Big Events, Little Kids

Sophie's suggestions for entertaining young children at adult focused events.

More and more I am planning large adult-focused events which include a fair number of small children. This can sometimes cause problems when it comes to seating and dinner. Do you put the kids with the teenagers, who then become resentful for being saddled with the “little kids"?  Do you seat them with their parents in one large group, creating what I call the “Disney table,” where only parents with little children are sequestered. Or disperse the families throughout the room, which can sometimes cause issues with other, childless guests if the kids become unruly? We all know the little ones would rather have mac & cheese on the run instead of having to sit properly on a booster seat and eat foie gras-stuffed filet with cauliflower puree. It’s becoming even more of a conundrum these days, because the trend is to let the teens have their own areas to eat, hang out, and dance, which leaves our little guys in a no-man’s land.

Some folks like to create a separate tot zone completely away from the adult activity, which is fine, but I do think it’s nice to have the mix if possible.

What I’ve found works really well is to give the little guys their own area. I place those tables in an area that’s close to the parents, but separate, and, if possible, lower. They make amazing kid-sized tables nowadays that are just so much more comfortable for children.

To make what can often be a long meal for children, I suggest the following:

1. No glassware on the table; sippy cups or plastic cups with straw attachments work great.

2. Skip the centerpiece, or keep it very small.

3. Food on the table the minute the kids get there. It can be bread, or crackers, or breadsticks... but when kids sit down they don’t want to have to wait to be served. Having something there to stave off their hunger is important. 

4. Table toys! I love this -- it’s one of the things that keeps kids really happy, and in combination with suggestion number 5, usually ensures that the parents will actually enjoy their meal because their children will be engaged. I choose a variety of toys that can be played by pairs or trios as well as singles. It’s unbelievable what’s out there: miniature Hungry, Hungry Hippo sets, mini Battleship, tiny Connect Four... it’s really amazing. I also include things like those Invisible Ink books.  They come in a variety of themes, from trivia, to bingo, to bowling. Mini Etch-a-Sketches, magnetic hair characters, wooden puzzles. I like to have a few small coloring books, crayons, and stickers too. Mini craft kits such as beading on pipe cleaners or small Lego kits are fun. All in all, I find that setting a table with a bunch of kid-friendly activities helps to keep kids in their seats.

5. Kid monitor/baby sitter. I suggest hiring a couple kid monitors. You want fun, engaging, baby-sitter types, who will be able to make sure that the kids get fed, but also help to entertain the kids during the dinner hour. They can also take kids to the potty, and walk a child with a case of separation anxiety over to their parent for a quick fix. It’s well worth the cost of hiring folks to do this. If children are really young (under 5) I would suggest 1 “nanny” for every 3 kids.

Of course once the music and the dancing start, most kids hit the dance floor and you won’t see them for the rest of the night. But if you take my advice on this one, you should be able to keep your little ones happy and get them fed. And the best part is, the parents can have a few moments to actually engage with other adults. Kids are happy. Adults are happy. Who could ask for anything more from a celebration?