Turkey Day doesn’t get enough credit among kids. That’s because we usually focus a lot on gift-giving holidays… and, ironically enough, that makes many kids less-than-thankful on Thanksgiving because they’ve got their eyes set on December. But, of course, there are great ways to make Thanksgiving so much fun (and so interesting!) that your kids will not only look forward to it with delight, but also be on their best behavior during the actual gathering.
Get into the Spirit
You can start telling your kids the story of Thanksgiving pretty early on. Your three-year-old will be fascinated to know that people who lived before his grandparents’ grandparents’ grandparents started the holiday after they almost starved and then had a lot of food. (What an amazing adventure!) Help your tot understand by drawing a big picture of time showing how many grandpa’s grandpas have eaten a feast since the very first feast.
You can also work some Thanksgiving fun facts into dinnertime discussions as you start sharing with kids what types of Thanksgiving food you enjoyed when you were little. Or, ask your older child to make a card to put on everyone’s plate, each with a different fun fact (“What T’giving vegetable has the most Vitamin A? Pumpkin! Which ones grow in a swamp? Cranberries! Which ones grow underground? Carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, onions, leeks, parsnips!”). It’s fun and educational!
And, of course you can get kids excited about Thanksgiving by having them help you decorate. What’s Thanksgiving without those cute hand-stencil turkeys and crayon drawings or montages of pumpkins and corn?
Focus on Giving and Gratefulness
Thanksgiving, of course, is a great time to remind your kids to be grateful and giving. They can start by helping the family prep for the celebration, everything from rinsing veggies to setting the table. And, if they’re old enough, carefully chopping the veggies for the soup or stuffing! Kids can also give thanks by helping in the community. You might say, “Let’s go to the park and pick up litter to show how thankful we are to have parks!” Or, pay a visit to your local food bank or soup kitchen, where even young tots can help volunteer
Set Expectations – Yours and Theirs
Table manners are a must for young kids, and there’s no better time for a brush-up session than on Thanksgiving. Fairy tales and stories are the perfect way for little kids to learn their manners. Take any book they like and you can insert 2-3 sentences about saying “No thank you,” to unwanted food (“What does Curious George say when he doesn’t want any of the onions? Does he say, ‘Yucky!’ and spit them out? Or does he say, ‘No, thank you?’”)
At the same time, you need to be realistic. Your eight-year-old has the restraint not to interrupt and to say, “Excuse me,” and your six-year-old can learn not to keep banging his spoon on the water glass. But, your four-year-old probably won’t be great at not interrupting (“When is dessert?”) and you’re best off making sure your two-year-old has a baby sitter or older cousin dedicated to keep her busy and safe so she can happily play while the adults laugh and celebrate!
Other ways to boost your kiddos’ behavior: Schedule dinner for the right time, such as after their afternoon nap, but before they get grumpy from exhaustion; give a nutritious breakfast and a good lunch so their little tummies can wait until Uncle Joe finishes his story to feast; and know your kids’ limitations, too – they are, after all, kids. It’s normal for them to play with the gravy and make mashed-potato sculptures, not sit still at a big fancy table for hours.
By making Thanksgiving fun for your kids, you can make it so your kids enjoy it just as much as the “sequel” in December. With just a few extra steps and some fun ways to get involved, Thanksgiving is more likely than not going to be among your kids’ most treasured memories!
Dr. Harvey Karp has been a specialist in children’s health and development for over 30 years. Over a million parents have used Dr. Karp’s techniques for making their kids – and families – happy. His landmark publications, The Happiest Baby on the Block, The Happiest Toddler on the Block, The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep, and Dr. Karp Live: A Conversation about Babies, Toddlers and Sleep, have been translated into over 20 languages and their popularity has made Dr. Karp the most-read pediatrician in America. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.