Explore the four mitzvot of the day with your children. Memory games are fun, so are Guess Who games. Mention something in the Midrash such as “I did ___” and then describe an occurrence and have the children figure out who it was.
Involve your kids in the mitzva of matanot la’evyonim directly. Discuss the tzedaka stories with them. Help them visualize what would it be like to be poor. Would this person have thought he would be in such a situation five years before? Could this happen to anyone? What is the nisayon of a poor person and a rich person? What is the best way to give charity? What’s the worst way? If you are giving away significant sums on Purim, you can set aside a small amount for your children to decide where it should go. If they have their own allowance money let them give some of it away with joy and empathy. Make the mitzva as endearing and fulfilling as possible.
At this age, shalach manot has a lot of social value. Whatever you can still say to little kids you can’t say to kids this age. If they need to show off a bit and express themselves creatively, let them. You can try to make them think who needs to receive also. If the social pressure at this age is that you have to give to all of the girls in the class then your child has to conform. In most schools, everyone comes to school with one nice shalach manot and then the teacher randomly picks out names. In other schools, there’s a cash limit on how much a student is allowed to spend. You should not make your kids be different because at this age it’s so important for them to feel accepted and normal.
Be organized and do the shopping a week or two before Purim so you have time to do craft activities with your children. Help them be creative. You may want to look at crafts books or how-to articles. Have their shalach manot ready in a box early so they can decorate it in a relaxed atmosphere.
Going to shul for megilah is important. Try to get them to sit through the reading. Set limits on what they will do during Haman. You can’t and shouldn’t tell them not to bang. It’s part of tradition. But you should let them know that it’s important for the people in shul to hear every word and that they have to stop in time.
The drinking at the seudah won’t be frightening for kids this age. They may actually enjoy it as long as you prepare them for it. It’s a celebration of v’nahafoch hu. We’re not getting drunk on Achashveirosh’s wine, we are celebrating with Hashem. There should be happy music in the background. If the revelry causes material damage, remember it’s Purim. Don’t ruin it because of your personal frustration, regardless of what you think. You can feel distressed, but keep a grip on yourself. It’s not worth losing the joy of the holiday.
With preteens and teenagers, talk about the miracles as much as you can before Purim. Try to engage them at the table. Discuss why anyone would want to be Achashveirosh. Ask them whether Haman would have been easily recognizable before he made his decrees? Talk about what happened to Queen Esther at the end and how Daryavesh, her son, gave permission to build the second beit hamikdash. Point out Hashem‘s hidden ways and how Purim is relevant to us in exile because we constantly experience veiled miracles. Kids can understand these ideas if you simplify it.
Be sure to make it clear before Purim that doing dangerous things is really listening to the voice of Achashveirosh and the voice of arrogance. This includes drunk driving, handling anything explosive or sharp, or giving people hard liquor when they think they are drinking something soft. Boys will be going around collecting for their respective yeshivot. They should understand that their role is to bring simcha to the homes they go to. They should be making their host feel good about the charity they are giving, not terrorizing them.
With older kids you need to plan the day beforehand. Don’t let your boys wander around drunk. If there’s a rabbi in the neighborhood who is willing to make a mesibah (festive gathering) for them, that’s great. If not, give your husband the job.
Give your teenage girls a day plan too. Otherwise Purim becomes a drag for them as they watch the boys get drunk while they’re stuck cleaning up the mess. Purim is a day for prayer. In the morning, take them with you to daven. If you are in Israel, go with them to the Kotel so they feel the spiritual essence of the day. Let them deliver shalach manot to their friends. When you arrive home for the seudah, everyone should be in a good mood. Fill the empty spaces in the afternoon with reading and discussing stimulating topics about the megilah or Purim.
May the pure simcha of this special day create lasting memories for your children.