14 ways to survive the big family meal with your kids

Whenever there’s a big family get-together, it’s exciting and it can all be overwhelming for small children. It’s difficult to predict where your child’s over-stimulation will result in a meltdown, and parents all over the country silently pray that it won’t happen at the big holiday dinner. Here’s a few tips to help decrease the odds:

  1. Keep your child on his regular schedule the day of the gathering. This can be difficult with errands and visitors, but try to keep the main events on schedule, like nap time and meal times.
  2. Tell your child what to expect. Don’t assume that they remember last year’s gathering. Explain where the gathering will be, who will be there, and what you will do once you get there. Do this more than once, and answer your child’s questions as they come up.
  3. Choose a family-friendly home or restaurant. Things will go much more smoothly for everyone if you choose a restaurant where the staff is trained to accommodate children, or the house you’re meeting at is already childproofed.
  4. Have realistic expectations of your child’s behavior. The younger your child is, the earlier they will tire in the evening. Younger children also have shorter attention spans, so expect to see signs of boredom if there’s nothing but adult conversation going on.
  5. Discuss your expectations of their behavior before the event. Explain to your children that you expect them to stay seated and use an indoor voice. Teach them an acceptable way to interrupt adults talking if they need something, such as raising their hand or saying “excuse me”. Rehearse this with them at your family table.
  6. Pack some table-friendly activities if you’re eating at a restaurant. While restaurants spare you the cooking, they require children to wait for the meal to be served, and waiting is not their favorite activity. Bring along some coloring books and crayons or a small container of Legos or Ponies.
  7. Don’t let your child get too hungry. Hungry children quickly get cranky, so bring along snacks like crackers, cheese sticks, or fresh fruit. Don’t pack sugary treats, because the post-sugar-rush crash can be ugly.
  8. Let your child wear something comfortable. Once you cute some cute photos in the smocked dresses and bow-ties, let your children change into some play clothes for the rest of the event.
  9. Plan for your child’s needs. If your child needs a high chair, plan ahead. Call the restaurant ahead of time to let them know, or let the hostess know you’ll be bringing one. If your child has special dietary needs, let the hostess know or ask the restaurant ahead of time what the menu choices are so you have time to think through what your child should eat.
  10. Consider hiring a sitter to help with the children during the event. This sounds like a luxury item, but children will enjoy having someone to play with and you’ll enjoy having an extra set of hands. Check out sites like Sittercity or Care.com if you’ll be in an unfamiliar area.
  11. Most tweens can handle sitting at a kids table. This makes the meal more fun for kids and adults if space is available.
  12. Pay attention to signs that your child is becoming overtired. Children who rub their eyes, yawn, start to put their heads down on tables, or become fussy are becoming tired. If you’re in a private home, let the kids be excused from the table  If you’re in a restaurant, it’s time to start wrapping things up.
  13. If your child displays unacceptable behavior, quietly stand up and take your child from the table to someplace quiet. If your child is upset, sit next to them and let them calm down. Once your child is calm, explain to her that the behavior she was engaging in was not acceptable. Discuss what she can do instead (you may not throw things, but you may color in your coloring book). Do not attempt to discipline your child at the table in front of everyone. When you return to the table have the child sit next to you (if she wasn’t before), until you know she’s gotten the message.
  14. Know when it’s time to leave. Don’t keep children out too late, especially if it’s a school night or if they displayed challenging behavior during the meal. If it’s been a smooth experience, quitting while you’re ahead is never a bad idea.

13 ways to entertain #kids during bad weather

Fall and winter will inevitably bring rainy days that keep the kids indoors and often cancel outdoor events that serve as energy-busters. Staying inside all day is not the treat that it can be for adults, because typical bad-weather activities for adults like napping and reading are horrifying to most children. Here are some strategies to help everyone keep their sanity when the weather doesn’t cooperate:

  • Make sure they have rain gear. Kids can actually go outside in the rain, assuming they have adequate rain wear. Rain brings all sorts of interesting phenomena, like rivers rushing in the street gutters and raindrops popping onto the umbrella. Before the kids head outside, make sure they know to take off their wet outerwear and boots in a spot you designate so they don’t track mud throughout the house. Caution them from crossing the street, even if they are old enough, because driver visibility will be lower than usual.
  • Use the rain as a teachable moment. Ask your kids open-ended questions about the rain to get them thinking and sharing: where is the rain coming from? How is rain good for us (even if it cancelled the baseball game)?
  • Make a simple rain gauge. Locate a clear container, such as a glass or plastic jar. Place it outside in the rain, and have the kids write down the time the jar began to collect water. Set a timer for one hour. When the time is up, go back outside with the kids and retrieve the jar. Bring the jar inside and measure the water level with a ruler. That measurement is amount of rain that fell in an hour. Congratulations – you just sneaked some math learning into your day!
  • Look at the weather radar map for your area. Show your kids how you enter your zip code, and a map of your immediate area pops up with areas of rainfall highlighted. Find an animated weather radar map so they can see the rain moving through the area. Ask them what this map indicates: will we get more rain later, or less?
  • With rain comes a drop in temperature, so try a fun and easy cooking project like the gourmet hot chocolate recipe at AllRecipes (remember that children must be supervised in the kitchen whenever the stove is used)
  • Catch up with far-away family members with web-based communication apps like Skype or Facetime – this gives your kids a chance to show off their rain gauge and hot chocolate to Nana.
  • Push the movie envelope beyond the latest DVD release by introducing your kids to classic children’s movies like E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial and movies you loved when you were a kid, like Mrs. Doubtfire. Let older kids have a Star Wars or Lord of the Rings film Festival.
  • You and your kids can still get some exercise indoors with video games like WII Sports and Just Dance, or a round or two of Twister. Consider having lunch at a restaurant with an indoor play-scape in your area, like Chik-Fil-A.
  • Local museums make great rainy-day field trips, because they are educational and unhurried. Check out museumsusa.org for all of the museums in your area.
  • If you want your kids to get some reading in, try a visit to the local library so they can pick out something new to read. If you have more errands to do, check out an audiobook that you can all listen to in the car (rainy days mean traffic delays, so allow yourself extra time to get to your destination).
  • Make your kids’ favorite board game more epic with a high stakes tournament, and the overall winner gets to delegate their least favorite chore to Dad or Mom. Many board games have educational value, like Cranium for Kids and Apples to Apples Junior
  • Raid the recycle bin and let the kids build things from the cans, bottles and boxes (make sure cans have no sharp edges, and don’t let them play with glass items). If you live close by to an appliance store, call and ask if they have any refrigerator boxes you can take off their hands. Your kids will be thrilled with the box fort/castle/space station.

If you have a covered patio or porch, let your kids do a messy art project on it like fingerpainting or playdough, or whip up a batch of homemade moon sand, which will do well in the damp air.