When Thanksgiving — a holiday structured around appreciating one another and giving thanks for family happiness and togetherness — rolls around, inviting your children to partake in rituals or simply help out gives them a sense of purpose and creates new, enduring family traditions.
Here are 9 ways to better involve your children this Thanksgiving:
1. Set the mood early
Ask your children to help unpack the groceries for the Thanksgiving meal. Just seeing the turkey, their favorite cheese and crackers, the sprinkles that will later adorn festive turkey-shaped cookies or the bags of flour and sugar to make pie will put them in a holiday mood.
2. Cultivate “Top Chefs”
Make tasks specific: have one child be the stuffing mixer, and another the potato masher, pie dough roller, or ingredient measurer. Children quickly assume ownership of a dish they helped create from start to finish (or anywhere in between) and will proudly announce to all, “I made that.”
3. Required: A family favorite
Include at least one favorite dish at every holiday meal. This might be an unusual stuffing for the turkey, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, a chocolate pie that your great-grandmother made, or a new recipe that everyone loved last year and that’s fast becoming the family’s first choice. Seeing the same special dish each year is a simple yet exciting way to create a warm (and mouthwatering) tradition.
4. Whip up some German chocolate cake
Traditional Thanksgiving pies like pecan or pumpkin may not appeal to your young set. Augment the dessert offerings with sweets more suited to their taste: a seven-layer cake, brownies, or cupcakes that they help decorate.
5. Call on your children’s creativity
Ask them to create festive place cards; they can embellish plain white cards with brilliant autumn colors, drawings of pilgrims, or Thanksgiving stickers. Save the place cards for next year; your children will get to choose then if they want to reuse the keepsake or create new works of art for the seating arrangements.
6. Give thanks
Going around the table, have each person say what they are thankful for. Besides teaching kids gratitude, it’s often amusing to hear what young children will add. Their statements are sure to bring smiles to relatives’ faces.
7. Cherish family stories
Family gatherings are ideal for videotaping elder family members. Ask each of them to relate a family tale, share a tradition from their side of the family, or recall a warm memory from childhood as children who are old enough videotape, tape record or snap photos of the interview. These videos will become a highly personal family history your children will treasure.
8. Take a break
After the main course and before dessert, head outdoors for a post-meal stroll. A family walk can turn into a healthy tradition for all. Take a walk around the neighborhood so children can show relatives their favorite spots. The more ambitious can play an outdoor game.
9. Wish together
Save and dry the wishbone from the Thanksgiving turkeys or chicken for the children to break a few days later. When the “leftovers” are long gone, the wishbone extends festive spirit and fun a bit longer.