Ideas for New Year’s Eve with Kids


I love New Year’s Eve with my kids. We started letting them stay up as late as they could with the goal of making it to midnight when Claire was three and Alicen was almost six. That first year they made it til about 10:30 p.m..

  • Okay, this seems an obvious one, but plan a game night. Break out all your board games and play! Include movement games like Twister and Hullabaloo and party games like charades and pin-the-tail.
  • Plan a scavenger hunt.
  • Take bubble baths.
  • Have a movie night.
  • Plan a craft night.
  • Hang a disco ball and have a dance party.
  • Have the kids plan the menu and help make the meal.
  • Instead of dinner have an appetizer night. Make one large appetizer plate per hour.
  • Have dessert for dinner. Make it a Sundae Party and provide all the toppings.
  • Build a fire in the fire-pit and make s’mores.
  • Discuss resolutions and make them as a family.
  • Make a pillow fort.
  • Have a family slumber party. Bring sleeping bags and pillows to the living room and camp out.
  • Have confetti, noise makers and poppers on hands for if they actually make it til midnight (or don’t).
  • If they don’t make it to midnight, search “New Year’s ball drop” on Youtube and pick one. You can have the ball drop whenever kids get tired.

Please add your own ideas here!

Tips to Enjoy Eating Out with Children

Family eating together in a restaurant

I have always loved eating out with the kids. Yes, there have been stressful times as Alicen threw up a LOT when she was two and three years old. And yes, occasionally we’ve had to cut things short over behavior or exhaustion. That said, eating out can be a very pleasant experience with children at any age.

There are several basic things to consider when choosing a restaurant with young children.

  • Kid friendly – Some children need more practice than others at learning to speak quietly and sit at a table. The idea is to start at very kid friendly restaurants. With little ones, we go to restaurants like Chili’s where it is okay if they are occasionally loud.
  • Kids’ menu – It may be helpful to check out menus online or to call ahead and ask about menu options. The best kid’s menus we’ve seen are at Legal Seafood and Firefly. Other times we just order them extra plates, and then split off our own.
  • Things to do – It can be so helpful when a restaurant offers some activities. Bertucci’s offers kids dough to play with, Macaroni Grill lets them draw on the paper table cloth and Cracker Barrel has the peg game and five page coloring book menus.
  • Things to look at –  In our area, Mango Mikes has a huge fish tank that children can see from the dining room or up close if their parents walk them near the bar. The National Gallery of Art Cascade Café has a waterfall outside a picture window to look at and moving walkway for something to do. The Rainforest Café has an amazing amount to look at.
  • Kids’ area –  Some restaurants go as far as having a kids’ area. This can be a play area like at IKEA or Generous George’s, or a seating area like at Paradiso. Paradiso has a kids’ room where children sit at small picnic table and eat while watching Disney movies on a big screen TV while parents have a nice meal in the next room. While this defeats the social piece and learning to sit with parents, it’s another fun option.
  • Kids’ trinkets – Mango Mikes has a wall full of party favor type toys for children to pick from. Stardust gave little plastic figures on their drinks. We grew a collection of their mermaids and elephants.
  • Plan to walk around – Sitting through the meal itself can be a long stretch for little ones. If you go in planning to walk around the restaurant or even outside with them once before and once after the meal, it may help them to sit longer and make the experience less frustrating.

Activity bag – It can be helpful to carry a “restaurant bag” in your car at all times. This is a bag that has small notebooks and pencils, stickers, small Playdoh and a few party-favor toys. This bag only comes out once menu items have been chosen, goes away when the food comes and can be available again once they eat. The trick is to not have it available at other times like when you are stuck in traffic. If they get to play with it other times, it likely won’t hold their attention in the restaurant.

Conversation WITH them – This is probably the most important point, spend your time speaking with your children. At any age, include them in the conversation. Ask them questions and share your time. Teach them that meals are a pleasant and social time.

Contribution during – Contribution in general is giving children jobs related to a transition or other daily function. At home, this includes them matching cups to lids or taking drink orders when you are making dinner. At a restaurant, this might include them folding and refolding napkins, buttering rolls, passing food or putting food on a fork for you.

Sit at a booth – If your kids are often up and down from the table, a booth might be helpful so you can box them in.

Sit outside – If it’s available, sitting outside tends to give kids lots to look at and others may be more forgiving of noise.

Plan dinner on the early side – Eating late, children are more likely to be tired and hungry which is a recipe for disaster. It’s better to go early when everyone is fresh.

