The Everything Guide to Kids

Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

From left, Starter: Tortilla Chips with mashed guacamole and mango salsa. Entrée: Chicken Potpie with lattice tops in individual pans. Dessert: S’mores Tart Tatin with a side of marshmallow sorbet.

Hold the Chicken Fingers
Upscale food that kids will actually eat.

No herbs. That’s rule No. 1 for Peter Callahan, Manhattan’s go-to caterer for seamlessly incorporating kids’ fare into adult menus. “You want food you can dress up without getting into the ingredient danger zone,” he says. “That means plain-looking and easily altered. Leave the sauce on the side. Herbs don’t go unnoticed.” After that, the only problem may be envious parents. “When it comes to buffets,” says Callahan, “I often find we have to empower a waiter to defend the kids’ meal from the adults.” 212-327-1144;

Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

Small Wonders
Party favors that also double as kiddie distractors.

Clockwise, from left: Personalized bubble wands, $10 each, at Fill-R-Up, 197 E. 76th St., nr. Third Ave.; 212-452-3026. Trumpet kazoo, $19, at Kiosk, 95 Spring St., nr. Broadway; 212-226-8601. Light-up yo-yo, $12, at Pylones, 842 Lexington Ave., at 64th St.; 212-317-9822. Make-your-own balloon-animal kit, $12, at Four-game set with mini wooden box, $42, at Pylones.

Ketchup Stains and All
Three ways to keep the kid chaos at bay.

Illustrations by Dan Woodger

How to:
Get a Child-Inflicted Ketchup Stain Out of a Wedding Dress

“The ketchup fingerprint is a kid specialty—on themselves and others. To treat one on a wedding dress, start with dish or hand soap mixed with water and a clean, light-colored sponge or cloth. Get the cloth sudsy, then wring it out and blot the stain, rinsing and wringing as you go. Because it’s delicate fabric, go slowly and use as little liquid as you can.” —Jolie Kerr, author of the forthcoming cleaning guide My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbagand Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha

How to:
Get a Ham to Stop Stealing the Spotlight

“Make sure there’s one adult who’s in charge of gently reining in tiny dance-floor superstars. Then, distraction is key. If there’s a photo booth, those props can come in handy. A good precautionary trick: Exhaust them early on. Play Bieber and ‘Call Me Maybe’ during cocktail hour so that kids can have their dance time while the adults are busy doing other things. By the time the adult party gets going, they’ll be wiped.” —D.J.’s Abby Klein and Tom Shiner of Play Something Good

How to:
Tell Your Guests “No Children Allowed”—Period

“An invitation that does not include the names of the children means they’re not invited. Of course, not all couples know this, nor do they know it’s bad manners to ask the bride-to-be if they can bring kids. If pressed, say you’re having a formal or ‘grown-up’ wedding or that there are financial reasons why kids can’t come. Etiquette dictates, however, that the ring bearer and flower girl be invited to the reception.” —Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, founder of the Etiquette School of New York

Illustration by Dan Woodger

Tempering the Tantrums
A Q&A with professional meltdown-averter Amanda Raposo, executive director of the wedding-sitter service Project Playdate.

What exactly is a wedding sitter?
I coordinate with the venue to set up a separate party for kids in a nearby space, whether that’s the bridal suite or another unused room. After learning more about the kids who will be attending—I call or e-mail individual parents to find out about their child’s favorite toys, movies, stories, and activities—I set up an evening with arts and crafts, music, and games. If approved by the couple, the children can still join the main party for certain parts of the night.

Is there anything parents can do in advance to prepare their kid for a wedding?
Explaining the night in steps helps, like letting kids know when and where they are allowed to behave in a certain way. For toddlers, offering incentives can be positive. If they know they can dance and play at the party only if they’re quiet at the ceremony, they might be more inclined to sit still. Or if they know they’ll get some wedding cake only if they eat fifteen bites of their dinner or use “inside voices.” It’s important to be specific rather than rewarding children for simply being “good.”

How can you tell when a meltdown is brewing?
They happen so fast, there often isn’t time to see them coming. But they’re far more common later in the night. Your best bet is having a few distractions available. That might mean stickers, Play-Doh, or another quiet toy. Or try a few minutes on the smartphone: The familiar face of Dora or another favorite character on the screen may provide enough comfort to calm them down. And, of course, if a child is making a scene, carry him away from the action. Encourage him to take a few deep breaths, wait ten minutes, and if he’s calm, then go back inside.

Are kids-only tables a good idea?
Yes. They’re the next best thing to having a separate space, though I’d still encourage you to hire a trained adult to oversee each kids’ table. The more structure and fun distractions, the less likely they are to become fussy and overwhelmed.

What about when bedtime rolls around?
We’ll change kids into pajamas and show a movie to help them wind down. Some may fall asleep across a few chairs, in the lobby, or over dad’s shoulder. A good way to subtly escort them out of the wedding is to use the same tactics for dealing with meltdowns: Distract—then get out of there as fast as you can.

Any horror stories?
At a recent wedding, a 2-year-old boy cried hysterically for about 20 minutes. Stories, bubbles, games—nothing worked. Eventually, we uncovered a toy from home in his diaper bag, and that was all he needed. The rest of the night was a breeze.

Always the Flower Girl …
How three couples creatively incorporated kids into their weddings.

Photo: Courtesy of the subject

For the November 2011 nuptials of her two dads—menswear designer Peter Manning and André Bishop, artistic director of the Lincoln Center Theater—Katie Bishop-Manning, then 13, played host at the ceremony and reception at the Standard Hotel. In a Nili Lotan dress, she greeted the 70 guests as they arrived and later, during a toast to her fathers, thanked them for coming.

Photo: Melani Lust

For her 2010 wedding to College Board director Jeffrey Cuff in Westport, Connecticut, photographer Melani Lust asked her three children—9-year-old twins Melanie and Preston and 11-year-old Terry—to write their own “vows” for the ceremony. Reading from an iPad, they shared how excited they were for Jeff to be their new father.

Photo: Craig Paulson

For a client who wanted to include three young relatives in her August 2012 wedding at Tribeca Rooftop, wedding planner Lauren Sozmen commissioned designer Michelle Edgemont to create signs calligraphied with the word toast. At key points during dinner, the three girls brandished them on the dance floor. “It was a fun way to get everyone’s attention for toasts,” says Sozmen. “Guests just loved it—and it worked.”

The Everything Guide to Kids