From Dr. Jane's Notebook

The fine Art of family entertaining

The summer is a wonderful time to entertain. Anytime is a wonderful time to entertain, but failure to adequately plan can lead to more than your average garden variety of family conflicts. While others may discuss the fine art of cooking and cleaning, I am more concerned with the psychological gains associated with this sport. Here are a few more thoughts on the matter.

·        Children learn how to entertain from their parents. For some of us, the idea of entertaining seems easy and natural. For others, the mere idea of having company over brings on a “host” of anxieties (no pun intended.) Fortunately, it is never too late to cultivate this fine art and thereby instill important social skills in our children.

·        Hold a family meeting to discuss the purpose of the gathering. Everyone who lives in the household should be included so that no one feels left out of the planning. If you wish to enlist cooperation, kids and adults should have some amount of say about the festivity. After all, you will probably be expecting your children to entertain other children and help with some of the clean-up. There are few things worse than temper tantrums during a party that include words like “I didn’t even want them to come over to our house”.

·        Consider how best to make your guests comfortable. Kids can help compose a shopping list of foods for the kids and they can help by planning to share some of their toys and games.  By assigning jobs to family members, each can know what is expected of them. But more important than a list of chores, it is helpful to discuss how to behave so as to make guests feel comfortable in your home. Good manners include paying attention to guests, helping them know where to find food, games, and bathrooms, and treating guests in a way that communicates “I’m glad you’re here” (even if they aren’t). Kids easily grasp ideas like “Don’t leave your guests alone” because it makes them feel like it’s time to go home, and “its all right to let guests help with some of the tasks because it makes them feel more useful and comfortable in a new environment.”

·        Make a plan for mid-party huddles. Few things are worse than learning about emotional disasters long after they have occurred. Children may need a few minutes of your attention during a party to help them protect a special toy which needs to be put away, spouses may need a few moments to agree about timing on food, and all family members may need to communicate about feelings that have been hurt in the course of entertaining. In general, it is best to deal with small problems as they arise to keep them from becoming larger disasters. To avoid embarrassment, it is even helpful to decide on a code word which communicates the need for a moment of “huddle” time.

When your children leave home, they will take with them the social skills you have taught them. These skills should include how to be a good guest and how to be a good host to others.  Consider the social occasions which you have most enjoyed and identify the elements that made you feel comfortable and at ease. Hopefully, the opportunity to entertain your friends will be approached with a spirit of generosity and enthusiasm. For better or for worse, our children are always watching and learning from everything we do!

©Copyright, 2010, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.            

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