Thanksgiving Day Parenting Tips

Thanksgiving day without children can be hectic between travel time, visiting family, cooking and cleaning. Add a seven, four and two-year-old to the mix, and it can feel overwhelming. Here are a few ideas to help with the day:

  • Do what you can ahead – This may be baking desserts, making and freezing side dishes the days before or really cleaning the house over the weekend.
  • Hire out what you can – I cheat. Each year I have at least one store bought dessert and side dish that I may claim as my own. Not a luxury I have often, but occasionally we have a housecleaning service before the holidays and out of town guests.
  • Keep children busy during prep – If you have an extra adult who is available outside the kitchen, have them lead a nature walk or help children to browse toy catalogs to cut and paste a Holiday wish list. If they are really gung-ho, provide a pre-formed ginger bread house with frosting and decorations (left over halloween candy in my house) for the children to make a centerpiece.
  • OR Involve them during prep – If they are old enough, include them in the preparations. Children can color placemats, write menus, butter vegetables, knead pie crust, take drink orders and set tables.
  • Stick to normal routines – This means mealtimes and naps as much as you can.  This can go a long way towards a pleasant day for all.
  • Include kid-friendly food – I tend to think traditional Thanksgiving food is pretty kid-friendly. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be sure there will be mashed potatoes or mac and cheese if it’s a favorite.
  • Use contribution during the meal – Children love to help. Encourage them to butter rolls, carry plates or refold napkins as needed.
  • Discipline in private – To provide a pleasant mealtime for all, step away from the table for discipline.
  • Set expectations a bit lower – Remember they are children. It can be a challenging day particularly if they’ve travelled, are not sleeping in their own room or sharing their room with a cousin.

Holiday Reading Tips

I’d like to share a few of our holiday traditions that revolve around reading. We’ve compiled a stack of 25 Christmas themed picture books. Each night, starting on the first of the month we include one in our read aloud time before bed. On the night of the 25th, we read what was their favorite The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Scarry.

Each Christmas morning there are three new books for each child under the tree. I recognize they quickly get set aside for the toys and tech gadgets, but I think it is important to have books be a piece of the gift exchange. As they’ve gotten older, we’ve branched out with more reading related gifts. This includes book marks, box sets, a writing journal, magazine subsriptions (thanks grandpa!) and now a kindle. I recently read a suggestion to wrap one book and leave it on the child’s bed, so the first thing they open on Christmas morning is a new book. For you last minute shoppers, is an online service that sends your loved one a book-a-month based on the categories you select.

You might also check these great holiday reading tips from Reading Is Fundamental In this clip, Dr. Judy Cheatham reviews tips to build a love of reading over the holidays. Enjoy!

Managing Holiday Stress

I have a tendency to over schedule. As we enter the Holiday Season, this year more than ever, I want to slow down, appreciate the small things and make time for family. Here are a few things I am going to keep in mind, not just to keep sanity, but hopefully to add enjoyment.

  • Help children plan their gift giving – I sat with the girls this weekend and helped them to build a list of what giftcards they wanted to get for which teachers, which friends they wanted to buy for and who they feel we need to add to our card list.
  • Start shopping early and space out errands – We took a trip to the mall on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. to start on their lists and look for holiday ideas for a few relatives. We are far enough out that it was low key and fun.
  • Focus on experience and time more than spending and things – We are focused on giving experiences like concert and play tickets or classes through the community center. Claire (youngest daughter) is giving Troy (husband) a gift card for rock climbing they can use together.
  • Focus on your family’s true meaning of the holidays – Whatever your beliefs, focus there. In our house, there is focus on faith, family and traditions. Build holiday activites around what is really important to you.
  • Build in kid-fun – It’s around this time every year, we spend a few hours on a Saturday morning making Gingerbread houses decorated with all the leftover Halloween candy. Build pillow forts, and stock up on hot cocoa.
  • Remember downtime in the schedule – Most children benefit from having at least some downtime (relaxed playtime) everyday. As much as there are errands to run and places to be, build in time to chill and recharge.
  • Take time to be thankful – Have conversations often about what we are thankful for, what makes us happy, how we like to share our downtime and what we love about one another. Especially when things are stressful, it’s good to focus on and share the positives; it’s good to be specific.

