When Your House Guests are Children: Our Lessons Learned

Wednesday June 22, 2016

Preparing your home to host kids can be dramatically different than preparing your home for a typical, adult guest. Kids get quiet and meek when they need something; they’re often not their best advocates. If their parents aren’t staying with them, they can also feel sad or even more shy.

When we recently hosted my niece and nephew for a weekend, their comfort was key. I still remember sleeping over kids’ houses when I was little. Inevitably, the daytime super awesome fun times turned to evening anxiety because the food was weird or the parents made us drink milk at dinner or the toothpaste was a different brand, and then the pillows were weird and the blanket was not my blanket. And then I’d be sad and it’d be midnight and I’d just wish I could be home instead.

I wanted to avoid that as much as possible, and so preparation meant looking through our home and figuring out ways to make it even more child-accessible than it already is. If they knew they could get a glass of water by themselves, then they wouldn’t have to go through the hemming and hawing of asking their aunt for a glass of water.

Here’s what worked:

1. Make food and drinks kid-accessible

Kids can feel uncomfortable asking an adult for things, and feeling hungry or thirsty will make them miserable and compound the problem. Setting up kid-accessible snack and drink options means that they’ll be able to just grab it themselves and not have to worry about asking for help or suffering in silence.

I stocked Bean’s snack drawer with a variety of healthy treats: raisins, crackers, and bananas. I stocked the lowest shelf on the refrigerator with fruit, small bottles of water, and small bottles of orange juice. (Buying small bottles is less economically and environmentally sensible, but buying a large jug of either would have made it difficult for the kids to take it out and pour it by themselves.) Finally, I pointed them to Bean’s cups, bowls, and plates and let them know if they wanted a snack, they could just put it in a bowl themselves.

The kids seemed to love being able to get all of this themselves. The first night, they excitedly grabbed plates and bowls, very properly set places for themselves at the table and laughed their faces off. I don’t know why this was so funny, but they seemed to be having a blast, just eating berries out of bowls and pouring themselves water. The rest of the weekend, the snacks slowly disappeared and the fruit was gone.

2. Instead of toys, think crafts

Kids need something to do, and unfortunately the time honored houseguest tradition of standing around gossiping with coffee or wine is not their idea of fun.

One of my concerns was that Bean’s toys wouldn’t be age-appropriate (re: interesting or desired) by older kids. I pulled out toys that I thought a 5 year old or 7 year old would want to play with. I swapped out art supplies in our art closet for a more sophisticated crowd (offering the entire box of markers instead of just a few, watercolors instead of toddler paint, glitter instead of confetti.)

The biggest hit, and I still have no idea why, was this simple Montessori color mixing tray. They would all watch each other mix colors with baited breath, waiting for their turn. The art closet was a major hit as well. I’m still rounding up glitter from every crevice in the apartment. Duplo block Legos, even though the 5 year old moved past them a long time ago. Legos: fun at any difficulty level. Oddly, Bean’s dollhouse was also a favorite.

3. Use 3M hooks to hang towels in the bathroom, at their height

This hadn’t occurred to me until the night before: I can give them towels, but they wouldn’t exactly be able to reach our hooks. My goal, again, was to minimize confusion on their part and help them feel comfortable knowing where all their things were. Luckily, I had extra heavy duty 3M hooks in the closet. I popped them on the back of the bathroom door and done: kid-accessible bathroom.

4. Unpack their things for them

This seems like a no brainer and it is. Instead of keeping everything in their parent-packed overnight bags, we went ahead and put their toothbrushes, toothpaste, and moisturizer next to Bean’s in the bathroom. We put packed food items on Bean’s shelves in the kitchen for them to access. Coats went onto coat hooks in the entryway, shoes into shoe bins. Any toys or books they brought with them went on their nightstands or toyshelf.

5. Set up a reading nook or quiet nook

As much fun as kids have playing together, they need to get away from each other every now and then. We set up our Ikea Child-sized Poang chair in Bean’s micronursery, next to a wall of books and basket with headphones and Dave’s old iPod. The kids were all over it. Our nephew spent the most time in there, away from his sister and cousin, quietly reading books to himself. My niece bee-lined for the headphones and lay down in Bean’s toddler bed or danced around in a dance-party-for-one. Kids need alone time.

