How Keep Your Big Kid Busy at the Dinner Party

Catherine Crawford

One of my greatest thrills in life is a lingering, extravagant dinner party, stocked with good friends, good music and (lots and lots of) good wine. Lighting is important too.

For much of the last six years (i.e. ever since I’ve had children), this favored pastime hasn’t seen much play. It seemed like whenever I was invited to a dinner, I was either pregnant, breastfeeding, exhausted, sans babysitter, or any combination of the above.

Occasionally I’d have a surge of optimism and host a party, which was often fun – for everybody else. For me, it was mostly running around trying to get dinner out while simultaneously keeping my children entertained (or at least behaved). Instead of drifting toward midnight around the table with my friends and titillating conversation, I’d be changing diapers, reading a princess book or drawing a bath, my husband often putting out the dessert without me.

Then, something magical happened. 

About the time that my youngest turned three, my oldest (five at the time) decided that her little sister was fun.They began to play together, in earnest, for extended amounts of time without the constant need for MOMMY! I could have pals over and actually interact with them.

Well, that was lovely for about a year. Now, all of the sudden, my oldest daughter is feeling very grown-up. When the adults become delightfully cozy around the table after dinner, talking about things like death and sex, my six-year-old wants to be in on it, right by my side. Ironically, my youngest is usually out of my hair, happily playing in her room, but it’s the older child I have to work with again. It’s nice to have her for a while, but tailoring the conversation to kindergarten appropriateness gets old. So, I’ve developed a few strategies to keep my big kid away from the dinner party for little bursts of time. Here are my top five:

5 Tactics to Get Some Peace During a Dinner Party

1) Scavenger Hunt – Give your big kid a challenge, like "go back to your room and find me six frog-related things, four horses, and two items with golden trim." My daughter could hunt all night, and the longer the list, the longer it take for her to locate everything.

2) Poetry Recital – At one recent party, my daughter was so proud of her newly acquired reading skills that she kept pestering the guests to listen to her read. Desperate to have some peace, I suggested that she take a book of poetry to my room (she loves Shel Silverstein), memorize a poem, practice it a few times in the mirror, and then recite it to the adults. Fun for everyone!

3) Costumes! – It helps to have a very healthy supply of dress-up clothes for this one, so  --- if you are properly equipped -- send the kids off to dress up “as mysteriously” as they can. When they emerge, the adults try to guess who they are dressed as. For some reason, asking my kids to dress mysteriously has bought me all kinds of time. They work hard to stump me.

4) Dessert Chief  – My daughter loves to help, and help she will. I’ve discovered that my husband and I can both stay put when we give our oldest daughter a tray and ask her to organize everything for dessert. Just the word “dessert” makes her happily comply.

5) DJ Shorty – Now that my daughter can read, she loves to play DJ on the iPod. Although we sometimes end up listening to theme to The Muppet Show repeatedly, it’s often worth it for a little free time. Bonus -- I do love The Muppets.

How do you keep your kids entertained at dinner parties? 

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