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Written by:  Jennifer Gregory
Date: November 11, 2011

Although Thanksgiving is a wonderful time for families to spend time together, the day of preparation can be hectic and stressful. Involving your children in the celebration will help them enjoy the day, understand the meaning of Thanksgiving and create long-lasting family memories.

"Contributing on any level will nurture their self-esteem and strengthen their connection to family — both vital ways to empower them to make good decisions as they mature and stay away from dangerous, self-destructive and risky behavior," says Susan Tordella, author of Raising Able — How Chores Cultivate Capable Confident Young People. According to Tordella, taking part in Thanksgiving preparations helps teach real life skills, involves children as part of a team to provide the meals and cultivates their relationship with you.

"Start with a family meeting and ask them how they would like to contribute," Tordella says. "When they choose the contribution, their motivation and participation will be totally different."

Be sure to also consider your own needs and the space of your home to help the day go smoothly. For example, if you have a small kitchen, you may want to skip having the kids cook on Thanksgiving and find other ways to involve them.

Let them cook

Having your children help in the kitchen is a great way for them to take ownership in the holiday and keep them busy. Younger kids can assist you by stirring or cracking eggs, while older elementary children or teens can follow a simple recipe to create a dish on their own. Consider your children's cooking expertise when selecting recipes and consider having them do a trial run of any dishes they are lead chef on before "Turkey Day."

Laura Dessauer, an art therapist with a doctorate in counseling psychology, says one of her favorite dishes for her children to make is "Tom the Turkey."

"Get some big feathers from the craft store and have your child decorate a can of cranberry sauce in a serving dish, then add a Popsicle stick with a turkey head image into the other end and you have an instant cranberry turkey," she says.

Keep the 'thanks' in Thanksgiving

Give the kids note cards, or have them make their own, and ask them to write why they are thankful each guest is in their life. An adult or older child can write a note dictated by a preschooler, or the younger child can draw a picture. You can also stand the card up and use it as a place card at the table.

Children can also decorate a small cardboard box for each person, using markers, paint and glitter, Dessauer says. They can then encourage all guests — adults and children — to write a note about why they are thankful for the others and have guests share a favorite note or two during dinner.

Decorate the table and house

Instead of spending a lot of money on fancy flowers, have your children provide the decorations. Teri Gault, mother of two and chief executive of the grocery savings website www.thegrocerygame.com, likes for her children to collect leaves to glue on place mats. She then laminates them with contact paper to use at dinner.

Instead of laying out a tablecloth, cover the kids' table with white butcher paper and provide crayons to decorate it, suggests Mary Clingman, Butterball Turkey Talk-Line expert.

Kids can also make napkin rings out of cut paper towel rolls by gluing fabric, leaves or even feathers onto the cardboard.

Clingman suggests having the kids collect acorns, leaves and pine cones to use as a centerpiece for the table. "Almost anything can be turned into a festive Thanksgiving display. Plus, you'll appreciate the decorations more if they are made by your family," she says.

Provide entertainment

Ask older children to put on a puppet show or play of the first Thanksgiving after dinner, Clingman suggests. They can rehearse and make a set while dinner cooks. Be sure to have on hand some books about Thanksgiving, costume materials and poster board to help their creativity flourish.

Gault's family looks forward to the family trivia game each year after Thanksgiving, which the children take the lead in preparing. Have children ask each person to write down trivia questions about events that happened during the year. Collect the questions in a decorated can and give out small prizes for each correct answer.

Involving your kids in Thanksgiving is a way to help create family traditions they will remember for years.

"There is a sense of safety and comfort in repeating an activity," Gault says. "That sense of familiarity is something our kids will seek every year, even when they've left the nest."  n

Jennifer Gregory a freelance writer who lives with her husband, two kids and three dogs. Her daughter made three Thanksgiving dishes.





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