family of 5 snuggling and laughing on a blanket during sunset at Pope John Paul Park in Boston

3 Tips for Wrangling Toddlers from a Boston Family Photographer

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that photo shoots with toddlers don’t always go smoothly. In fact, it might be safe to say that they rarely go according to plan. I’ve been booking Boston family photography sessions for almost 6 years now, and over time I’ve learned what works (most of the time!) and what doesn’t. Here are three tips to help make sessions with the 2-4 year old crowd successful!

Instant Gratification

Unfortunately, toddlers are sort of like dogs in that telling them “you’re going to get a treat later!” doesn’t really work. Their little brains are pretty black and white and they need immediate rewards. I’ve found that it’s better to bring some small treats (like gummies, for example), rather than promising a temperamental toddler a treat after the fact. That’s just too abstract for them.

family of 5 snuggling and laughing on a blanket during sunset at Pope John Paul Park in Boston

Keep Things Moving

I never ask a family with a toddler to do one thing for more than 2 minutes, and even that can be too long sometimes. I tend to get my  “everyone-looking-at-the-camera” shots over and done with at the beginning while the kids are still shy and less likely to run away from me. After that, we do all sorts of active “poses,” which you’ll see in a lot of my family sessions.

mother and father look off into the distance while holding baby girl. Older siblings run around in the background at Pope John Paul Park in Boston.

Be an Entertainer

It’s important to remember that as a family photographer, my job is not to simply click the shutter. In fact, that’s probably 20% of the job at every session. What I’m really doing the majority of the time is entertaining the littles. I not only do this by keeping things active, but by acting utterly absurd. I make insane noises, I fake sneeze, I make poop and fart jokes, and most recently, I toss my toy monkey in the air and try to catch it while taking pictures. That last little trick there works like a charm for getting toddlers to look and laugh. They think it’s completely hysterical that I’m trying to catch a monkey (and usually failing!). If you need any more evidence that I basically act like a clown, I recently purchased this ridiculous hat from Amazon and now wear it for a few minutes at every toddler session. Yup, I’m a total weirdo.

Hard as I try, every once in a while none of these tricks work. Toddlers are human and they have bad days. It’s important to approach each session with very little in terms of expectations. And as a parent, it’s important to remember that my camera fires several shots a second, so even if those smiles are fleeting, I’ll catch ’em! 😉


Melissa Rabbitt specializes in Boston family photography, serving towns within 45 minutes of Waltham, MA. It is never too early to reach out about booking your session!


Oh hey! I’m Melissa, a Boston family & newborn photographer, but I like to refer to myself as a toddler-whispering, child-taming, photographic ninja.