spouse-to-be want to invite. The trick is agreeing on who gets cut.

How to handle it: Cleveland suggests some smart measures for cutting guests fairly, such as only inviting someone if you see them often or making the wedding for adults only. Also consider whether or not potential guests know your future spouse. “Do you really want to introduce someone to your new husband or wife on the most intimate day of your life,” Cleveland asks?. “There’s no tried and true method but there are some smart ways to objectively and fairly condense a guest list.”

Nightmare 4: You’re worried some of your guests might be a little too indulgent at your reception and get rowdy.

How to handle it:  “Every guest deserves your best hosting prowess, even if that means gritting your teeth through their indiscretions,” Cleveland says. “The true test of good manners is pleasantly dealing with bad ones.”

For someone in the bridal party who might be making a speech, have an amiable chat with them beforehand. “Mention that you will be emotional on your wedding day and ask for their support, especially during toasts,” she says. You should have better things to think about on your wedding day than rowdy guests, so let family members take care of the situation.

Nightmare 5: You’re blissfully married and finally getting around to opening your wedding gifts. You come across something that costs far less than you would expect, and is, in your opinion, not an appropriate wedding gift.

How to handle it: Be grateful that they were thoughtful enough to get you something and move on. Cleveland is clear on her feelings about gift expectations: “Anyone who feels like the gift they received is inappropriate has a brazen sense of entitlement and should carefully evaluate why they’re having a wedding,” she says. “The idea that a gift has to offset the cost of your wedding is ridiculous. You’re not running a small business — it’s your wedding!”

Nightmare 6: While planning your dream destination wedding, a few of your guests complain they can’t afford to go or get time off from work.

How to handle it:
Cleveland says that’s part of the deal with destination weddings and “the reality is that not everyone will be able to come.” While there’s no blanket solution here, evaluate the situation based on your relationship to the guests and decide whether or not you’ll miss their presence.

Nightmare 7:
A service provider for your wedding (flowers, cake, decorations etc.) has failed to do a competent job or complete the job on time.

How to handle it: Cleveland says it’s completely valid to politely let them know you’re unhappy with their work and ask if they’re willing to discount your invoice.  However, Cleveland suggests examining your intentions before writing any negative reviews online. “Is this a situation that you want to correct and warn other brides about or are you being a bit catty because you’re trying to haggle a lower rate?”

She adds that when it comes to favours from friends or work you’re not paying for — simply be grateful for the help.

(Originally published on Canadian Living, August 2013)

Radio Interview, The Motts

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a couple gets a wedding gift they think is cheap, so they demand a receipt and an explanation from the guest. It’s not a joke, but it might as well be.

I had a blast talking to The Motts about this calamity. #truestory.

The Motts with Karen Cleveland

Wedding etiquette on ETalk

Thrilled to be back as a guest on ETalk, this time discussing etiquette as part of their wedding week.


Summer weddings: 13 dresses for casual to black-tie events

Before they say ‘I do’ be sure to snap up the perfect dress for the big day

by Michelle Bilodeau

Be our guest

Be our guest

With wedding season upon us, what’s a fabulous girl to wear to a summer soiree? “Aim to look polished and pulled together, but in an outfit that can last all night,” advises Toronto-based etiquette expert Karen Cleveland (@schoolfinishing). “Do some recon to find out if there are any variables you should know about. A formal church ceremony calls for a different outfit than a garden ceremony in the bride’s parent’s backyard, for example.” The rules may have changed over the years—you can now say yes to an LBD, and skirt lengths are a little higher (just make sure you can sit comfortably in your cocktail frock)—but remember to dress accordingly while looking your sartorial best. From a casual barnyard fete to a more formal black tie affair, we’ve tied the knot around our favourite frocks.
(Appeared first on Chatelaine, June 2012)