How to Bribe your Child for a Photo Session {Chicago Family Photographer}

I'm always wanted to write this post. Let's talk, mamas. We all know that we have these dreams for a photo session where the kids come, eager to please and totally laid back, happy to follow instructions and be playful - just enough without getting too wild - and loving and fun. No tantrums, no nervousness, no clinginess. 


Well, first, let's all take a deep breathe and let that go. In my hundreds of photo sessions, I am pretty sure I'm met maaaaybe one or two unicorn kids like these. That's not what you should expect, and if you do, you're setting yourself up for unnecessary frustration. 

Now, I'm sure there's potential for controversy here, but I am writing today about bribes. As a mom and a photographer, I am totally not above bribing my kids (and you bribing yours for a session) when handled the right way. Here are my insights on bribing your kids for your Family Photography Session in Chicago and the North Shore suburbs.

Babies. Well, it goes without saying that a baby can't be bribed. Haha. They just need love, snuggles and milk. All good things to have available.

Young toddlers are so tricky. They have super strong opinions, are exercising their independence and want to control everything that they can.  But in terms of motivating them, bribes don't go very far with kids under three. They don't have the concept of delayed gratification mastered, so when you say, "if you're good and listen to Rachel, you'll get a donut after," the only word that they'll understand in the sentence is DONUT and likely just tantrum for the donut. It doesn't really work. {{Please let me confess that this is something that I have learned over and over the hard way. I tried bribe both of my boys long before they truly understood how to be recipients of a good bribe.}} For these little ones, I always keep Smarties on hand, because if we're going to bribe them, it needs to be TINY (and quickly and cleanly digested) and IMMEDIATE. Go to mom's arms - get a candy. Hold sister's hand - get a candy. Wash, rinse, repeat for a whole pack of Smarties if necessary.  


For kids ~3 and up, bribes can work when done well. There are a few big suggestions I have for session bribes. 

1) Remember - the session itself will be fun. They often do not need a bribe at all. Really, I promise. We play, tickle, snuggle, chase, joke and more. Plus outside the realm of bribes, I have dozens of fun strategies to get kids engaged, involved and having fun.

2) If you're going to offer a bribe, start by saying, "If you guys are good listeners, after the session, we'll do X (go for ice cream, have a treat, etc). And then drop it. If we need to bring it up, we will, but constantly threatening kids that they'll lose their treat won't make them smile. It will make them feel disappointed, frustrated, sad, mad, etc. I'd rather play games about their favorite kinds of ice cream (or donuts or candy or whatever) to bring it up in a fun way than have kids stressing about losing their treats.

3) Definitely don't bring the treat to the session itself (unless it's part of the Signature session at the end, like a family-assisted cake smash or sharing popsicles or something else cute that we've planned for in advance). Leave it in the car if it's something you've brought along - I'll pass along Smarties if we need them to tide kids over to your big reward. 

4) Know your child's currency. My oldest is unimpressed by food-related bribes, but offering him a few Pokemon cards or some extra screen time of his choosing will totally motivate him. My middle child is 100% treat driven, and will do almost anything for a trip to the Glenview Dairy Bar. And of course my littlest, at just 1.5, doesn't get bribes yet, but get to tag along for the celebrations after a job well done.

And 5) For those who have partners who might be encouraged to participate with a bribe of his/her own, totally go for it. I promise I won't tell ;)

** It should go without saying, but the kids pictured above were absolutely a blast and to be honest, I'm not sure if mom and dad offered them some kind of post-session treat.** 

More than anything, kids feed off of the attitudes of their parents. So if you tell them that you're off for an adventure with your pal Rachel, they'll treat it as such. If you're stressed and worried about their cooperation, they'll likely give you a harder time. I promise, when it comes to family photography in Chicago, you'll be in good hands with me!  

If you're looking for updated family photos in the Chicago area, in the city or in Glenview and the surrounding suburbs, or if you're just looking for a great excuse to take your kids out for ice cream, please don't hesitate to contact me. I'd love to work work with you!! I photograph families, newborns, kids and maternity photography sessions in Chicago, Glenview, Wilmette, Evanston, Skokie, Northbrook, Deerfield, Highland Park, Glencoe, Winnetka and beyond.