Little Hosts 101

Thanksgiving is the kickoff to the holiday season, which means family, food, and a bit of frenzy. It’s easy to get caught up in the madness, but a method to ease the chaos is recruiting your little ones to be your helpers.

Just like household chores, children observe in order to understand their environment. In turn, they pretend play, imitating the actions of what they see, including holiday tasks. Take this willingness as an opportunity for your kids to get involved, and even feel a little special. Our kids love to sit on the counter and watch us cook everyday dinner. Can you imagine if we were doing some super-fancy cooking for a party of their favorite family members?

Age Appropriate

There are many tasks to be checked off for a family gathering to go without a hitch. Include your family in that long-running to-do list, and you might be surprised what your kids can accomplish. Here is a quick breakdown of some easy holiday hosting jobs, based on age group.

2-3 Years

At this age, your child is learning how to use their body efficiently. They are exploring movement with purpose and beginning to polish their fine motor hand skills. In addition, they are cultivating a sense of independence, developing new skills and different ways to problem solve, and acquiring an extensive vocabulary. Whether it’s in the kitchen or helping with the party, kids this age can:

  • Pour and mix ingredients
  • Be the official Taste-Tester before food goes out
  • Be a helper at the grocery store
  • Tidy and put their toys away before guests arrive
  • Find leaves/acorns/pinecones outside for table decorations
  • Greet guests when they arrive
  • Help set the table with an older sibling or relative
  • Collect and toss out any left-behind trash

4-5 Years

Around this age, your child’s coordination has improved, allowing them to complete activities with precision and refinement. They can also follow 2-3 step instructions. They can try out:

  • Helping brainstorm a grocery list
  • Gathering, sorting, and measuring ingredients
  • Helping prepare simple dishes, like a charcuterie board or fruit plate
  • Clearing the table
  • Making decorations
  • If we’re being fancy, helping clean and polish “special occasion” tableware

6-9 Years

Here your child can take more responsibility without supervision. They can learn complex and challenging tasks, although some resistance to help may be noted.  Give them a special job that lets them rise to the occasion, like:

  • Help prepare side dishes and desserts with supervision
  • Make calls/facetime to invite family members to dinner
  • Help set up decorations and table settings (perhaps teach them the art of napkin folding)
  • Call guests to the dinner table
  • Check water glasses
  • Collect trash and empty glasses throughout party

10-13 Years

At this age, your kid can do tasks on their own and can be held fully accountable without frequent verbal reminders. Give them a bigger role, like:

  • Help find recipes, or choose a new recipe to try out
  • Brainstorm the menu
  • Serve as a sous chef in the kitchen, covering food prep or completing a dish
  • Arrange flowers, decorations, and place cards
  • Create a music playlist
  • Help clean and prep the house for guests the day of
  • If family is staying over, help tidy the guest bedroom and bathroom
  • Greet and take guests’ coats
  • Wash or load the dishwasher

A few tips for parents:

  • Make safety a priority, especially in the kitchen. Knives, hot pans, and food processors all need to be used with supervision.
  • Realize that this process will not be quick, clean, or straight forward. You will need to repeat directions, keep your child focused, and there will most definitely be a mess. Yes, it’s easier if you do everything yourself, but that isn’t the point of the activity.
  • Give yourself plenty of time and space to cook. Don’t save this activity/dish/task for 20 minutes before the meal starts. Don’t try to multi-task while making other dishes. 
  • Along the same line, give your child time and patience to learn and complete the task.
  • Have your child pick out what they want to make. Spend time with a cookbook or on Pinterest. Give them ownership of the dish.
  • The younger your child, the shorter their attention span. Enlist a relative to be a helper, just in case. Grandparents are great for this.
  • Make activities a tradition. This is a wonderful way to keep your kid involved and make memories.
  • No pressure. Thanksgiving will not be ruined if this one dish doesn’t come out or if the table wasn’t set right. No negativity and don’t embarrass them for trying.

What if my child gets overwhelmed or doesn’t want to help anymore?

There is always a possibly that your little helper may not follow through with their task, like too many people, a sensory overload, or getting caught up in playing with cousins and friends. If this happens, it’s okay. Thank them for their contributions. They tried and that’s all that matters. After all, it’s the holidays and being with the ones you love is more important than a “perfect” party.

Whether you get a little extra help in the kitchen or create new family memories and traditions, we hope you and your young sous chefs/party hosts have a great Thanksgiving.

The Ultimate List of Age-Appropriate Chores“, By Robert Myers, PhD. The Child Development Institute, October 14, 2019.

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