During the family Christmas dinner, the children are often seated at a kids table of their own, while the adults are at the dining room table. This kids table is most often positioned right next to the table where the adults are so that the parents can keep a watchful eye over the little ones and keep the kids' behavior in check.
"We'd never put the kids in a different room," says mother of three Elaine Devon. "Not only would we be asking for noise and squabbles between the kids, but we believe in the entire family being together for the holiday celebration."
Often, a preteen cousin or sibling volunteers to sit at the kids table, helping the little ones with their food servings, pouring milk for them and keeping them occupied. These kid-watching relatives might even be paid baby-sitting fees or given an extra gift for their child care services.
With or without a tween or teen at the table, you can help keep the kids occupied and happy as they sit at their places for the duration of the family dinner. Here are some top strategies for making the kids table a fun place for the little ones to be for the duration of the meal:
--Make it comfortable for them. Hard wooden folding chairs are only going to make kids fidget and want to get up from the table, so borrow or rent cushioned chairs at a kid-friendly height, set at a kid-friendly-height table. If booster seats are needed, a sturdier dining room chair is far safer for booster-seat use.
--Make it colorful. The kids table doesn't have to match the elegant white tablecloth and bone china place settings of the adults table. It's far more engaging and festive for kids to sit at a table set with a vibrant-hued or holiday-themed tablecloth, set with Christmas-themed plastic plates and colorful plastic cups holding fun "curly straws" in holiday colors.
--Seat them wisely. If siblings are known to bicker, place a cousin in between them.
--Hang on each child's seat a personalized "goodie bag" holding a few special treats. These dollar-store purchases may be Christmas-themed headbands or bracelets, a light-up reindeer button, a little stuffed animal or some other little item that can be played with at the table.
--While it might seem smart to give kids toys in their goodie bag, an advance Christmas gift of sorts, Steveanne Auerbach, Ph.D., known as "Dr. Toy" and author of "Dr. Toy's Smart Play/Smart Toys: How to Raise a Child With a High PQ* (*Play Quotient)," says that giving yet another toy isn't the wisest of ideas for the kiddie table.
"One of the most common times of year for a child to receive too many toys is at Christmas. As parents, grandparents, friends and other family members try to make the holiday enjoyable, children may find themselves being overwhelmed by toys, toys and more toys, often leaving parents to transport and organize items that may never even be played with," says Auerbach.
Plus, if you give a child a video game for the game console he or she has at home, how is that going to keep him or her occupied now? And giving a noisy toy could turn into an annoyance for others during the Christmas meal.
--Provide quiet-play activities, such as coloring books or print-out coloring templates from parenting websites. These free templates often come in the form of a snowman or gingerbread house outline. When you provide a pile of these with crayons, kids happily color away.
The teen sitter at the table can advise the children to color a picture for their parents, for the dinner's host or even as a gift to be shown via Skype to military-serving relatives overseas.
--Another creative activity for kids is printing up word-game cards, such as Christmas word-search games, or fill-in-the-blank cards. With fill-in-the-blank cards, kids see "Christmas -----" and then list the words that come after Christmas, such as "stocking," "present," "dinner," "story" or "snow." It's not a competition, which can lead to tears and tantrums, just a group-share game in which the little ones share their ideas and can also get silly -- such as "Christmas noodle soup" instead of "chicken noodle soup." With the teen leading the game, the little ones will be laughing instead of whining.
--Set a one-time-use camera -- such as the Kodak Fun Saver (it has a flash so is great for indoor use, and is only around $5!) -- on the kids table, and encourage the little ones to take fun photos of each other posing with their new Christmas headbands or holding up message signs they've made with craft paper and crayons. The signs might read, "Merry Christmas" or "I love my cousins!"
--And the most important for last: Serve kid-friendly foods that the little ones will enjoy eating and eat with ease. For instance, if the adults are dining on gourmet ravioli stuffed with goat cheese and mushrooms, the kids might be served the cheese ravioli they know and love. Chicken fingers, fish sticks, meatballs, mac and cheese -- these may be included in the happier kids menu and keep the little ones at the table all through the meal.