How to keep kids entertained at the table

I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say I love my children more when they’re quiet, but I’m certainly a happier Mum when my kids behave well. A friend recently confided that she was dreading her cousin’s wedding and when I offered to pass her a bag of tricks to help entertain the kids she jumped at the chance. ‘But where did you get these ideas from?’ she asked and I had to admit that every idea was stolen from other parents – either in real life or via their blogs. Lots of the suggestions that I came across were a bit ambitious for me – I’m always short on time and rarely have a laminator to hand, so I thought I would share some of my  more realistic suggestions for ways to keep kids happy even when they can’t run around.

There are too many ideas for just one post, so first up – quiet at the table. Whether it’s a meal at a restaurant, someone else’s house or a wedding breakfast, kids are generally not good at waiting at a table for food to be served or for other people to finish eating. I’m all for teaching my kids patience, but sometimes just a little bit of preparation can make it so much easier.nive found that taking out at least two of the following distracts and calms:

Busy bags for the table

Cards – At 6, Quibble is old enough for Top Trumps or snap cards, but even Squeak enjoys looking through a set of cards sorting, organising and making up her own games with them (the only consistent rule seems to be that she has to win).
Colouring – Quibble has just discovered colouring-by-numbers books, while Squeak is often happier with just plain sheets of paper. Often, for a specific occasion, I try to print off some pictures from the internet to colour – the novelty of images they haven’t seen before keeps their interest.
Stickers – I’ve never met a child who didn’t like stickers. They don’t last long – my two seem to want to get all the stickers stuck on a sheet of paper or into a notebook as quickly as possible – but it is an instant distraction when they need settling down.
Wallets – I bought a couple of cheap wallets at a charity shop (and have since acquired more from gift shops and freebies from magazines) and filled them with unwanted business cards, a couple of small photographs, fake money and credit cards. I thought the novelty would wear off pretty quickly, but these have lasted over a year now.
Beads – I have a small tin with beads, blutac, a shoelace and some little wooden sticks. This is more popular with Squeak than Quibble, but both have enjoyed threading the beads.
Activity books – Puzzles, dot-to-dot, spot the difference, mazes, wordsearch more colouring and stickers. Ideally, smaller than A4 (so they fit on a table) these can be picked up at pound shops, supermarkets or charity shops in advance and hidden until needed.
Lego – A small bag or tin of Lego with or without instructions (such as these)  Squeak mainly builds towers and Quibble usually makes spaceships but both do it sat quietly at the table.

Next time I’ve got ideas to stop boredom meltdowns for those times you’re just hanging around waiting.



What! You too?

 “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 My circle of friends has changed a lot since I’ve had kids. Those who don’t have kids, except for my closest friends, have drifted away to be replaced by a new crop of Mum Friends.

These Mum Friends are women I have met, at antenatal classes or playgroups, purely because they are the mother of a child the same age as Quibble or Squeak. These women, who I would not know but for the timing of a pregnancy, and I joined together as pioneers in this new frontier of Motherhood. We have become bonded by a shared experience. Supporting each other through sleepless nights, comparing notes on milestones (the hits and the misses) and getting dizzily excited going to the pub for a few short hours. They are easy to be with precisely because they understand what life with children is like – the challenges and the fun.

But while I have been going through this, so have some of my best and oldest friends. The friends I first met at university back in that time Before Children. On slightly differing timescales, we have all morphed from a group of laidback, silly, loud, drunken students we once were into respectable, sober, hard-working mothers.

Last weekend I met up with them all at a wedding. All except the bride have had a baby in the past twelve months; one first, three second and one third baby. And even though no children were present, conversation covered breastfeeding, childcare, maternity leave, weaning, nappies and even vasectomies. And because we were friends before we were Mums, because we bonded first over Lambrini and washing up rotas, because we can go months without speaking yet feel it’s no time at all when we do talk, we can speak with complete honesty and know we won’t be judged.

We admitted that we let our kids watch more TV than we meant to. We admitted that, in the middle of a tantrum, it was sometimes hard to like our kids. We admitted that our first family holidays made us miss those holidays where we had a lie-in, spent an entire day doing nothing, then went out for a meal. And we all knew that it didn’t mean we loved our kids any less or that we wished we didn’t have them or even that we weren’t good mothers.

We joked about the ways our offspring mimicked our words and actions catching us off guard and forcing us to laugh at ourselves. We shared our children’s cleverest, funniest and sweetest moments, reminding each of us how lucky we were. And, of course, we reminisced about those student days; our own cleverest and funniest moments.

As the night wore on, we became more laidback, a bit silly, very loud and quite drunk. And I realised that we really hadn’t changed all that much after all.