Shooting natural landscapes comes natural to me, so when I started to work with children I had to come up with a different method of working behind the camera. My images are often raw and candid, although I can work with a family for a formal shoot as well. Weird things have happened while shooting with children - poop explosion at a newborn shoot just to name one - so I mentally create a checklist for these special days. Here is my advice to shooting toddlers:
Do Not Expect Them to Sit Still
Very rarely do children do what you want them to do. Bring a lot of props and try to get their attention focused on an object to get the best shot. If you are working on a back-to-school photo shoot with a pre-k child, give them a book to look at, or blocks to play with. Try your best to keep them in one contained area - especially if you are in a studio. Ask their parents to bring a long a favorite stuffed toy or blanket, or even ask them to bring treats a long. I am definitely not below bribing children as long as their parents allow it.
Ask Parents to Bring a Change of Clothes
When my daughter we quickly scheduled her a newborn photo shoot. Being new parents we came utterly unprepared toting with us one reusable diaper and a plain white onesie. As soon as we got her undressed she power pooped everywhere, including the dress she was supposed to wear for photos. Thankfully our photographer had some extra props on site while we tried to get the stain out from under the sink.
This is particularly important if you do a lot of outdoor photo shoots. Often a child will run for a puddle and the photographer inside of me screams, "yes! enjoy yourself!" until I realize that there is no change of clothes and the rest of the photos will contain a mud covered toddler. The best way to get parents prepared is to send them a checklist of items they should carry with them to the shoot.
Schedule Around Naps and Meals
Naturally kids get hangry and tired, and this can impact a photo shoot. Make sure you let the parents know that the best time for a toddler photo shoot is when they are refreshed and full. I also put "snacks" on our photo shoot checklist just in case.
Go With the Flow
AKA don't have a set plan for the shoot. Have a basic overview for the parents and see what is working and what isn't working for the child. The child doesn't want to sit in the chair like you planned? Don't make it a big deal - just remove the chair or try again later. If you start to stress out, the children will stress out.
Just relax and pretend to know what you're doing