It should be a time of togetherness and an occasion to give thanks, but with friends and perhaps long distance family coming and holiday preparations well underway, kids can get lost in Thanksgiving break. While thoughts of trips to the park (weather permitting), malls, movies, and other mom-and-dad-based activities are the usual kid-generated ideas for the perfect vacation, these are often eclipsed by the reality of marathon grocery shopping expeditions, house straightening chores, supply trips for those extra tables, chairs, inflatable beds, etc., and hours of food preparation. As a result, it’s easy for kids to feel frustrated and bored, and for parents to feel torn, stressed and exhausted between entertaining them and taking care of holiday business.
Including kids in the preparations, however, can turn into a family activity that keeps them occupied and connected, and benefits all generations. With lessons in organization, scheduling, budgeting, shopping, cleaning, decorating, cooking, and baking all readily available during holiday time, kids gain confidence and self-esteem through a sense of accomplishment, and mom and dad receive a welcome boost from eager (and surprisingly capable!) young helpers.
To start things off, expert organizers say sitting down as a family at least one week before the holiday and making out a list of chores, needs and wants is the first step toward eliminating as much traditional holiday stress as possible. Also, with everyone contributing their own ideas, this is a good time to figure out what individual family members like and don’t like to do, so that dividing activities and responsibilities–and executing them–becomes less of a chore in itself.
Once the list is developed, a timetable will help everyone know how far in advance each task needs to be done. For instance if extra chairs, tables, dishes, pillows, towels or sheets need to obtained, these can be done well in advance of the big day to allow more time for essential food shopping and preparation in the days and hours immediately preceding the holiday. If options are available at the store, let kids help decide what would work best in terms of budget, comfort and décor.
If expecting overnight guests, the week or weeks before may also be a good time to make sure you purchase Aunt Anne’s special soaps, lotions, candies or teas, or a recent copy of Field and Stream and some comfortable slippers for Uncle Harry. Or if selecting one special gift to welcome guests, a family decision can also boost kids’ self-esteem. If uncertain of guests’ needs and desires, a kid-initiated phone conversation (from the list of tasks) can help ascertain what’s desired for a comfortable holiday stay, and stocking the guestroom or guest bathroom with these items–perhaps with a kid-composed welcome card– is half the fun.
When it comes to the menu, while making Grandmother Molly’s complicated corn bread, shallot and oyster dressing may be a family tradition, adjusting other items to more kid-friendly abilities can make a family grocery shopping trip more fun and provide for greater involvement and assistance in the kitchen during those pivotal countdown days. Even if your family typically serves sautéed broccoli rabe with chopped anchovy, garlic, and hot peppers as a side dish, perhaps substituting something less complicated that age-appropriate kids can make on their own–with minimal supervision–would save you time and make them feel like an important part of the meal preparation process. Desserts are always an exciting time for family participation, and many aspects of baking (mixing; rolling; adding ingredients; frosting) are perfect for accommodating small hands with big expectations.
Finally, kids need to know when they’ve done a good job, so be sure to sit down as a family when it’s over and thank them for making this Thanksgiving holiday as special as it could be. Asking them what they’ve learned from the experience will reinforce valuable lessons, build their self-confidence, and help set them on a positive course for next year.