Thanksgiving: Allowing Young Children to Take Part


A few short years ago, you couldn’t wait to have a house full of children to make the holidays truly special. Now that you have them AND have offered to be the one hosting the family Thanksgiving dinner, you wish that they were old enough to just disappear in their rooms out of fear they would be asked to help. Instead, toddlers want in on all the fun, have thousands of questions and need to be taken care of regardless of your 2-page to-do list. Children definitely make the holidays more hectic than ever, but there are ways you can involve them in the traditions, complete what needs to be done and create lasting memories in the mean time.

The first thing to do is relax and give away all those ideals that Thanksgiving will be perfect. That isn’t what the holiday is about and it is far more important to come as you are and be loved in that light than it is anything else. Once you release trying to be a perfectionist, you will become perfectly you and able to give your kids happy memories of the holidays. No one wants to look back and remember mom and dad with sweat on his or her brow, slaving away in the kitchen and yelling about toy trucks on the living room floor. Keep in mind that you aren’t a super hero and that you have young kids at your feet and in your home and as such…things are what they are! An unexpected piece of play-doh in the mashed potatoes will not be the end of the world.

The second thing that works in your favor is that you will have plenty of people around who will want to help you with the kids. They may not offer to wash the dishes or bring a casserole, but they will lovingly enjoy changing diapers, watching Dora reruns, building block castles and rocking the baby. Enjoy the help, even it means your perfectly balanced schedule is thrown out of whack, the baby takes his nap rocking on grandma’s lap instead of in the crib and your kids are fed pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce for lunch. It’s just one day! These well-meaning people may not be your first pick as a babysitter, but they are available and as long as the kids are happy, you can learn to ignore the rest.

Obviously, there is preparation involved in the holidays and this is where even very young children can come in handy. Get them busy doing crafts like making place settings or place mats that they painted themselves. Find a large sheet of paper and let them create the holiday tablecloth you will be eating on. This will save your linens and give them something to be proud of. This craft will work well even if you have a crawling baby who can leave handprints, footprints and other designs on the tablecloth easily. Not to mention, that activities like these will fill them with excitement and keep them busy so you can get stuff done. Allow them to decorate the table with all their Thanksgiving crafts they have made and be proud no matter how they do it. Your guests will endlessly comment on the incredible centerpiece and pictures throughout the meal.

If you have a toddler and a baby, do something special for your toddler while the baby is sleeping. Find one of the oldie but goodie, Thanksgiving movies like Charlie Brown or The Wizard of Oz and allow them to watch it for the first time. This could turn into a holiday ritual that they will remember forever AND give you 67 minutes of peace and quiet.

While kids’ cooking in the kitchen normally means quite a mess, it is good for them to take part in making a special dish for the holidays. Cookies, pudding, brownies, and cupcakes are all easy foods that children can make. Allow them to ice the cake any way they wish and decorate it with their favorite candy. They can even help to mix the mashed potatoes with the mixer, place the marshmallows on the sweet potato pie or taste test the stuffing, corn and other foods. One super easy kid’s food to make that will be fun for them as well is wrapping pigs in a blanket. The crescent roll dough and baby hotdogs will challenge their skills and be more than enough to keep them busy for a while. If they eat a smidge of raw dough in the process, simply laugh it off! When they get to serve them to guests, they will beam with pride.

Buy them a cheap apron at a craft store and decorate it with their name and they will feel like not just a big helper, but an important part of the holiday as well. The important thing to remember is that Thanksgiving is about being thankful for our families and we should design the holiday and the festivities to include them as much as possible! So many of us are caught up in what has to be done and expectations that we don’t take some time to breathe and soak it all up. You don’t want to sit back once the holidays are over with a sigh of relief and realize that you didn’t enjoy any of it because of stress.

When the kids seem to have had enough, find something local that you can do which will start a new Thanksgiving tradition for you. Most of the time Christmas tree farms where you can cut your own tree open this time of year and spending the afternoon with dad wandering through a tree orchard can be a great way to add excitement to the day and allow the kids to be part of something big. When they get home, they can begin sorting through the ornaments (without hooks of course) and lights and they will be filled with the wonder and whimsy that really is childhood.

If you think back to your Thanksgiving’s as a child you will probably remember some of the oddest things that made an impression on you. Children just want to be included and smack dab in the middle of the whole thing. By allowing them to do so and enlisting them with responsibilities, they will not only behave and give you more time to get things done; they will be wrapping themselves in things that will eventually become familiar traditions for you and them.

Image via Flickr/woodleywonderworks