Sunday, November 24, 2013

10 Tips For Helping Kids Enjoy Thanksgiving

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving meant schlepping to the house of a distant geriatric relative, having my cheeks pinched, sitting for hours listening to them complain about life, watching them chain smoke, then eating, and schlepping home while my parents told me how I hadn't sat quietly enough or tried some gross dish like Aunt Rose's succotash pudding. EVERYTHING about this day was out of my control, full of “musts” and “should haves.” It was not my favorite holiday.

Thanksgiving can be tough for kids - help them enjoy it!

When I had my own kids, I was determined that they would not suffer on Turkey Day as I had. Since our family has shrunk to only two elderly family members, the schlepping is no longer a factor because our house is the default location for all celebrations. Sure, the main event still centers around eating, but I've found ways to give the kids a voice, and thus some control, in the day's festivities.

Here are 10 of my favorite activities and strategies for helping kids enjoy this day:

  • Challenge the kids to find new ways to express gratitude. Sure, you can go around the table and give thanks. But why not ask the kids, ahead of time, to draw a picture or make a collage of what they're grateful for? This is also a great way to keep the smaller ones busy while you're cooking. Older ones can take a photo on their phones and then pass it around just before dinner or they can compile a slide show to show before or after the meal.

  • Get the kids involved planning and cooking the meal. Yeah, I know every website is recommending this, but getting children involved also increases the chance that they'll eat something on the menu (my daughter has been known to ignore the turkey and ask for mac and cheese for the Feast).   Kids can also tear lettuce, help bake dinner rolls, or pull grapes to put in a fruit salad. My son took Family Consumer Science (formerly Home Ec) and some of his recipes are amazing!

    This took all of 5 minutes to make!
  • Ask the kids if they'll help craft decorations. Diva and I whipped up this sweet little candle holder
    (battery-operated candles only) in about 10 minutes this weekend using a water jug, scissors, and crayons. It will welcome our guests when they arrive. You can find more free, printable Thanksgiving decorations here at Freebies.About.Com.

  • Kids love knowing things adults don't!! Guide the kids toward Thanksgiving trivia they can share with the family during dinner. has a fascinating online trivia quiz and Celebration Ideas Online offers a free printable trivia quiz.

  • Enlist an older child to interview and record an older family member. Have them come up with questions to ask the senior. This could become a family heirloom!

  • Give the kids an opportunity to choose some during-dinner music.  Just retain the power to veto any rowdy tunes.

  • Invite the wee folk to come up with a list of topics and questions for dinner conversation.

Don't forget to let the kids help clean up after Thanksgiving dinner!

  • Allow the kids to have input into after-dinner activities. Little ones may enjoy putting on a show or playing a musical instrument. Perhaps an older child can show Grandma what video games she's playing. Or have the kids select a few movies for the family to watch.

  • Have a younger child pick out a few books for a guest to read to them. Better yet, pick out a few books they might want to read TO the guest!

  • Make post-guest clean-up a competition. Whoever can put away 10 items in a minute gets first crack at leftovers later.

Again, giving children choices empowers them, reducing frustration and allowing them to have some control over the day's festivities.  It also helps them enjoy the holiday more.  In my house, anyone who chooses not to help out automatically forfeits any right to complain later and is invited to spend the day in their room sans electronics.

Also, don't forget to say “please” and “thank you” to your children! What you model is what they'll pass along.

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