Parenting

How to Host a Toddler-Friendly Holiday Party for Grown-Ups

Well, it’s finally December and those holiday party invitations are rolling in. But, while in years past you might have accepted every one, you find yourself RSVPing “no.” Because how do you bring a toddler to a Christmas party? Answer: you don’t. So, you can either sit at home feeling sad that you’re missing out on all the holiday fun (not recommended), or you could throw your own, toddler-friendly holiday party for grown-ups. Here are some tips:

1. Schedule the party for a time when your child is usually awake and cheerful

Depending on your kid’s nap schedule, this might mean the party needs to start at 10 a.m. or 3:15 or some other time that you wouldn’t ordinarily host a party. But that’s okay. You’d much rather have your guests calling you the day before to make sure they got the time right than have them calling each other afterward to gossip about how whiny your kid is. He was just tired! I swear! Also (and this is really important!), list the end time on your invitation. In the days before kids, it was fine to just tell people when to arrive and climb into bed after the last guest finally went home, leaving the dishes for the morning. But now you’ve got a tiny person whose ability to stay up past bedtime (or naptime) is fairly nonexistent. So, include the end time (and make it about half an hour before you actually need everyone gone) and enough people will stick to it so that those stragglers will feel like they should go, too.

2. Set out snacks and drinks in an area where kids can’t reach them

While it may not be as convenient for your guests to have to get up and go into the kitchen, or reach on top of the bookshelf (or whatever) to get something to eat, it’s way more convenient for you. And since the other option is a floor full of smashed dishes and mushed up food, it actually turns out to be more convenient for your guests as well.

Also, it means that you don’t have to be the food police, doling out snacks into the outstretched hands of all your friends’ kids who have suddenly turned into the cast of Oliver! The parents of each child can be in charge of what he does or doesn’t eat. But do include some snacks that you think kids will enjoy since we all know what happens when children see grown-ups eating.

3. Provide enough toys to keep all the kids entertained (but put away your child’s most precious items)

Unless you’ve invented a variety of elaborate activities for the children at the party to do, their main source of entertainment will be your kid’s toys. And since this is actually a party for you and your friends, you want to make sure the kids are as entertained as possible without having to do much work. So designate a play area (preferably the place where the toys already are, but if that’s too far away, another semi-contained area) and put out a variety of toys.

If the toys are usually put away in drawers or bins, it’s a good idea to get a few out and put them in plain sight to entice little hands to come play with them. But make sure that the toys your child loves most are put somewhere far away and totally inaccessible (even to your child). The last thing you want is for his favorite fire engine to end up in a million pieces on the floor right in the middle of your party.

4. If you do offer a children’s activity, try to limit the mess

An activity for the kids is by no means necessary. They’ll be entertained enough by the novelty of someone else’s toys and a few snacks to make it through an hour or so. But, if you’re in a particularly Martha Stewart frame of mind, just remember that you (presumably) are the one who will be doing the cleanup once everyone else has gone home. So, while decorating paper Christmas trees with green and red glitter may seem like a sweet way to pass the time, in reality, it’s a sparkly nightmare in the making.

Same with decorating cookies (how on earth did icing get up there?!) or making snowflakes (kids wielding scissors should be avoided at all costs). But holidays stickers could be fun. Or those markers that only work on special paper are a hit (you could cut the paper into holiday shapes if you’re so inclined). But really, I’d discourage the whole activity thing. Or just put on a movie. They’ll love it.

5. Talk to your child about the party beforehand

Your toddler may not remember a time that so many adults and kids were in his house at once. And it may feel very overwhelming to have them all descending without warning. Particularly since some of them (the little ones, presumably) will be playing with his toys. So explain to him that you’re having a party and what that means. Things he should probably know are that there will be a lot of people in your house (some grown-ups and some kids). That the kids will be playing with his toys, but you can put his favorite toys away. That he can play with his friends or hang out with the grown-ups but that the grown will be chatting and can’t play with him. And anything else you think that he’d be glad to know. You can also tell him what will happen when the party is over so he’s not confused about the plan for the day. For example, if it’ll be time for his nap after everyone goes home, it’s a good idea to let him know that so he’s more willing to make that transition.

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None of this guarantees your party will be a success. You might be a terrible host (just kidding), or your child (or someone else’s) might just be having a bad day. But, at least, you’ll be putting your best foot forward. Which is all anyone can ask of you, really. You’re a mom throwing a holiday party. I mean, how brave is that?!