Even before the coronavirus forced families to spend an unprecedented amount of time together, multigenerational parties had become the new way to entertain. Between busy schedules (for everyone in the household) that allowed for little family time to the challenges of finding a babysitter, inviting the entire family to a house party, a barbecue or a wedding was growing in popularity.
The question is, how do you balance hosting a family-friendly event with avoiding the kids taking over the party? Here’s how three professionals from the event-planning business creatively include the kids in their own adult parties as well as their clients’ events.
Chilling at the Wedding
From flower girl meltdowns minutes before their walk down the aisle to dirty-dancing on the reception dance floor, kids’ behavior at weddings can be unpredictable. “Cuteness can quickly dissolve into chaos,” says Dave Murray, who provides customized bartending services for hundreds of events each year as the owner of Good Spirits Lancaster. His recommendation? “Treat your kids like smaller versions of you,” he suggests, meaning think about the times when your attention wanders and you get a bit restless at a wedding. “There are three times when the bars are rushed at a wedding: at the beginning of the cocktail hour, at the end of the cocktail hour – when everyone wants a double of their beverages before they have to sit for dinner – and right after the toast,” he says.
It’s similar timing for kids, he notes. “We want to keep ourselves occupied with our drinks, so give the kids the same opportunities to be up and moving around and refresh their beverages.” An alcohol-free glass of ginger ale garnished with a strawberry (or slice of apple or watermelon) looks like the adult’s glass of bubbly and helps them feel special.
A separate Kids’ Table, equipped with each child’s personalized bag will let them have their own little party, contained in one space. Fill the bags with coloring books, paper crowns and activity-focused items.
Let the kids have some plated snacks from a dedicated side table while the adults are having hors d’oeuvres. “Kids want to touch everything, so don’t restrict that,” he says. “Just serve them in non-breakables.”
Allow for a costume change. “Kids need a change of clothes from the wedding ceremony attire,” Dave says. “Just a new shirt and some comfortable shoes. Otherwise, the wedding outfit will eventually come off.”
Our three Event Experts: Kaci Willwerth, Simple Soiree; Dave Murray, Good Spirits Lancaster; Heather Colosi, Will Do For You Concierge.
“Whatever the child does at rehearsal, they will do the opposite on the wedding day,” predicts Kaci Willwerth, owner of Simple Soiree and an event planner for 20 years. “If they are angels at the rehearsal, look out,” she says with a smile. She also recommends that if the couple is doing photographs ahead of the ceremony, always schedule the flower girl and ring bearer last, as close to the ceremony time as possible, in order to keep them fresh and minimize meltdowns. “Everyone is nervous on the big day,” she says. “It’s just the kids who let it show.”
Some brides choose to rent a hotel room or small meeting room staffed with childcare, which makes the reception more adult-focused and gives the kids a chance to relax. “They feel very special getting room service in their hotel room,” says Kaci. If that’s the direction you choose to take, Kaci recommends that brides reach out to individual guests in a conversation to offer the childcare service. “The message is, ‘We want you to have a good time, too,’ and that’s not something you can effectively say on the invitation.”
Hanging at the House Party
For entertaining at home, activities are key, according to Heather Colosi, a 15-year event planner and owner of Will Do For You Concierge. Keep the fun inexpensive and tidy, she advises. “I set up glow bowling in our basement or entry hall,” she explains. “If you have a group of kids of all ages, line the ‘alley’ with glow sticks, make pins out of large beverage cups with glow sticks taped to the inside, turn the lights out and bowl ‘em down with a small rubber ball.” A portable chalk or white board records the scores.
At Kaci’s annual New Year’s Eve house party, the younger guests get to pop balloons at the top of every hour, counting down to midnight. Inside each balloon is a paper naming the activity they may do for the next hour. “This is great for the countdown to midnight, but it can also be used throughout the year,” she says.
When parties move outdoors in the summer months, Heather sets up a kid-dedicated food and beverage station that keeps the younger guests from continuously interrupting the adults or running in and out of the house. Ages seven and up typically can serve themselves. Heather also makes sure there are options on the buffet for everyone’s tastes (pre-checked with the parents). Using disposables and putting trash and recycling bins near the buffet table make it easy to keep things tidy.
Dave recommends pouring beverages into plastic glasses and not making cans available. “They’ll lose the can, set it down and forget it, and that invites insects to the party,” he says. The tactic also ensures against sharing germs should a child pick up a can that belongs to someone else.
It’s best to let your guests know what you have in mind ahead of the party. “Make sure all guests – kids and parents alike – are prepared for your planned activities before they arrive,” Heather recommends. “If you intend to send them outside to play ‘capture the flag,’ everyone should have athletic clothes and sneakers with them. If you’re doing a video game station, everyone should bring their headphones and controllers. If you’re planning a bike and scooter derby, have them bring bikes and helmets.”
Planning lawn games for the grown-ups? Always have a kid-sized version of the same game, says Dave.
Before the party, preparations should include establishing ground rules for your own children – before any guests arrive. “Our two major rules are no closed bedroom doors and no food or drinks upstairs,” says Heather. “These rules are easy for the kids to share with their guests, easy for young guests to understand, and they help keep chaos and spilled drinks to a minimum,” says the experienced mother of two.
“You can pay attention to the kids’ needs without going over the top,” says Dave, who suggests a strategy such as an ice cream bar or a mocktail such as raspberry lemonade or Sprite with a splash of orange juice. (Just switch out the Sprite for vodka to make it a grown-up’s cocktail.) “Something as simple as a root beer float can be a home run for kids,” he adds. For graduation parties, a separate mocktail bar gives the kids a place of their own to hang out.