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Your Young Child Vs. Thanksgiving At Mom's: It Can Work!

If the thought of being with family at Thanksgiving fills your heart with joy mixed with dread, join the club. If you have young children and the pressure is on, be encouraged. You can get through the holiday with good grace, good humor and have a good time. Set yourself up for all these with a bit of preparation and planning ahead. Read and be encouraged.

Thanksgiving is my favorite of all the big holidays. I love the celebration of harvests and the old story of friendship. The Algonquin natives were warm, friendly, and hospitable; the Separatists had made a harrowing journey to be free to worship. They peacefully engaged one another in 17th century New England. After an especially difficult season followed by a bountiful harvest, the two groups celebrated together with a three day feast. It's better than a Hallmark movie!

Fast forward a few centuries and the tradition of Thanksgiving has become a lot more complicated than the first one. It is no longer a one time event to celebrate the harvest with new friends. These days we are knee deep in expectations and demands. Our gatherings are not held in the woods, but, typically, in someone's home. For families with young children Thanksgiving in the woods would be easier. Nothing to break, no inside voices needed...Just sayin.

Those who know me understand that I love the chaos of children playing, multiple cooks in the kitchen, yellowed recipe cards pulled out of an ancient box, old stories repeated for the umpteenth time and all the things that a large multi generational gathering has to offer. That is why I love to host Thanksgiving. We look around for those who have no plans or family and we have them join us, and for one day we are a very large family indeed.

I know a great many people, however, who find this kind of gathering overwhelming. Many of them are children. How can you and your child have a great holiday gathering with friends and family and not experience stressful moments or full on meltdowns? Even if you can not eliminate them altogether, there are lots of things that you can do ahead of time to set yourself up for a great, fun filled day. It is worth a bit of prior planning.

I have gathered some of my very best parenting techniques for this post. Here are several ways to help you thrive during this very special time.

Your slow to warm up child:

  1. Clearly explain all the where, who, and what about the family gathering. Show them pictures of who you expect to see there. Tell a bit about each individual. Explain that each individual loves your child. Tell a funny story about a few of them. Say things like, "When Aunt Marge heard you were born she was so excited she couldn't stop laughing, and that made all the rest of us start laughing! It was so funny! That's why we call her Aunt Happy. Aunt Happy will be there and can't wait to see you." Give as many specifics as you can. Help your child anticipate a happy day.

  2. Remind this child that there will be people who want to speak to them. Role play with your child what that sounds like. Pretend to introduce yourself to your child and coach them through a simple response such as "Happy Thanksgiving" or even a smile with a "Hi." attached to it. If your child is prepared and feels socially competent they are less likely to be uncomfortable. This helps them work through some of the warm up stage and become comfortable more quickly.

  3. PLEASE don't shout from the rooftops that your slow to warm up child is "shy". This is a label that may not be true at all. It also is hard to grow out of and can easily become how your child identifies themselves. Just accept your child's personality for now and help them gain confidence without a lot of jibber jabber about it. Get some of the warm up tasks done early. This allows them to have more time enjoying the day.

  4. If your child requires hearing protection to be comfortable, don't forget to bring it. Aunt Pitty Poo or Uncle Grumpy Pants may say something, but just ignore it. Your child needs what your child needs. But again, don't make a scene about it. Don't over explain what is "wrong" with your child that they need special tools. Just be cool.

Your Wild Child:

  1. Prepare ahead of time by practicing some basic social dialog using an "inside voice". Remember that when children (and lots of adults) become excited they forget to modulate their voices. They may get louder as the excitement builds. So set your child up for success by practicing and preparing some strategies for being indoors with a lot of people. Moderate volume, polite phrases such as "yes, please" "no, thank you" "Happy Thanksgiving" "This pie is good" "I'm in first grade" "I am seven years old". You know the type of things that will help your child navigate the day. Practice ahead.

  2. Bring along any item that your child needs to help remain occupied without being the center of all the attention. Remind your child that there is a time to talk and a time to listen. Invite them to hear the stories told by the older folks and to play with other children without being in charge or bossy. Try to limit the screens while in a gathering. Children with their minds on a tablet are missing out on their family connection. Seriously, which is more important in the long run? This is an important day for connecting the generations. If you have this opportunity, lean in to it.

  3. Create some non verbal cues for reminding your child that they are becoming too loud or too active for indoors. Hand signals are for more than just baseball and air craft carriers. For example: If your child is getting too loud, put a finger on your lips. If they are running inappropriately, gesture with your hands palms down to indicate "slow down". If they are being to aggressive with younger siblings or cousins you could make patting your heart the signal to be more gentle. Of course there is always "the look". You know the one I mean.

  4. Under no circumstances should you humiliate your child (and embarrass yourself) by berating and shouting. Any missteps can be dealt with a firm and quiet hand. Be the parent that is aware and proactive. Prepare ahead for a great day. Be prepared with strength and calm to defuse any confusion that may take place.

Seek your partner's support in all of this, so that everyone can enjoy the time as a family. Remember that your child is a child and that children are learning all the skills necessary to be adults. They will eventually be able to speak to their grandmother without hiding behind your leg or visit Great Aunt Thelma without threatening to tear the place apart. They will get there. You can help in the mean time.

I will always marvel at the way the people of the Separatists and Algonquins came together in a treaty of peace and mutual aid that lasted until after the deaths of their leaders William Bradford and Chief Powhatan. These two groups are very interesting to me and I have read many history books containing their original writings and diaries from this time in history. The separatists were faithful workers longing for home, the Algonquins were peaceful humanitarians looking for allies to dissuade their local enemies. Across the great ocean they found community. They learned from each other. They became family.

What a beautiful picture of the human family. Enjoy your own family this week.

From our Harbor Home to yours, may your Thanksgiving be blessed! Happy Thanksgiving.

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