This post is for the parents who are hoping to not waste both time and money, and so they try to 'help' the photographer by directing their little one(s). And this is for the photographers with the tendency to hyper-focus on aperture and flash settings and such.
Remember; fun before photos.
It's a good mantra to have for whichever end of the lens you may find yourself on.
The goal of portraiture is to create beautiful, evocative images, not stale"Department Store Portrait Studio" smiles made of the stuff of board meetings and the color taupe. Humans (especially the littles) need space to let loose and be real in order to reveal the true beauty of their authentic selves. No matter how conceptual and stylized the shoot, how perfect or candid the pose... it is this authenticity shining through that makes the images I think we're all looking for. Images that evoke feeling, images with which we can connect. Images of not just time and place but spirit as well.
...it is this authenticity shining through that makes the images I think we are all looking for.
With littles, If your goal is to have a good time, great images will happen. If your focus is on getting the shot, you'll wind up with mediocre photos. This is not to say that you shouldn't plan your shoot, that you shouldn't have a shot list and a good idea of what you're trying to create. It doesn't mean that candid is the name of the game, though it can be if that's your style. 100% candid is just too hit or miss for me, too much in the direction of "spray and pray" (firing the shutter and praying for a few good ones amongst the hundreds); I go into each shoot with a plan, a shot list and a good gosh darned idea of the images I want to walk away with. I also go into each shoot knowing that I may have a plan and that's all good and well but the plan involves small humans and it very well might fall apart; I trust myself and my skill set to make beauty of the pieces.
It's super helpful to be aware of what stage of development your subject is currently in and use that to your advantage when creating images. For instance, a bug sticker on the floor and the instruction to "squash it" is a surefire way to get a 3 year old to stand just where you want him to, and you're likely to get a small handful of authentic images from this single direction. Photographers, you should know this stuff; parents, hire a photographer that you trust to know this stuff.
Once the knowing is known, everyone can go about the relaxing and having a good time... get together and spread the good photo vibes, creating beautiful images in the process.