My daughter wasn't quite 3 when we brought home her baby brother. Disoriented, sleep-deprived, and cranky, we waded through the first two months, doing our best to keep our oldest content and fed, but largely unaware of how the transition was affecting her.
It was only when we started to pull ourselves out of survival mode and find a new normal as a family of four that we discovered our 3-year-old was hungry for more than just family dinner. Date nights at home — for me and my daughter and for my husband and my daughter — became a remedy for a host of emotional and behavioral issues that come from the delicate transition to two children.
For parents, date nights in can be schedule saviors, whether you have a newborn and a new sibling to balance or you or your spouse have less-than-normal work hours. Research also suggests that children benefit from one-on-one time with either parent. In short, date night in with your kid is a win-win.
Ready to start planning? Here are five tips for a great night in with your little one.
1. Put it on the calendar.
Anticipation adds excitement and enjoyment for kids, so when you put a date night at home on the calendar, you instantly make it feel more special than a regular dinner. It's like a party invitation, but without any fuss.
2. Plan a special menu.
We are no strangers to family pizza night at our house, but date night in should feel special. Involve your kid in the planning so you can avoid any meltdowns over that dish that she used to love but suddenly hates.
And try to include a mix of familiar favorites and a few unique twists. For example, my daughter loves pasta, but on date night, we'll try a new topping or sauce. She fell hard for this pink beet pesto, and now requests "Date night pasta" regularly.
3. Make something you can cook together.
When planning a dinner menu for a date night in with my daughter, I always think about how she can help make dinner. This makes dinner do double duty as not only sustenance, but also as quality time spent together. Sure, we make a mess, but we are also making memories.
My daughter often shares the memory of when we put sprinkles into our chocolate chip cookies with anyone who will listen, so I know that dinner is more than just dinner — it is a time for us to slow down and dosomething we love together, namely cooking and eating.
4. Add courses.
No family dinner at our house is multi-course, so having an appetizer or cheese plate before dinner (which also staves off hunger crankiness) and a dessert course after is an instant upgrade from family dinner to fancy date-night dinner. You can have a ton of fun being silly with your courses, too. We sometimes have a pre-dessert jelly bean course, for example.
5. Popcorn is always a good idea.
More often than not, my daughter and I have have post-dinner, post-dessert popcorn, served with much pomp and circumstance on the couch for movie date nights.
How do you do date night in with your kids? Share with us in the comments!