Let’s be honest, Thanksgiving with or without children can be a struggle. Thanksgiving is a time when you get together with a lot of people that you may not see frequently, and you may not truly enjoy all their company. We are expected to get dressed up, eat “Thanksgiving foods,” be on our best behavior and sit and socialize through Thanksgiving. That is a lot to expect out of an adult, let alone a child.
Here are some tips to help you have a successful Thanksgiving.
Read stories about Thanksgiving ahead of time.
Thanksgiving books tell the story of Thanksgiving and the “why” behind this traditional holiday. Many Thanksgiving foods can be a bit foreign to your kids, but they are discussed in stories. Books talk about what happens on Thanksgiving, who comes over, what you eat, and even why you celebrate it. Your children are more likely to try foods they do not know about and understand the Thanksgiving festivities if you talk about them ahead of time. Try some of our Crossroads staff favorites: Thanksgiving at the Tappletons’, Llama Llama Gives Thanks, The Night Before Thanksgiving, Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving, and Turkey Trouble.
Give them a run down.
Go over your plan for Thanksgiving. What will you do that day? Where are you going? Who will be there? Why are we doing this? Kids want to know these things and may even look forward to it if they know what will be happening. If your child is a visual learner, a visual schedule or social story may be beneficial to process the events of the day.
Discuss a plan for a safe place to go if they experience sensory overload such as a quiet room, resting under a blanket, use of headphones to reduce noise, or calming/comfort toys.
Expected and Unexpected Behavior.
What is expected on Thanksgiving? Behavior. Give them a run down and practice it.
Go over questions people may ask at Thanksgiving. Someone may bring a gift. What do you say if you receive a present? What if you don’t like the present? Some foods may also be disliked. Do we say “yuck” and make a disgusting face? Talking about this ahead of time will make it easier when it occurs.
Try some Thanksgiving foods ahead of time. Make sure there are a few foods served that you know your child will eat. Don’t force them to try any food. Less pressure may work better than more. It is OK to forgo Thanksgiving foods completely too! It is OK to dismiss children from the table after 20 minutes, that is a long mealtime for a child. Having them help serve their plate and offer them an “all done” plate for the food they don’t wish to eat or have on their plate can help with this process.
Play and alone time.
Ensure there is a place for your child to play. Kids play and they should. This should be a fun holiday for them and we can’t expect them to be “on” all day without that outlet of play. Bring toys or coloring books for to keep them occupied. If your child benefits from a quiet space, seek it out ahead of time.
If you need to disclose something private or personal to friends and family, do it without your child in front of you. Your child is not their disorder or delay. They are a person. Or maybe your child would like to disclose and this will help others understand them and be supportive. You can advise family and friends ahead of time so they are prepared and understand how to best interact with your child from a strength-based perspective. Let them know your child’s strengths and how to utilize them to have positive interactions with them. For example, if a child has a strong interest in cars, introduce conversations about cars and why the child loves cars will be positive and affirming for them. This will help the child feel safe and understood as well as ease anxiety around interacting with many people in one day.
Incorporate movement breaks and calming strategies into the day.
The easiest way to incorporate a movement break on Thanksgiving is to go for a walk, and let’s face it we all could benefit from a walk on turkey day! Another fun idea is to guide a pre and post-dinner turkey yoga class with the kids! Get creative and do a “bending turkey” for a downward dog! You can also have the kids help with cleanup/pushing in chairs or throwing away garbage from the meal which can help easily incorporate heavy work into the event.
The pressure from holidays can be a lot but the most important thing is spending time with family and friends. We hope these ideas help you have a Happy Thanksgiving with those who mean the most to you!