Whether you’re taking the kids to Grandma’s or organizing a family reunion, a gathering of the generations—no matter how much they love each other—often turns into a situation that’s deadly boring for some, nerve-wracking for others. Here are my top hints for keeping things fun for all ages.
1. Get advance input from everyone who’ll be involved.
Even the youngest children should be allowed to express opinions on what activities they’d enjoy and what really pushes their buttons. If your gathering will include anyone who’s much older or younger than anyone else, is the bookworm in a clan of extroverts, or otherwise won’t take well to any subgroup’s likely choice of entertainment, allow that one to bring along something to do separately, or to help out with something that fits their talents.
2. Contribute something as a family.
If you’re bringing a food item, let the children help make or choose it, and present it “from all of us.” If cleaning up after dinner is a group project, include the youngest members (don’t assume they’d never cooperate—chores can be lots of fun when they double as together time).
3. Remember that children (and teenagers) have different energy cycles from adults.
It’s not fair to expect anyone to miss his regular nap or sit still for longer-than-usual periods—and then blame him for getting restless and cranky. Compare plans for the gathering to your child’s regular routine, and arrange in advance to put him down for a nap or let him go out to play at appropriate times. If going out alone won’t be an option, prearrange with someone else to take him on a short outing.
4. Treat everyone with respect.
There’s probably not a child alive who really enjoys the cheek-pinching, aggressive-kissing, “Ooooohhhh how you’ve grown!!!!” approach. Set an example and be the relative who greets children as you do adults, and who listens to them as well as talking. Pay attention to body language that indicates you’re violating someone’s personal comfort zone. If you have a relative who’s incorrigible on these points, privately brief your own children on the need to be patient with all types of people—and congratulate them (still privately) when they do so.
5. Think twice about seating adults and children separately.
You wouldn’t push the kids into a side room when serving dinner at home; why do it at larger gatherings? Conversation with full group involvement can be just as enjoyable as “grownups only” conversation. And “my good china is breakable” is no excuse; making everyone happy and comfortable is more important than setting a fancy-looking table.
6. Have good expectations.
Don’t go in worrying that your children will act up, or that’s probably what will happen. If they need briefing on how to behave, focus on the positive elements instead of the “don’ts”—and express confidence that they will do well. Expect that everyone will have a good time. Everyone—and just about everything, including family gatherings—rewards positive expectations with positive results.