For many of us, festive nights spent sharing a meal and watching the joy on children’s faces as they open that perfect gift help define this season as the most wonderful time of the year. But let’s be honest – the amount of work and preparation that goes into hosting a holiday celebration can sometimes feel overwhelming. And when you add kids to the mix, everything can feel that much harder as ‘Santa’s Little Helpers’ sometimes seem to do the opposite of help. But there are things you can do to make it all easier. We’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks to help throw a great holiday dinner party with a houseful of little ones underfoot.
1. Let kids help with the prep work. While we wouldn’t advise letting them wash the fine china, little ones love to feel helpful. Designate them an “official party planner” and watch as everyday chores become fun again when considered official party business. Kids as young as preschool can help by putting away toys, setting out silverware, helping to mix and stir any cooking projects, and taking on the all-important job of dispensing the tape as you wrap presents.
2. Have an official kids’ dessert. Letting kids bake or create a special kid-friendly dessert for the party will help them feel included in the meal preparation. Decorating sugar cookies is easy and always a crowd favorite, though you may need to keep the vacuum ready. It’s always amazing how many sprinkles little ones think one cookie can hold.
3. Create homemade place cards. Your guests will love the custom touch of a personal place card, and your kids will love to make them! They can label, color and decorate to their heart’s content while you accomplish adult-only tasks like setting out stemware. If your kids aren’t writing yet, simply write the names for them and provide holiday stickers to decorate. A perfect art project and a great addition to any holiday table!
DINING IN PEACE
4. Embrace the kids table. In general, we’ve found that most parents are grateful for a kids table. Granting kids a little bit of freedom to laugh and get loud in their own private dining area is fun for them and a nice respite for mom and dad. Are there young toddlers that might require a bit more supervision? If you have a range of ages at the kids table, perhaps one or more of the older kids would appreciate ‘being in charge’ and would be willing and able to take on some of the responsibility of helping little ones through a meal.
5. Have the kids stick together. By all means excuse them when they are done eating, but consider excusing as a group. Every parent knows the question, “Can I be excused?” is likely to come the moment the food is gone (or before it’s gone if you’ve got a fussy eater). Consider setting the guideline that all kids may be excused from the table once every child has finished their food. Setting the kids loose all at the same time ensures no one is stranded at the table feeling left out because their parents insist on a few more bites, while at the same time improves the odds that the kids will entertain each other so the grown-ups can enjoy an extra glass of wine or cup of coffee.
AFTER DINNER FUN
6. Keep it simple. One awesome thing about kids is that they can find the fun in almost any situation. Don’t stress yourself out planning elaborate games and crafts to keep them busy. For little ones, holiday coloring pages and crayons offer just as much fun as popsicle stick reindeer or paper dreidels that require a lot of cutting, gluing and parental assistance. And there’s no need to set-up musical chairs when kids are just as happy to literally dance in circles. Put on some holiday music and watch the party unfold!
7. Fun for all ages. A holiday party with a huge span of kids’ ages can be tough. If you only have young children at home, odds are there’s not much in your house to entertain their 14-year-old cousins. We’ve found that some older kids relish the babysitter role and thrive on the responsibility of taking charge of the little ones. If this is the case, be sure to acknowledge their help and make a big deal about how lucky you are to have them there. When this isn’t the case, older kids can be entertained with an age-appropriate holiday movie or video games borrowed from the local library. Or if the weather cooperates, send everyone outside to play! Invite parents ahead of time to pack snow gear or other appropriate outdoor clothes.
8. Gift Giving made easy. Gift exchanges for kids can be tough when families come together with a varying number of kids per family and a wide range of ages. For example, if you have one kid but I have four, should I spend four times as much on your child? And how can you set a spending limit when $10 for a toddler presents an array of cool toys, but $10 on a middle schooler barely raises an eyebrow? One solution we like is a round-robin exchange where each child picks a name ahead of time and brings a gift for one other (do set a spending limit!). Or an even easier solution is “BYOG” – Bring Your Own Gifts. Each family brings one gift for each of their own children (again, it’s usually best to set some sort of spending limit), and the parents collectively decide to whom the credit is given, be it a holiday figure, the family, or simply a ‘party gift.’
9. Behind every great meal lies an even greater pile of dishes. We’ve found that if at all possible, washing pots, pans and dishes as you cook can be a big help. Use S.O.S® Soap Pads to speed up the process. and don’t be shy in enlisting the help of others! And if you simply had to leave a mountain of dishes in the sink or miss out on gift opening and after-dinner celebrating? Fear not. S.O.S® does some of its best work late at night after party-goers have all gone home, getting you out of the kitchen and into bed sooner.
10. Despite naysayers, kids can clean up after themselves. Just as S.O.S® Soap Pads help tackle the dishes, kids can help tackle their post-party mess. Invite every kid to put away five things (or 10 or 20 depending on how much needs to be picked up…) and then wrap up an extra cookie for them to take home as a thank you. Or turn cleaning up into a game by keeping track of how much they can put away during a certain length of time (just set an egg timer). They’ll think they’re playing, and you’ll get to sleep in vs. having to putting away a houseful of toys in the morning.
Do you have any tips, tricks or traditions specific to kids and holiday parties? We’d love to hear them! Use the comments section of this blog or post your thoughts to the S.O.S® Facebook page. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, too!