Can you believe Thanksgiving is just next week? We’ve got a lot of etiquette ground to cover before then so you can handle any tense family situations with grace. Last week I spoke about people who talk your ears off. Now, I’d like to address that other dreaded Thanksgiving guest: the one who doesn’t watch their kids (especially when they’re destroying your good china and torturing the family pet).
Now, if you consider yourself a bit of a control freak or don’t mesh well with children—not everyone does—you may want to leave the holiday hosting duties to someone else. Unlike say, a formal wedding or dinner party, you can’t ask your loved ones to leave their kiddos with a babysitter for Thanksgiving. This holiday is all about family time, and if you can’t handle having toddlers underfoot or don’t consider your home to be remotely kid-friendly, you might be better off visiting someone else’s home as a guest with the freedom to leave when you please.
Of course, even those of us who adore children can have our patience tried when a guest pays no mind to what their child is doing. In many families it is common to have a kids table so that the grown-ups can eat in peace, but sometimes separating the children and leaving them without close adult supervision—particularly if they are young or known to be trouble-makers—can cause a little bit of mayhem.
One way to avoid this is to seat everyone together, placing children next to their parents, who can cut up bits of turkey and stop food fights when needed. Another option is to stick with the kids table, but appoint a teenage babysitter (preferably an older cousin that you trust and can bribe with an iPod gift certificate or something similar) to act as hall monitor. Or, you can serve the meal buffet-style, allowing parents with children to eat first so they aren’t distracted.
You may also want to consider serving dinner at a time that is amenable to the children’s nap times. Most kids have a nap after lunch, so by serving at noon instead of 2pm or 3pm you can limit the risk of cranky kiddos while ensuring (hopefully) that they’re zonked out for part of the afternoon.
I recommend letting the kids play out in the backyard—provided it is fenced-in and there is at least one responsible supervisor—or creating an indoor play area that has been cleared of fragile valuables. Preferably, this area should be visible from where the adults are congregating. Now, if you don’t have a babysitter that you can rely on to keep a close eye on the kids, you might want to consider springing for a baby monitor or creating a schedule in which the adults take turns checking in on the children.
That said, some kids are prone to trouble-making, whether it’s fighting, crying incessantly or destroying everything in their path. If you notice this behavior coming from a child who is not your own, immediately alert their parent with a call to action, saying, “Hey, can you give me a hand? Jordan keeps pulling Missy’s hair.” If the parent knows what he/she is doing, he or she will step in and take care of the situation. In an ideal situation they will handle the disciplining, because if you are forced to do it they may take offense. It is okay to tell the child to stop what they’re doing, but you have to do it politely and in a non-threatening way. The last thing you need is for the little guy to burst into tears over what “mean old Aunt Jenny” said, which will make you the bad guy.
If say, the parent blows off the bad behavior and it continues, pull the offending child aside and bring him or her over to the parent. Say something like, “Jordan was getting rough with the other kids/painting on the wall/throwing toys and I thought it best to separate him for a little while to give him a chance to cool off. He’s all yours.” This way it’s clear that you are expecting some action from them, but you’ve done it in a way to minimize hurt feelings.
Worst case scenario, they let the kid off with a “boys will be boys” shrug or laugh off the bad behavior. If this happens, and you are convinced that the kid is really out of line, sidestep a dramatic confrontation by suggesting that the parent take the kids to the park or play a game with them. In other words, you are handing off babysitting duty so they can see how well their offspring is acting. Say something like, “Hey, why don’t I finish the dishes for you so you can take the kids outside. I could use a break from babysitting duty and the children are very restless.”
Whatever happens, don’t get angry—it will only escalate the situation. Just be thankful that the problem child will soon be out of your hair!