Kids at a WeddingThere’s no denying that when it comes to adorable photos, children and weddings are a potent combination. The sight of a toddler dressed in a tiny three-piece suit, or a kindergartener in a frilly pink dress, can melt even the most child-averse heart. But when the little tykes are screaming while they wait for their dinner, or finger-painting on the walls with the ganache from the wedding cake, they become considerably less adorable. Here are some things to consider when you think about having children at your wedding:

To Invite or Not to Invite?

The first question, naturally, is whether you’re going to invite your guests’ children in the first place. It may seem easier add a line on the invitation that says, “though we love children, we would like our special day to be adults-only, please,” and then skip reading the rest of this article. If your circle of friends is largely child-free, or you absolutely can’t stand the thought of a baby crying or a kid coughing during your vows, you can stop here.

But if your social circle includes a lot of friends with kids, it can be quite the hardship to have to find child care for a ceremony and reception. In addition to buying you a wedding gift and giving their time for the ceremony, you’re asking them to shell out for child care for most of the day. Most babysitters get paid by the hour, and a wedding ceremony and reception can go for three or four at least. Is the extra hassle and expense to the guests really worth it?

If you decide to include children in your invitation, here are ways to make sure they have a good time (which means you’ll have a better time).

The Ceremony

To minimize the impact of fidgety kids during the ceremony, make a kids version of your wedding program. Think of a restaurant’s kids menu, with little activities and pictures to color, and add a little box of crayons for coloring. Those 4-crayon boxes can be had for as little as 20 cents apiece, and that investment will help keep the kids quiet during your vows.

The Meal

The hardest part of eating at a restaurant for kids is the interval between when the food is ordered and when it arrives. They’re hungry; they’re impatient; time seems to stretch endlessly while they look forward to eating. If your reception meal is buffet-style, you can skip some of that difficult time if you let families with kids go right after the bridal party. If the kids will be waiting for a waiter, a cheap, simple activity or two will help smooth it over. Crayons, bubbles, and little tubs of play-doh are all fun with minimal cost and mess. You could also go all-out and have a kids’ table with a simple craft for the kids to complete while the meals are being brought out, after which they can join their parents for the meal.

The Reception

Most kids won’t need additional stimulation once the reception kicks into gear. They’ll love dancing with the grown-ups and with each other, and after a day of sitting and being quiet, they can finally run around and make noise with impunity. Some glowsticks and necklaces will add to the fun for small kids, and a few kid-friendly dances (chicken dance, Hokey-Pokey) will help them feel a part of things.

If your reception runs past 7 p.m. or so, you’ll have to deal with some cranky, tired kids. One great strategy is to give the kids their own place to chill out. Rope off a corner of the reception hall, make a little blanket fort, and fill it with pillows and sleeping bags for weary youngsters. Add a little TV with Disney movies on a loop, and you’ve got a relaxing space for over-stimulated kids to grab a nap while their parents party down.

The Nuclear Option: Provide Childcare

If your budget allows for some extra expense to provide an amazing experience for your guests, consider providing childcare at the reception. You’ll have to secure an extra room at your reception venue and hire a few babysitters (generally a max of five children per sitter), but your wedding guests with kids will love having an evening “out” while the kids are still close by, and you’ll have the peace of mind knowing a tantrum won’t ruin the groom’s toast.

With a little bit of planning and consideration, having kids at your wedding doesn’t have to be a trial. A few nods at keeping the tykes entertained will go a long way toward making it a pleasant experience for everyone involved.