6. Pick up some library books they might enjoy

This was also a major major hit. At our weekly visit to the library, I picked up some books I thought my niece and nephew might like (Bean’s books are pretty young for them). Some Star Wars themed books for the Star Wars enthusiast. Some Ramona and art books for the burgeoning elementary school aged artist. The kids immediately gravitated to them, and I think such a small gesture showed them that our home was a place for them too.

7. Make their beds inviting and comfortable

It can be a strange feeling to sleep in a new place, especially when you’re only 5 years old. We piled their beds with quilts, throws, and pillows. I added some of their library books to the nightstand along with a small bottle of water. Each also got a nighttime reading implement: lantern or flashlight. Bean selected three stuffed animals to decorate their beds with as well. We tried to recreate a home away from home. Just to make sure they would have everything they’d need, and didn’t feel stressed at night in a new, dark room.

8. Offer a thorough tour once they arrive, pointing out all the things that are theirs to use for the weekend

Kids don’t pick up on home décor unless you point it out to them. I gave each of them a tour of the apartment, pointing out which bed was theirs, which towels were theirs, where the snacks were, where the fruit and beverages were, where I’d stashed their toothbrushes, what to do if they wanted a snack (“get it yourself”), and where to go if they wanted to read a book. By giving them a tour, it was instantly apparent to them what was theirs to run roughshod over, and they proceeded to do so. It was a clear sign that they felt comfortable here, that they understood that they belonged here, and that this was all here for them to use.

9. Accept that you might eat out a lot

Kids are picky little things, and your own homemade food is probably weird to them. Especially our home, with all its vegan substitute products. For a while, I fretted about how we’d feed them, while also keeping our home free of Bean’s food intolerances. (Remember, Bean can’t even eat plain white bread.) You know what? Screw it. We just went ahead and bought their turkey and cheddar sandwiches on white at the corner store. More expensive than making them, yes, but we also didn’t have to worry about cross-contamination or cheesy fingerprints appearing on Bean’s toys. So, in the end, worth it.

10. Have your days planned, with fun activities outside the home

I think this speaks for itself, right?


Here’s what didn’t work, or could work better next time:

1. Don’t assume they know all the rules of the household

This was my fault, entirely. Different households have different rules. We obviously follow a lot of Montessori classroom rules when it comes to working on trays (literally, using the tray to contain what you’re working on) and I dropped the ball and assumed older kids would understand the system without anyone telling them. So, paint was splattered on walls, tables and floors; glitter ended up everywhere. This extended to a lot of little things. Setting their own places for breakfast and dinner and cleaning up after was another one. It all worked out after I pointed it out to them, but I wish I had been more prepared to show rather than play catch up and make them feel like they’d done something “wrong.”

2. Nighttime quiet play doesn’t just automatically happen

Bean’s bedtime is an hour before her cousins’. Given her obsession level with her cousins, we had to keep them QUIET in order for her to actually go to sleep and not be at the bedroom door begging to play a little more. We didn’t get this the first night – we thought we’d read some books, quietly, until their own bedtime. Kids are loud, and no less loud at night. And they’re in a new place so norms have been cast aside, and then once they’re wound up, it’s harder to fall asleep. The second night, we put on a movie. Silence and calm achieved.

3. Get a list of food brands from their parents

Even though we ate out a lot, we did eat at home quite a bit too, and the kids were on to our weirdo diet. Bean’s homemade sandwich bread wasn’t a hit. The banana bread we made was cast aside. Our rice milk was a lead balloon of disgust and woe. The quickie replacement whole cows milk was suspect too. Even if the parents assure you their kids aren’t picky, ask them for the particular food brands they buy.


In all, the five of us had a terrifically fun weekend. Bean was in absolute bliss with her big cousins around. Dave and I got to have a lot of quality time with our niece and nephew, and our niece and nephew had their minds blown on the hour as we traipsed about San Francisco. (Did you know you could walk UNDER the Golden Gate Bridge? THERE’S A STAR WARS MUSEUM?! WITH A REAL LIGHT SABER?? This train is traveling UNDERNEATH THE CITY?! My niece turned to me, descending the de Young observatory: “Thea Maria, my mind has literally been blown out of my head.”)

Have you ever hosted kids at your house? What worked and what didn’t for you?

2 Responses to “When Your House Guests are Children: Our Lessons Learned”

  1. Maria, you are amazing. I wish you were my aunt.


    6/22/2016 at 3:57 pm

  2. I love being an aunt! The kids are so precious and cute, and you can hand them right back once you’ve filled them with junk food, ice cream, and sprinkles.


    6/22/2016 at 4:20 pm