The Twenty Minute Toddler
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Monday, March 18, 2013
By Sandy Puc'
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Most of my newborn sessions are my client’s first baby but I regularly do sessions that include the baby’s older brother or sister. Just recently I have done several of these and it got me to thinking about how adding just one little person to the mix can make a real change to the energy in the studio.

Having the older sibling join us means that I have to make changes to the format of the session to allow for - “The Toddler Factor”. As any Mum will tell you, a toddlers attention span can be rather short-ish and I can just about guarantee that not too many toddlers can make it through a 3 hour newborn session without suffering a boredom induced meltdown of almost cataclysmic proportions!

So how do we get around that? Easy. Work fast, work smart and PLAN IT.

The Strategy … oops, I meant - Pre-planning the Session

When I have a client book a newborn session that includes the sibling, I explain that there are different challenges when working with the toddler. Mums get it, they are working with their toddler every single day and they know that it can be a mission at the best of times. It is definitely worth persevering with, your client’s family has just changed forever with the addition of the new baby and it is important that the whole family is involved in the portrait.

 I let Mum know exactly how we will approach the session – Family first followed by siblings. Once the sibling part is done, Dad can then take the toddler to the park or for an ice cream as a treat which leaves Mum, me and the baby alone to complete the newborn session. Every one of my clients that intends to bring a toddler along has breathed a sigh of relief when I lay out this plan for them.

When my clients arrive for their session, I always let kids get to know me in their own time, kids have a built-in “BS” meter – they know if you are faking it! So I get down on the floor, play some games, let them know I am most definitely an A Grade Loser but in a good, funny, non-threatening way and I work on gaining their trust – Sandy’s high five trick always works a treat!

If you are working with one child or even several of about the same age, 9 times out of ten it is relatively easy to keep them happy and engaged as a group. The challenge with a toddler in a newborn session lies in the fact that you have to divide your attention between the parents, the baby and the toddler and operate on several very different levels – and that can sometimes make your head spin! 

Patience is a Virtue

It is almost written in stone that when you have a grizzly baby that has finally settled off to sleep is almost the exact moment when the toddler decides she hates you...With. A. Passion. Then, just as you manage to bribe and play your way back into the toddler’s good books, the baby will stir and no amount of feeding, patting and soothing will get them to settle. This is your moment to take a deep breath, wipe the first beads of sweat from your brow and in your mind say the newborn photographers mantra - “The baby WILL stop crying, the toddler WILL be good. The baby WILL stop crying….” AND repeat as necessary.

Ok, I know I over exaggerate and the above is definitely a worst case scenario. Most times I find that usually at least one of the children is cooperative – if the baby is happily sleeping and your toddler has a moment, you can generally get things back on track. And if your baby is a little unsettled, Mum can soothe baby while you keep the toddler engaged and happy.

So I will start out doing the family portrait part of the session and this is where I need to work FAST! All going to plan I can get several different poses of the whole family and different groupings in a fairly short space of time – about 15 minutes or so. Most toddlers are happy to be involved in the family portraits, they feel safe with their parents and you can always have one of the parents hold them in their arms to keep them where you want them.

At about the 20 minute mark, most toddlers are starting to run out of puff and their interest in me has deteriorated to an all-time low – luckily, I don’t take it personally!  It’s time to let the toddler relax, have a snack and a drink and allow them to recharge their batteries. Don’t worry, their recycle time is usually about 3 minutes which is just in time for them to help you as you set up a new background to photograph the toddler and the baby on – letting them help usually leads to WOOT WOOT! We are friends again!! Perfect timing, as the bell has just rung for round 2 – the toddler and the newborn portrait…together.


Should I hit the Panic button Now?

Well, I would leave it for a moment. As always when dealing with kids, they will never cease to amaze you! This bit can sometimes be a little more difficult, the toddler is now by his/herself without Mum and Dad and she/he may feel a bit unsure or insecure.  There are also those toddlers that love having their moment and will do just about anything for you.

Depending on the toddlers age, you may be able to pose them with baby in their lap or their arms, if I am in any doubt whatsoever about the toddlers ability to hold or support the baby I will pose them in a lying position or with the baby safely posed on the poser or basket and the toddler leaning in for a kiss or to touch the baby’s fingers/toes.

I am certainly not above bribery and I have often hidden little treats in the blankets or stuck stickers where I want the toddler to look or put their hand – whatever it takes is my motto!  Once again, I know I have a very short time frame with the toddler and I plan to have this part of the session completed within “toddler time’ which is about 15 minutes.



Ok, done! You now have beautiful images of the family together and of the two children together –this very important part of your session is complete. You can almost feel the rush of air (and relief) when Dad and the toddler head off and Mum and I settle back to relax, feed and settle the baby and concentrate solely on the individual newborn portraits.

No, it doesn’t always go to plan and sometimes you have to change things around on the fly – what works with one toddler may not with another. The more of these types of sessions you do, the less daunting they become.  A toddler and newborn session is always going to be a bit tougher than a newborn alone, but you can certainly stack the odds in your favour and in the process give your client a great experience and gorgeous family AND newborn portraits. 

What is your best trick for working with a toddler in a newborn session?

I would love to hear about it!


Til next time, 


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