Grandparent Issues

There are two general guidelines for deciding to address a grandparenting concern. The first is to decide if it is a health and safety issue. Let’s say a grandparent spanks, and you are strongly against spanking. This would be considered a health and safety issue, so even if they only visit a few days a year, address it. Speak with them about it and come to some conclusions. If it is not a health and safety issue, it’s better to let it go and allow them to build an individual relationship. When a grandparent is corrected often, they may pull back from the relationship which likely isn’t worth fixing the issue if not for health and safety.

The second is to consider how often they visit or how often the behavior occurs. Let’s say the grandparent gives the child a piece of candy each day. If they only vist a few days a year, this is likely not an issue. If they are your five-day-a-week childcare, this is likely an issue.

You might also weigh intent. Even when it is annoying to you, a grandparent may be coming from a place of love and connection. When you do address an issue, avoid blaming the grandparent. Blame yourself and your own concerns for behaviors, or blame the child and their reactions. Ask for help with the situation rather than blame. If you do address an issue, do this out of earshot of the child.

A mom in our program recently shared how she puts grandparent issues in perspective.  When grandparents visit, she posts a strange quotation on the fridge to remind herself, “gnaw off their arm.” She says this reminds her whenever an issue arises that grandparents are likely the only other people in the world that would gnaw off their own arm to save her child’s life. It helps her to let the frustrating but managable things go.

Tips for Holiday Stress

With so many errands, activities and outings, it is easy to become stressed during the Holidays. Unfortunately, when we are stressed, our children likely feel it too. Here are a few tips to help families manage this time of year.

  • Start early and spread it out – Start your lists now if you haven’t already. Space out your errands and responsibilities.
  • Help children plan their purchases or creations – Children may need guidance on gift selection. Brainstorm ideas with them, help them consider the person receiving the gift. If they are making gifts, build in and help them structure their time.
  • Focus on experience and time rather than spending and things – Plan to bake cookies together, rather than buy them for class parties. Arrange outings and experiences together, rather than buy presents.
  • Focus on your family’s true meaning of the Holidays – Be it religion, faith, family or tradition, think about what is truly important to you about the Holidays and share this with your children. Strive to keep the focus throughout this time.
  • Stick to routines as much as possible – Routines help most children to cope with stress. Strive to make meal times regular and bedtimes as normal as possible.
  • Include them in the Holiday planning – Give them what choices you can. This can be as small as picking which tights they wear with their holiday dress or as big as which party to attend first. Children given choices have a sense of control which can go a long way in managing stress.
  • Remember downtime – Children benefit from having unstructured downtime for play every day. This is especially true when life is busy and chaotic.
  • Remember fun – Build in time for sledding and hot cocoa.
  • Discuss what makes us thankful, grateful and happy – Take time to reflect with your children. Discuss what is important to you and find out what is important to them.

Sibling Peace & Holidays

little boy and girl walk in autumn forest

Tips for Managing Siblings, Cousins and Friends over the Holidays

If your house is anything like our house over the holidays, there are children coming and going at all times and many may overstay their initial warm and friendly welcome. Children stuck in the house together who have been used to the elbow room of school and regular schedules can be a lot to handle on top of the rush of the holidays.

  • Plan for the downtime – A few years ago there was a huge snowstorm that kept the girls and I in the house for five straight snowdays. By the end of the first day, I wised up. I made a list of every possible activity that was fun and available in our house. This included regular things like play with groovy girls but also much bigger things like make a pillow fort, take a bubble bath and bake cookies from scratch. It was a long list that we almost exhausted by the end of the week.
  • Make them busy – Contribution is a practice in positive discipline that follows the idea that; children who are engaged with positive behaviors have little time for negative behaviors. This proactive technique is simple – make them busy. Children who are buttering rolls and drawing placemats aren’t resisting the table and argueing about what’s for dinner. Children who are picking towels, bath toys and testing the water temperature and level aren’t running amok and avoiding the bath.
  • Pit them in cooperative efforts – All the better if the efforts are done together. See if they can both clean the playroom to beat the clock, challenge them both to set the table before the end of the next song on the radio.
  • Have a back-up plan or two – Set aside a few fun activities that will work well in a crunch. When kids start bickering and can’t seem to get back in a friendly groove, be ready to pull out Hallabaloo, the cake decorating kit and a cupcake mix, Play-Doh with all the supplies, big coloring books with crayons for all, the bounce house or a good video that all might enjoy.
  • Divide and conquer – Two kids are more likely to get along easily than six. If you are overwhelmed by the numbers then divide them. Two or three kids in each area or at each activity is plenty.
  • Take a walk – When all else fails, bundle them up and take them out.


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