Too Cool for Family Thanksgiving? 6 Ways to Get Kids Involved

For young kids, family thanksgiving is all about cousins, crafts and holiday cuisine; but older kids sometimes lose interest. Help your tween stay involved this Turkey Day with these activity ideas.

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Back when your child was five or six, he probably loved going to your family Thanksgiving celebration. Now, the same things that your kid looked forward to—playing games with cousins, chatting with relatives and eating all the food he wants—are the same things he complains about as a preteen. What's a parent to do? Read on to find out!

Introduce the Teen Table

If sitting at a little table in the kitchen with his younger cousins has your 10-year-old rolling his eyes, rethink the seating plan and consider instituting a "teen table." Set up a place where all of the older siblings and cousins who haven't seen each other in a while can sit together. Avoid awkward small talk with group games. Playing twenty questions or taking the portmanteau challenge can help break the ice.

Request Kitchen Aid

Avoid idle hands by turning your kitchen novice into a certified sous chef by employing his help in the kitchen. Prepping ingredients or being in charge of a specific dish will keep him engaged in the holiday hustle and bustle—and away from the TV. Peeling vegetables, washing salad, bringing dishes out to the table, and mixing pie fillings are all easy and safe for kids. As an added bonus, helping in the kitchen can help a shy kid warm up to his extended family members before sitting down to eat.

Assign a Tradition

If your family has a Turkey Day tradition, such as going around the table and saying what each person is thankful for, ask your older child to run the show. Thanksgiving is about gratitude and spending time with family; getting your preteen involved with both can keep him engaged. Ask your kid to kick things off by first sharing what he is thankful for, and then inviting others to do the same. Or, if your tradition consists of a pickup football game, put him in charge of rounding up players and making the teams.

Hire Your Child

Hire your child to do a specific job at Thanksgiving dinner, and tailor the task to his interests. Assign your shutter-happy kid a camera to be the official Thanksgiving photographer, or if he’s into art, have him create name cards for each of the place settings. If he's comfortable with younger cousins, ask him to be the babysitter and take the little ones outside to play. Having a specific job will make your child feel important and included in family duties during the festivities.

Bring on the Butcher Paper

Borrow the “butcher paper table cloth” idea from the restaurants that know that the best way to combat preteen boredom without disrupting dinner. Layer a large piece of butcher paper on the tables and provide plenty of crayons to go around. Even older kids will appreciate the chance to scribble and doodle while eating and talking, and having something to keep your child occupied may help him feel more comfortable—and less annoyed—if he’s been assigned to the kids’ table.

Arrange a Volunteer Opportunity

What better way to get your preteen more engaged in Thanksgiving than to arrange for a volunteer opportunity? Giving back inspires compassion for people who are less fortunate, while creating lifelong memories that you'll both share. Older kids can help out at food pantries and soup kitchens, but they can also deliver treats to other families or rake up leaves around the neighborhood. Challenge the kids in your family to do one act of service before dinner and you'll be surprised what great ideas they come up with.

Be Thankful

Thanksgiving kicks off the entire holiday season, so start it on a high note. By making a special effort to include your older child—who may feel too old to sit at the kids' table, but too young to participate in adult conversation—you’ll remind him what the holidays are about: family, thankfulness, tradition ... and lots of delicious food!

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