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Holiday Etiquette: Children and Holiday Party Dos + Don’ts

Thursday, December 13, 2012


They may be ready to party, but are they ready for the party? Use these dos and don'ts to ensure a good experience, for all concerned.

That glittery holiday family party invitation push-pinned to the bulletin board may signal that not all that glitters is gold. Prep as you would for any event. Find out what your children can expect. Whether it's Santa, peanuts in the brownies, or rum in the mulled cider. Be prepared and you'll make it through the holidays without drama. 

Do: Find out exactly who is being invited. The host should make it very clear by the look and wording on the invitation who in the family are actually being asked. When the invitation says, "The Wilson Family cordially invites you for Holiday Cheer," then members of your family who are the same age—or thereabouts—as the members of the Wilson family are kindly invited.

If the Wilsons don't have children under ten years of age, don't bring children younger than nine. Don't bring a child in the stages of being potty-trained because they think they have to go every ten minutes—and that's no fun. Babies in Moses baskets are great because they sleep. It goes without saying that children with colds shouldn't be taken to a party.

When in doubt about the ages of the other children, ask when you RSVP. Have the host remind you of her children's ages. If most of them are teenagers, and your daughter is a shy four-year-old who might not have fun, get a sitter for her and go on your own.

Do: Make sure that your child will know another child their age at the party, because children can be very cliquey when there are more than two the same age. So if the host's son has three friends from his class coming, think before bringing your six-year-old who doesn't know Johnny, because your child could be stuck in a corner reading comics. A large party is not the time to hone his social skills. An "At Home" family gathering with close relatives and friends is the best dress rehearsal for socializing. 

Do: Consider the timing of the party another factor. If the party timeframe is on the early side—anywhere between three to seven o'clock—then take younger children early for an hour or so and see how it goes.

Don't: Stay too long.There's another thing, don't ever stay the entire length of a party. Unless it is a served or seated dinner, an hour and a half is more than long enough. The times 3-7 don't mean they want you there the whole time with your three small children; it means that it's an open house and they want you to stay for an hour or so during that timeframe—but not much longer. If Santa is scheduled to make an appearance, find out when.

Do: Respect the holidays as a time to make face-to-face group conversation. Leave all cellphones and devices at home.

Do: If you know the hosts have a large house and you're bringing more than one small child, then take your own sitter. Do that and you'll be considered the best guest ever.

Do: Be ready to exit fast. In other words, if your child has a melt down and it's freezing outside, you want to know exactly where your coats and boots can be found. Monitor your child's behavior. If he's overstimulated and on a sugar high, you don't want him making a scene. It's best to feed children something before you leave your house so they don't fill up on the candy canes and gumdrops that decorate the gingerbread house.

Don't expect that a family party will be nut, gluten, sugar or dairy-free. In fact, you're likely to find all four in excess. Have a talk about what possible minefields might tempt him on the buffet table and take an EpiPen. It goes without saying to take diapers and something to seal it in because you wouldn't leave a smelly diaper in the host's bathroom.

Do: Take a small gift to share. It could even be peanut-free cookies or gluten-free cupcakes that you've decorated together.

Do: Be aware of what your teenagers are drinking. Family holiday parties are where most children experience their first rush of alcohol. Usually it's one of the older kids who thinks it's fun to give an eleven-year-old a plastic cup of the Bourbon Mulled Cider.   

Remember holiday parties are a golden opportunity to reinforce social skills. Role model ahead of time by acting out how to give a proper handshake and thank the host. It's never too early to learn to shake hands and to look an adult in the eye while saying, "Thank you for having me."

Didi Lorillard researches shifting etiquette at NewportManners.com by answering questions on relationship dilemmas, codes of behavior, wedding etiquette, business etiquette, entertaining, dress codes and manners. Or find Didi on Facebook,TwitterLinkedIn, or Pinterest after reading her earlier GoLocal columns, some of which are listed below.


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