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Entertaining: Including the Kids

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Helping Children Learn to Host

Though I have not heard it said often, the ability to entertain with confidence is an advantage in life. We all know people who are “natural” entertainers and are able to throw successful gatherings, large or small, with ease and what appears to be minimal stress. For most of us, though, entertaining is fraught with anxiety. It is easy to get concerned that every detail is perfect or agonize over decisions. As a result, many hosts do not enjoy the experience of entertaining. Helping children to avoid this common pitfall by teaching them to get comfortable with the idea of hosting others, making it a normal part of their lives, and teaching them the basic skills necessary for entertaining success is to give them an advantage and skills that will serve them well. Entertaining well requires skills that we hope our children will develop: confidence, being good planners, not being afraid to take healthy risks, budgeting properly, being initiators, finding creative solutions to problems and recovering from mistakes gracefully. Teaching our children to entertain is about much, much more than it might appear at first glance.

As with everything, the best way to get good at something is practice. Our family entertains fairly often and I have tried to include my children in the work and rewards of hosting. When they were younger, we would set the table together. My girls then got to set their own “kid table”—placecards and all. As they got older, I started to involve them in menu planning, budgeting and thinking through a dinner party’s timeline. They were disappointed to learn that many of their favorite dishes were unsuitable for some kinds of entertaining—dishes that would require me to be in the kitchen for long periods of time, for example. I had to explain that my job as hostess was not only to feed people, but to get to spend time with them too. They helped me pour over cookbooks, choose platters and serving utensils and then set them aside so that they would be ready for quick access when the moment came. Now that they are older, they help with the cooking and shopping. I am not a good dessert maker and am more than happy to give my daughters credit for a dinner party’s finale. Entertaining now—at least when my daughters are home—is much easier than it used to be. I have sous chefs!

I remember learning some of the same entertaining tips I have taught my daughters from my own mother. I remember the lesson of having to clean up the mess that I had made…Her hands were on her hips for that lesson. I also remember my first awkward forays into entertaining. I was nervous and made mistakes, but my guests were gracious and laughed along with me. Mostly, I learned by watching and helping my mother. She is one of those “natural” entertainers. But to be truthful, maybe that is not entirely accurate. She entertains—a lot. Maybe she is as good as she is because she is well practiced.

Maybe that is the big secret to being good at entertaining. I have heard that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to get good at a sport. Why should cooking and entertaining be any different? Cooking (so much a part of entertaining) is something that most families do every day. Including children in cooking, encouraging them to watch and help, sharing your pleasure and process when hosting guests, and passing along those tips you heard from your mother and she probably heard from hers… it’s a way to get “a practice” in every day and log in those hours of skill building. Make the most of it. You may be helping your child develop more skills—and advantages– than you ever realized.

[AUTHOR: Hilary Doubleday]

January 24, 2015

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