The table is gloriously set with an embroidered tablecloth, beautiful china place settings and crystal drinking goblets. Pinterest would be jealous of the centerpiece: a tableau of fresh-picked greenery mixed in with rustic twigs in vases and candles of various heights casting the room in an amber glow. The savory scent of prime rib, scalloped potatoes and green bean casserole waft through the room and classical music serenades the guests, while a princess screams as a firefighter chases her around the house with a broken light saber. Ah, yes. The dichotomy of kids and holiday meals. We coordinate their outfits, brush their hair and layout the expectations of attending a “Grown-up Meal.” But the night will inevitably devolve into spilled milk, torn dresses and an unprovoked, off-key rendition of the Calliou theme song. There is not enough eggnog, friends. For most parents, having a routine is a way of life. We survive our days by knowing what’s coming next. When the holidays hit, this all gets thrown out the window. There is no sense of normalcy amidst the underlying excitement of visitors, special events and, of course, PRESENTS. No wonder our kids get a little off-kilter during the month of December! Holiday meals, though, do not have to be a stressor. Here are a few tips to not only survive, but THRIVE, during a celebratory dinner with kids in tow:
Stay On Schedule
From TV specials airing past bedtime and holiday parties to last-minute shopping trips and out- of-town visitors, the holiday season schedule is anything but routine. To keep the chaos at bay, try to keep the routine as close to normal as possible. They may have to skip naps or stay up late once in a while, but being well rested will help their temperaments during events like family dinners.
A seasoned magician will tell you that to perform a successful trick, never let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. And sometimes it takes a little magic to get through a big holiday meal when kids are involved! Take a page out of the magician’s book, and have some distractions on hand to keep the kids occupied. Consider having a paper tablecloth and offering crayons that the kids can use to color during the meal. Or, create an activity packet that little ones can complete while the adults enjoy dinner!
Invite Them to the (Kiddie) Table
Let’s face it: adult conversation is boring when you are a kid. No wonder it’s hard for children to focus when the grown-ups are chatting over the holiday dinner table. A great way to keep kids engaged is to offer them a table of their own. The kids will feel special to have their own space, and it’s a perfect place to utilize distractions, such as a coloring tablecloth or activity packets. And, when the milk gets spilled, it’s much easier to clean up! Get Preppy We take pride in that which we create. Another way to engage kids during a holiday meal is have them help with the prep work beforehand. Let them help you set the table or create name tags for everyone. Throw some fun in: ask them to put the chef hat on and help take part in cooking the meal! Kids will feel integrated and a part of the meal when they are involved in the preparations.
Lower Your Expectations
As Elsa sings in Frozen (that movie we’ve all now watched no less than 5,142 times), “Let it go! Let it go!” Despite our best efforts of keeping schedules, distractions and integrating kids into the preparation, kids are going to be, well, kids. And one of the joys of the holidays is experiencing the wonder through the eyes of our children. When it comes to holiday meals, our best response can be to go in with low expectations. Assume food may get thrown, tempers may tantrum and dessert may replace the main meal, but we’ll cherish the memories of family togetherness for years to come!