By: Judy Lyden
Thanksgiving is a marvelous occasion – for adults – but try it on from a child's point of view. All attention is on a dinner that at best seems suspect at best.
There's this giant thing that was given a bath in the kitchen sink like my sister, and then was stuffed, I don't even want to think where, with bread – yuck – and then it was put into the oven. I wonder if I would fit into the pan?
While visions of Hansel and Gretel come to mind, lots of children sulk at Thanksgiving simply because they feel as if they are not included. They are strangers and the strangers are taking Mom's heart spaces, and even for a few hours it seems intolerable.
Begin to include the child early with shopping. Taking a child or all the children to the grocery store is a royal chore, but if you go early enough, the lines are short and the kids have a ball. Make the list together, explain Thanksgiving food. There might be a lot of yucks and a lot of euus, but explain that daddy likes this and Aunt Martha likes that, and silly Grandma Judy likes the ground up raw cranberries and oranges as a relish.
On Thanksgiving Day, my three girls fought miserably about who would set the table. "It's my turn." "You don't even like Thanksgiving." "Are you going to use paper or plastic?" "MOM!!"
And grandma understands from experience while mom is irritated. It's a festival, let the kids enjoy it as they will.
Thanksgiving is a nearly 400 year old tradition. It's filled with stories and songs, and symbols and memories. That's another part of the occasion that is often lost on the children because it's often new for them. It's an album day, a story day, a memory day, and sitting with a child or cooking with a child and talking about family, old friends and what it used to be like a long time ago help children understand older people, and stories they are likely to hear later in the day. It helps them become more involved.
Helping with Thanksgiving chores is important to children too. Just being dressed up and attending a dinner they find suspect is not a happy event. It's dull as dishwater. Let kids dress down and remember, no matter how much you want to "just be an adult," your child is waiting for you to be mommy. With young children ages 3-7, if you are traveling to a strange place or the house of a relative, it's a good idea to spend the first 20 minutes with them while they adjust to the party scheme, and let them wander off on their own.
Comfort for a child is different from an adult's comfort. Even what they see is different. Get down, sit down, kneel down to a child's level and look around. Noises, the unfamiliar, too much, too many odd smells are simply strange to young children and can created a fear zone.