Most of us have been to weddings where kids either turn the place upside down or just don't know how to behave in polite company. This ranges from having a tantrum during the Imam's Khutba and Dua for the couple and swinging from the drapes of the banquet hall to sullenly sitting at a table, ignoring other guests while text-messaging friends.
Perhaps this is why many choose to limit the presence of children at weddings in the first place by simply inviting parents only. But this is a disservice to young Muslims, who need to absorb this aspect of Islamic culture. The solution, if you are a parent who has been invited to a wedding, is to make sure your kids are gracious guests. Here are a couple of ways to do that:
1. Feed them before you go, no matter how old they are
Meals are rarely served on time during weddings, so make sure to feed the kids a full meal, regardless of age, before you go. Hungry kid = cranky kid = difficult wedding guest. Eating beforehand may also help save their fancy clothes from getting dirty if they're too full to eat at the party.
2. Pack snacks
This is a must, especially if you've got a kid hitting a growth spurt, toddler or teenager. Aim for stuff that's dry and healthy (e.g. almonds, dry cereal, trail mix) to spare you the mess a squishy banana or an apple dribbling juice might make.
3. Pack an extra pair of fancy clothes for the under-10 set
Whether it's spilling food or not making it to the bathroom on time, this one is a no-brainer for most parents. But even kids out of the potty-training phase sometimes end up ripping pants or dresses. Avoid the embarrassment and keep an extra set of fancy clothes in the car.
4. For younger kids, take them to a high-energy place the morning/early afternoon before
Think Chuck E. Cheese, Pump It Up or any other loud indoor or outdoor amusement center that requires fast-paced running, jumping and screaming. The local park may also be good. This way, the kids will have dissipated all that pent-up energy at the right place, instead of playing tag between guest tables at the wedding.
5. Pack some new favorite toys for the younger ones
While older kids should be focused on absorbing the wedding's Islamic atmosphere and interacting with other guests (NOT text messaging friends during dinner), younger kids are harder to control. A couple of new toys that require players to stay seated, or some colorful, interesting books, can help stave off boredom.
6. Offer an incentive for good behavior
Ideally, it shouldn't be another new toy or pricey gadget (e.g. IPad). It can be a family outing or a playdate with a friend to a new kids' museum or amusement center.
7. Quiz your older kids about the wedding's Islamic elements
Inform your children ages 10 and up that you will be holding a family discussion about their thoughts and ideas on the Imam's Khutba, the ceremony, as well as other aspects of the wedding. This will prompt them to pay more attention to the event. The following day, keep your promise over brunch at a restaurant everyone enjoys.
8. Limit or confiscate cellphones for the evening
This one may be harsh, but if we want our children to learn how to interact with the world outside of the text-messaging universe, we have to teach them to interact with others face-to-face. A wedding is a great place to do that, provided the distraction of the cellphone is absent. Reminding older children about the rules of proper interaction (e.g. greeting older Muslims with a Salam first, paying due attention to those they are talking to, etc) will also help.
9. In the event of a blowup, leave the room or the wedding
Sometimes, no matter how well prepared you are, your child is just in an exceptionally nasty mood and there is little you can do about it. If s/he begins whining/crying/screaming/having a tantrum, make sure to take them out of the hall to calm them down before returning. If they refuse to do so, apologize to your hosts, thank them for the invitation and leave early. This not only shows respect for your host and other guests, but it also sends a message to your child that you’re serious about good behavior at weddings.