For children, traditions are even more potent. Traditions help kids to form their identities and to feel part of something bigger than themselves.
When we take time to explain our family’s traditions to our children and involve them in creating new ones, our kids become even more invested, not only in the tradition itself, but also in the experiences of family connectedness, history, meaning and the personal identity that the traditions foster.
Interested in starting some new traditions with your kids? Here's some traditions that will have a lasting impact:
1. Encourage your kids to contribute to the meal. When we encourage our kids to participate in the preparations, they feel more connected and engaged. Several years ago, one of my kids spotted a “recipe” in a kid’s cookbook: chocolate dipped marshmallows rolled in graham cracker crumbs on a pretzel stick. It wasn't a gourmet dish, but he shopped for it, made it, and served it. It’s his contribution each year and he’s very proud of it. “S'mores on a Stick” has become a thanksgiving staple and even my inner Martha Stewart wouldn't even have it any other way!
2. Write each family member’s name on a separate placemat (paper or cloth.) Then invite people to write something they appreciate about the person on their placemat, even the youngest can draw pictures. While this activity creates all kinds of positive emotions, research shows that surprisingly there’s an even bigger happiness boost for those who give the appreciation than those who receive it.
3. Invite someone to join the family who has nowhere else to go.
While there is often reluctance to include an “outsider” during special family times, doing so can help foster a sense of community, charity, and empathy in kids. While you’re planning your holiday meals, consider including the single father, a newly divorced friend, or a family who’s just relocated far from home.
4. Thanksgiving Family Gratitude Garland. We’ve all heard the benefits of actively expressing gratitude. Here’s another version: use colorful construction paper to cut out autumn leaves and invite family and guests to write down something they are grateful for on the shapes and attach them to a pretty ribbon to hang. The garland can be saved and added to over the years.
5. Make family photos part of the decor. Pictures of those who can't be present helps to create a family narrative. When we share a family story that demonstrates that family sticks together in good and bad times, we are modeling grit and growth mindset. And when kids can internalize this “oscillating family narrative” as researcher Marshall Duke calls it, kids emerge more confident.
6. Morning Touch Football with Friends: For many, football and thanksgiving are intimately related. Meeting friends for a game of touch while the turkey roasts is a great way for kids and adults to connect and be playful together on a day when other relatives may be demanding most of your attention. When kids feel like they’ve had an opportunity to connect with their parents and to be playful with them, they are more likely to be flexible than to dig in their heels about where they sit (or any other kind of controlling or whiny behavior) during the day.
7. Rotate who is responsible for the toast/grace each year. We have a large family gathering each year so by the time our grace reached the “younger generation” they understood the tradition and its importance. A grace or toast is a time when we can model gratitude and appreciation as a group, giving an extra boost of emotion and sense of belonging.
8. Turkey Talk. Pass around a bowl of questions throughout the meal for each family member to pull from, or invite people to share a quote, or something that they are grateful for. Whatever activity you choose, it provides a collective conversation and deepens the experience of connection.
9. Stretch your legs! Bundling up post meal to go on a walk not only allows us to burn off some of the meal and our tryptophan induced haze, but also provides us with an opportunity to collect leaves, enjoy the autumn light or even to just catch up 1:1 with our kids in a quieter moment. Emotions are a key component to our memories, and taking the time to soak in the details of positive experiences gives our brains time to make the necessary neuro-connections for positive memories.
10. Games. Charades, Guesstures, Bop-It, or a dance party, it doesn’t matter. The family who laughs together stays together. The more positive emotions we can help create the stronger our family connections.
Have a favorite Thanksgiving Day tradition? Please share!