Welcoming a newborn baby into the family is one of the greatest joys in life! Newborn and older sibling portraits are priceless. For everyone, the anticipation of meeting the newest addition is exciting! Especially for the older siblings. Thoughts turn to who they may look like, and what colour hair they will have. The wonderment is endless.
But for some of the youngest in the family (especially toddlers), this can not be a positive experience. Thoughts of jealousy or feelings of anxiety surpassing curiosity. Their daily routines become disrupted. Mum and Dad are both tired and have a shorter fuse. Suddenly Mum has someone else in her arms A LOT! Mum might also have a sore tummy and can’t pick them up as much as before the birth. For so many reasons, toddler behaviour can be challenging just after the birth of a new brother or sister.
The challenge of older siblings
Now let’s throw in a photography session. The focus is on the newborn, not the toddler. Sensitivity and planning are required, or a whole lot can go wrong!
Firstly, I ask the parents to explain the situation before the session. Tell your child what is going to happen on the way to the Bubbalicious studio. Once they have arrived, I will introduce myself to the whole family. I then explain that I am going to take some photos of their family. Say to the child “I am going to take your photo today, won’t that be great!”. I then start the session with toddler/older sibling photos. Family group photos follow. The younger children can then relax and not become too impatient. Otherwise, they can become distracting while waiting to have their portraits taken. A responsible adult can then take them for a walk to the local park, or have a rest. While they’re out, I’ll finish the portrait session with the newborn.
Some younger children are capable of having a short conversation. If so, I go for a little laugh, to break the ice. However, sometimes a new face, environment and a camera pointed at them may induce shyness and trepidation. To help warm the toddler up, I talk as I usually would and explain to them what is happening. While working with the newborn, I try to engage the toddler as well. I ask questions such as, “Have you had a cuddle yet”. I am always trying to ask all “Yes” questions. The child needs to be motivated to have fun with me and comply with gentle coaxing. This process happens to go pretty well for the majority of my clients.
The best time to do the session
I also advise parents that it is best to come to me as soon as is possible. Preferably within the first week. In those early few days of having a new baby, everything is a novelty, and mostly the younger children are happy to have a new member of the family. After the first week, however, things can change as they realise that the baby is not going away. The toddler can be very sensitive during this time. Realising that their baby is here to stay, and they are not the sole entertainment for their parents.
Sometimes a different tactic is required
Some younger children need a little more than just chatting and asking. For the more anxious, non-compliant toddlers, I use a couple of techniques. Firstly, I always have a teddy or a balloon handy as a bribe. Secondly, I try to capture them doing normal things such as touching and smelling their new baby sister or brother. And thirdly, if all else fails, I use a composite of two photos (merging them in Photoshop) to make sure I get that magical shot that all parents want, a beautiful portrait with all their babies in the one photo.
It is essential that the baby is safe at all times, and has minimal adverse reactions to the fractious toddler. The little chap in the photo above is a ball of energy and has just turned two years old. Keeping his attention and asking him to do certain things, such as hold his baby sister, was a little too much for him to handle. Insisting would stress him to the point of no return. Instead, I just went with the flow and managed a composite image of him and his baby sister interacting. Dad was holding a video up for him to watch in the sitting photo to get his attention. I achieved the action shots by asking him to smell his baby sister. “How does she smell? Does she smell like chocolate?”. Get him to count her toes etc.
I love creating newborn and older sibling portraits. Knowing that the parents will cherish these portraits forever is a grand feeling.