Sitting in Central Park this weekend, I watched as a professional photographer brought her clients to a picture-perfect hideaway for the classic holiday card photo shoot.  The little munchkins and their parents, all dressed up in holiday-wear, were positioned in just the right way and instructed to say “cheese” for the camera.  Let’s face it.  This photo is important.  It represents an entire year of existence and growth for the family, as it is mailed out to close friends and family.

The problem, however, is that toddlers are significantly less invested in sitting still and staying focused.  In this case, the grass, sticks, rocks and ducks were much more interesting than posing for the photographer.  “Sarah, sit still for Daddy.”  “If you don’t sit still, you’re going to get a time-out.”  “Sarah, come here…”  While this photo may be important to you, it is not in any way important to them.

So, given the significance of this particular photo, how can we get kids to cooperate?

There are two ways to go.

1)   You don’t. Little kids are not meant to sit still.  Their job is to explore the world, and they are tantalized by anything and everything that comes their way.  So, rather than trying to force the traditional family photo, consider inspiring photos of your kids that capture their spirit.  Grab some pumpkins, pinecones, ice-skates, cookies and snap away.  Show off your kids at their best, and redefine the family photo.

2)   You do. If you are very attached to the notion of a traditional family photo, you’ll need to get buy-in from kids.  Preparation is key.  You need to understand that, for little ones, this process doesn’t make any sense.  They aren’t capable of making the connections between sitting still, having a photo taken, sending that photo out to friends and family, or the notion that a single photo is meant to capture the essence of your entire family.  So, you need to make those connections for them.  Introduce them to your camera.  Let them see how they look in different photos as you do a mini-rehearsal.  Show them some old holiday cards.  Let them see what it is you’re trying to do with this photo.  Talk to them about the people who will receive this card.  Ask them who they would like to include on the list.  Empower them to be active participants in the process.

Remember, it’s all good. The holidays are about gratitude, peace, love and family.  Keep your eye on what matters and try not to worry about appearances. Let your gut lead the way and if you find yourself swimming upstream, ask yourself to consider a better way.