You’re hosting your annual Oscars party and need to decide what to do with your kids. Should you keep them underfoot, allowing them to hang with your guests? Should you hire a babysitter to keep them entertained while you mix and mingle? Or should you tell your friends to bring their tots, too, so that you can share supervision duties? With some creative planning, you can craft a plan that fits your budget and party style while keeping you, your tots and your party guests happy.
Set up a Separate Space
If you want or need to keep your kids at home during the party, but don’t exactly want them opining on the finer points of block-building while your guests are mingling, the key is to set up their own special play area separate from the main party, says Amanda Raposo, founder and executive director of Project Playdate, a New York City–based child care service that specializes in private events.
“My advice is to have a separate space for children at your home or venue,” she says. “If not, a separate table and kids area will suffice. This space should be set with age-appropriate toys, games, activities and crafts for kids while also maintaining safety precautions—such as a rugged floor, covered outlets and no sharp objects.”
For younger children, this could include simple arts and crafts such as coloring books, molding dough, “make-believe” toys like kitchen sets and cars, and age-appropriate videos. For older children, consider setting up board games, crafts such as ceramics with quick-drying clay and shirt decorating. Still, despite your best-laid plans, having your kids in the house without a babysitter managing their needs and wants can be a little challenging.
“When children know that their parents are around, they're more likely to disengage in the activities and instead try to find their parents. ... For older children, there is less of a desire to have a supervised and separate children’s party.”
As a result, she states, you might find your older children worming their way into the adult’s party area. “These children might be more inclined to confront their parents about leaving the children’s party or disengaging,” she says. “Thus, when this separation isn’t physically possible, it becomes more challenging to have your own adult party.”
Hire an on-Site Babysitter
If your budget allows for it, you can hire a babysitter to supervise the kids during the party. For many parents, this is a best-case scenario, because it allows your kids to stay in their own homes—and fall asleep in their own beds—while giving you the freedom to socialize and enjoy the party. The key to success is to prepare your child for the babysitter well in advance of the party, says Lora Jakobsen, founder and CEO of Zookies, a Los Angeles–based children's product company.
“If a sitter is there to help watch the kids, and your kid is old enough to understand, have a talk with them ahead of time and say that you're still nearby but a new friend wants to play with them at the party,” she says.
If your guests are planning on bringing their children to the party, an option is to pool your financial resources and hire more than one babysitter to help out, especially if babies and toddlers will be present. “The solution here is to make sure that there is enough staff present to meet the needs of all children, especially the younger children,” says Raposo.
If you’ve never hired a babysitter and don’t know where to start, Raposo suggests checking out College Nannies and Tutors or UrbanSitter as resources. A final piece of advice when it comes to babysitters? “There should always be at least one person certified in CPR at the children’s party,” says Raposo.
Get Them Involved
If you’re throwing a more family-oriented party, another option is to get the kids involved from the beginning. Even if you and your guests don’t mind the little ones cavorting through the house during the merriment, you’ll still want to plan some activities to keep them civilized. “If you have a theme for the party, it can be fun to organize activities based on that theme,” says Jakobsen.
At a movie-themed party, for instance, you could arrange a “photo booth” and take photos of the kids with their parents in an empty frame. If the kids are older, she says, you could have them add props like mustaches or fake lips, or write messages on signs before snapping the shots.
Other options? Blast some music and play “freeze dance” with the kids, or set up a treasure hunt, which, according to Jakobsen, “can be a great way to involve both the kids and the parents in looking for clues and finding treasures. Why should the kids have all the fun?”
Set the Tone
If your guests will have their kids in tow as well, Jakobsen says it can be helpful to welcome families with an “instruction” sign in case you can’t be there to greet them. This can include props or decorations to pick up, signs for the bathroom, where to hang coats, or where the general play area might be.
“That way they feel welcome and know what to do with their kids,” Jakobsen says. “This can be a good way for smaller kids who are more shy to feel included. For older kids, it gives them a clue as to what type of party it will be and what they can expect for the next few hours.”