Updated: Apr 20, 2022
What to Bring
blanket - to lay on, to have parents swing them on, to wear as a cape, etc.
bubbles - always a hit; have kiddos chase them, pop them, or blow them
snacks/treats - make sure the parents are cool with whatever you're offering, but bribery works! And a hungry kiddo is a lot harder to get to smile than one who's had some food/snacks/candy.
wet wipes - whether it's a runny nose, a grass stain, or sticky hands from a treat (bribe), wet wipes always come in handy
What to do
Make a connection with the kiddos. It can be about TV shows, school, fashion, finding toots funny, etc. If you find a way to connect with the kid(s), they'll be so much more likely to give you the good smiles.
Give the kids a job. Let them be responsible for your lens cap (if they lose it, they're not hard to replace); they get to pick your next photo spot; they get to decide on the pose; they get to stand behind you and do their best to make their parents laugh; etc,
Use anything they tell you about themselves/their interests as much as you can. They mentioned liking art class best? Tell them to look at the camera like they're showing off their painting. They told you they like Paw Patrol? Ask them to get "FIRED UP" or tell them to get to the next photo spot "ON THE DOUBLE." Just saying, "Smile! Smile! Smile! Look at the camera! Smile!" doesn't work all that well.
Be silly. There's no better way to encourage kids/parents/anyone to have genuine fun than being silly yourself. Dance, do high kicks, play peek-a-boo, sing (badly), etc. If you are being silly and allowing yourself to be vulnerable, your clients will feel like they can do the same.
What to Say
Keep everything playful. "Oh that's the best smile I've ever seen!" "Oh that's a grumpy face, oh no, I better take a picture of this grumpy face," "Okay no smiles, absolutely no smiles in this photo."
DON'T SAY 'smile, smile, smile!' Instead, say, "Look at the person in your family who snores the loudest," "Laugh at the person in your family who makes the best food," "Smile at the person in your family who gives the best kisses."
Compliment the kids on anything they do. "Thank you so much for bringing my lens cap!" "You are so good at picking photo spots." "You are being such a good model for your younger sibling." "Your smiles are so perfect!"
The moral of the story is that kiddos are wonderful to work with if you know what you're getting into! Know how to work with kids, know how to connect with kids, and you'll be fine. Recognize that kids want to feel included, and everyone will be happy with how the session goes!
Quick Note to Add: Sometimes parents can be stressed at photo sessions, and they can pass that stress onto their kiddos. If you see parents tensing up, telling their kids to SMILE SMILE SMILE through gritted teeth, and snapping at them in between photos, make sure you are also reassuring the parents that everyone (kids included) is doing a great job and you're getting plenty of beautiful photos, so there's no reason to stress about anything. Try to diffuse any of the grumpiness that happens when the camera isn't pointed at them to make sure the smiles you are while it is are more authentic.