The Thanksgiving we know today bears little resemblance to the Thanksgiving observed by the Pilgrims a few centuries ago. In those days, children were meant to be seen and not heard. Today’s children often do just the opposite. We may not see them if they’re in a different room playing video games, but we’ll definitely hear them cheer if someone beats the game's main boss or levels up. If your family members include children and you want to ensure they are both seen and heard in the best possible ways, read on for some tips on hosting Thanksgiving with kids.
Depending on their ages and personalities, your more youthful guests will likely have a range of interests and capabilities. To keep everyone occupied, plan different activities. That includes saving some kitchen tasks for small hands to do. Even a preschooler can help lay biscuits on a baking sheet. Be sure to have hand towels nearby to clean off sticky fingers, though. Older children can help set the table if you haven’t already done so. You can preprint simple place cards that kids can then decorate with Thanksgiving-themed stickers.
The same goes for watching movies or playing video games. It’s impossible to totally separate the older teens from the rest of the kiddie pack, so make sure any movies or video games are age-appropriate for even the youngest. In other words, slasher films are a no. Children of all ages may also enjoy watching a Thanksgiving Day parade. Make the kiddos gathered around the screen comfortable with some oversize throw pillows or bean bag chairs they can sprawl out on. For a better option, have a few cards and some classic board games handy. Children who wish to participate can play together regardless of age, either singly or in teams.
Thanksgiving is a time to express our gratitude for what we have in our lives, but it’s also a reminder that not everyone may be as fortunate. Consider having a mini clothing drive. Invite each family member to donate some new or gently used cold-weather outerwear—sweaters, jackets, coats, and not to mention winter accessories —that can be dropped off at a local shelter over Thanksgiving weekend. Invite children (and adults, too) to create cards to send with the clothing. Set up a small card table away from the main dining area and provide drawing or construction paper as well as crayons, colored pencils, and markers.
It's best to avoid insisting that all the children around the table eat only "adult" food at large gatherings. Be kind to yourself and the other grown-ups by throwing a tray of chicken nuggets or fish sticks in the oven. If macaroni and cheese is not already a side dish, prepare a box or two. Not only will the kids thank you, but their parents will too. In addition, to help make the day festive for the kids, pick up a bottle or three of sparkling grape juice or cider. Children will enjoy having a special drink “like the grown-ups” to toast with. Speaking of kid-friendly foods, don’t be surprised if children want their pie à la mode without the pie. Who doesn’t like ice cream, after all?
Let’s face it—kids can sometimes get overly excited and start running and jumping around. To avoid any accidental injury (or breaking of objects), you may want to consider setting up a parent-watching chart, especially if there will be more than just a few children present. Shifts don’t need to be that long—30 minutes at most—just ask each parent or guardian to sign up for one shift per child. (Child-free adults are exempt unless they choose to take a shift.) If kids are going to be both outside, such as in the backyard, and inside, you’ll need two parents per shift, one at each location. This way, the responsibilities for watching kids are shared more or less equally among the people with children.
To make things easier for parents when they are on shift, make sure there is adult seating available, such as an Adirondack chair for the outdoor supervisor. Also, have a couple of throw blankets handy in case it’s a bit nippy outside. Add the hot drink of their choice, and the on-shift parent can almost pretend they’re just taking a break outside instead of being on kid patrol. Make it a point to thank each person as they finish their shift; that small gesture will let them know they are appreciated, especially should you need volunteers to take a second shift.
Thanksgiving is a family holiday, and kids are a part of many families. With some planning, you can host a Thanksgiving Day celebration that children will enjoy as much as the adults.