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Last year's holiday card featured kids running off in two different directions—and that was after a dozens of attempts and a few tears on your part. But like the eternal optimist you are, you want to give it another go.

The good news is that by tweaking your professional photography session strategy, it can be a happier experience for everyone. And, soon enough, the proof will be in that dreamy holiday picture you always wanted.

Here's what to do, mama:

1. Plan outfits plus a backup

At least for you, planning coordinated outfits for the whole family is half of the fun. But your kids may have different feelings when they are instructed to get dressed in a stuffy shirt and bowtie. Give yourself the best chance of success with your selected outfit by giving them the chance to get comfortable in it in advance. If it still doesn't go over well—or there is a last-minute stain crisis—keep an alternative on hand.

2. Limit the distractions

If your kids are used to running wild outside, wrangling them for a picture likely isn't going to be a pleasant experience for anyone involved. Consider moving the photo shoot indoors to a studio such as JCPenney Portraits, which is designed for the sole intention of capturing family photographs.

As a major bonus, an indoor session means you don't have to worry about proper lighting, which means you can schedule a time that's conducive with naps and meals. (Tired and hungry are not good combinations for family pictures. Or anything, as you already know.)

3. Pick a photographer who specializes in baby talk

Photographers who specialize in family pictures have a special set of skills. Not only are they experts in taking and editing the pictures, but they have the even rarer ability to get the most stubborn of kids to crack a smile. Working with someone who has their own tricks of the trade will only make your job easier.

4. Embrace your kids' phases

By remembering the whole point of family pictures is to documents a moment in your lives, it should be that much easier to say, "Sure, he can hold onto his favorite teddy bear." Happier kid. Happier mama. Happier memories.

A bit harder to cope with when all you really want is a picture of your kids smiling? Accepting that it may not happen. As much as this may pain you while sending out this year's round of holiday cards, know that your child's unique expression will probably grow to be your favorite part of the whole picture.

5. One word: snacks

Revisiting the point about how hungry kids don't make for the best photography subjects, bring along your full arsenal of fuel. Now also isn't the time to stick strictly to apples and carrots. If you think the promise of some fruit snacks will help them crack a smile, that seems like a worthy bribe.

6. Give kids some creative control

You planned the session. You planned the outfits. If your kid feels like they're along for the ride—and is none too fond of that—it can help to offer them choices. Allow them do pick their hairstyle or decide how the family should pose for a picture. That doesn't mean the picture they styled has to be the one hanging on the wall at home, but feeling involved in the larger session can help them warm up to it all.

To schedule your professional photography session today—book an appointment with the pros at JCPenney Portraits who can help you capture all the magic.

This article was sponsored by JCPenney Portraits. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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