Next Gen: Surviving Thanksgiving

By Susanna Barbee | Nov 06, 2013

Since having children, I’ve had a little change of heart regarding the day meant for loading up on turkey and watching a lot of football. Thanksgiving, the quiet holiday that humbly resides between trick-or-treating and gift buying, has become bitter-sweet for me.

Thanksgiving is truly a peaceful time. It involves less chaos and madness than some of the other holidays. Turkey Day doesn’t include the excess sugar and potentially dangerous, crowded streets of Halloween. It doesn’t include the mass spending, overbooked schedules, and dessert gorging of Christmas. Thanksgiving is a special day that solely concerns being with family, eating good food, and being thankful.

As all parents know very well, children are constantly on the go. They like continuous transitions and detest long adult conversations. Now, think about what we do to them on Thanksgiving? We arrive at our destination, sit around and talk, cook, eat for a long while, sit around and talk some more, then eat more of the stuff we ate the first time.

I don’t know about your children, but my two energetic boys are not about to sit still for long, nor are they going to engage in adult conversation for an extended period. Further, I can barely get them to eat at all half of the time, much less persuade them to eat the same meal twice in the same afternoon.

Unlike Halloween, where children are on the go for hours trick-or-treating and unlike Christmas, where the kiddos have new toys to occupy them, Thanksgiving is about as boring as it gets. I am certainly not an expert, but after almost five years of parenting, I’ve learned that when something is really awful once, I’m going to do everything I can to make it more pleasant the next time.

Below are a few strategies and activities to make Thanksgiving more fun for the little ones and less stressful for the big people.

1). Naps Rule: As much as humanly possible, plan your Thanksgiving day around your children’s nap schedule. Sleep is a magical elixir for small children, so if they can take at least one good nap before heading out to the Thanksgiving feast, that alone will make the entire day more manageable. If you have babies or toddlers who nap multiple times a day, bring what you need so that your child can nap wherever you are. Whether it’s an air mattress, pack-n-play, or bassinet, bring it to the destination.

2). Crafts: If your children are old enough to enjoy crafts, buy supplies for a craft activity and bring them to wherever you are eating Thanksgiving dinner. If you’re not the “crafty” type, Michaels and other craft stores sell pre-packed crafts that already have everything you need in them.

3). Games/Activities/Toys: Bring a board game if your children are a bit older. Bring a few of their favorite toys, including some outdoor toys if the weather is nice. Buy something inexpensive but new for your children to play with. This could be something as simple as punching balloons or bubbles. Don’t spend much money. Even baking holiday cookies with your children is fun and gives them something to do.

4). Movie Time: Bring a movie that your children have never seen or have not seen in a while. Watching a Christmas or winter-themed movie is a fun way to finish up Thanksgiving and look toward the next holiday.

Even though Thanksgiving is more chaotic when you’re simultaneously trying to entertain children, it’s also a very special time that you and they will cherish forever. They won’t remember the specifics of the day, but they will remember if it was enjoyable or horrible, so let’s do everything we can to make it enjoyable. Their memories will do the rest.

Susanna Barbee is a Waynesville mom, writer and educator. Find more on her blog, Reach her at

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