Five Playful Ways to Solve Thanksgiving Struggles


Look at the glow…too good to be true?

Ahhh Thanksgiving.

That time of year when social media is filled with picture perfect seasonal crafts and articles talking about how to give thanks with your little ones.

Recipes display the “best-tasting turkey” and pictures show everyone at the family dinner table with angelic faces aglow.

What's wrong with this picture?

Did we hear…a total lack of reality?

How do things look in your house?  Very likely it's different. Your children may be tearing off your apron strings as you try and baste the turkey.

Then they'll demand you play.

Then they go off dressed as superheroes with cousins that they haven't seen all month until that play deteriorates into tantrums.

Then comes refusals to sit at the table. (And refusals to eat your awesomely-basted turkey!).

Grandma starts in, “In my day…” and Junior pokes out his tongue at her…or worse.

It's enough to send any parent straight to the…sweets and desserts.

What's right with this picture?

Welcome to normal.

Chances are at least one of these “adult-shocking acts” is bound to occur over the holiday season and that's ok.

We are all doing our best, even if Grandma doesn't think so.

Still, there are things we can do to help things go smoother.

But First: Why Do Kids Lose It on the Holidays?

Do you ever feel the pressure of perfection? There's nothing like a family visit to pile it on.  Additional family members, the expectation that children should behave, immense excitement teamed with an environment that keeps parents busy and out of reach. Judgments on you. Guess what? Your child picks up on that too.

Our children's brains are designed to connect and be in communication often. They are made to be seen. To interact. It makes them feels safe, secure, stable. And when they don't feel that, they act up.

But it isn't deliberate and it's not intended to drive you crazy.

Simply, it's brain science. When a child's limbic brain feels that disconnection, the reasoning part of their brain goes into a tailspin and shuts down.

To us that looks like attention-grabbing behavior.

You may:

  • Hear whining
  • See battles between siblings
  • Watch as your child delves into a bowl of treats you already said they needed to wait for
  • Refuse to wash up, clean up, get dressed, do anything you ask!
  • Storm off in a huff
  • Shout and scream
  • Tantrum
  • Notice provocative touch or words: Begging to play, pulling at your hand, “Mom, look,” or sassy language.

And yet, somewhere in all the nutty behavior is a child trying to say, “See me. Hear me. Get me.”

“See me. Hear me. Get me.”

And that's your key to a warmer, cozier, more connected thanksgiving.

Keeping Calm and Carrying On

Thanksgiving doesn't have to be a series of endless meltdowns.

Using tools that build connection help keep things light-hearted and fun.

And when there is fun, good times and cooperation follow.

Some of these tools can be used before the big day to build a blanket of comfort between parent and child. Others are more like emergency rescue tools, quick connection boosters, to be used as needed.

Here are five tried-and-trusted tools to see you through holiday meltdowns.

Five Ways To Solve Thanksgiving Struggles

laughter-helps-solve-thanksgiving-struggles1. Special Time Ahead of Company

You've been shopping, roasting, baking, cleaning. What's missing here?

Playing with the kids.

And who can blame you?

But if your little one is nagging, whinging and playing up, they are telling you they need some one-on-one connection.

Either your child needs to laugh or cry to release the fearful feelings they have about losing you to turkey and planning!

The niggly behavior won't truly go away until they get some time.

10 Minutes Can Turn Things Around

If you can spend 10 minutes of special time, where you follow his lead in play, you'll boost his sense good feeling and save yourself a lot of acting up later. He'll leave his play session with you feeling happier to hang out with Grampy, and he may even nibble a carrot at dinner. In this post, a mom even themes special time with her son, transforming his bath time into “I'm gonna baste my baby turkey,” time. Aren't we parents genius?!

Need a Primer on Special Time? Get this free chapter from our book, Listen.

2. Kids Fighting? Play Bad Vibes Away

One minute the kids are outside playing happily, the next one is in tears and everyone else is pointing fingers.

Somewhere in play, they've become disconnected.

The quickest way to reunite them is by pitching them against you. “Any kind of game of tipping, tripping, falling, spilling your food, or sitting innocently, then having children “bonk” you from behind with pillows, and being mystified as to who caused those bonks, are hilarious to kids from toddlerhood through preschool and beyond,” says Patty Wipfler, founder of Hand in Hand Parenting, and author of the book Listen: Five Tools To Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges. 

When kids laugh, good feelings return. And when they band against you, they are united in a single cause so their own quarrels are forgotten.

Good games to try, Patty says, are Hide and Seek, where adults don't see the children even when they are right in front of them, and chase games, where the adult is a victim always falling, slipping or sliding as the kids move out of reach.

This is peacekeeping play at its finest, so it actually pays for the parents to lose!

Want More Game Ideas? Try This: 12 Fun Games That Help Kids Solve Their Power Struggles

3. Why Are They So Loud?

When the kids are getting too loud for comfort, make their noise legitimate. They want to be listened to, so listen.

Have a “Who's Loudest” Competition

If you have space (and mental capacity) have a “Who's loudest?” competition, where you all yell. You can end up by taking it right down to “Who's quietest?” where you all whisper.

Kathy Gordon, chief Parent Club moderator says try talking without making any sounds. This simple game is guaranteed to get giggles going.

And that's exactly what you are aiming for. “It's seeing if you can get them giggling so that they can offload any tension or tightness that might be making them act so loud,” she says.

Even if they don't play, watching you “talk” silently can be hilarious for them. They'll soon be offering directions for you to mime.

For more on Playing Away Power Battles, read A Playful Parent's Guide to Discipline

4. They Won't come to the Table and They Definitely Won't Eat

Here come the biggie: Family dinner.

Getting to the table, staying there and actually eating is a challenge in many houses – even on days family isn't around and chiming in with thoughts and opinions.

Get ahead by warming up the good feelings before dinner is on the table.

Ahead of dinner, get involved, or assign a family member to spend time playing games the kids are playing (or joining in with devices they are watching).

Since children often get busy by themselves as dinner prep takes over, this time in the spotlight gives them an immediate shot of connection.

Couple this, a few minutes in, with an expectation: “It's almost time for dinner,” to warm them up for what's to come.

When it is time, try offering playful encouragement. “Let's race to the table, I bet I'll win,” works well for some kids, and “Bet you can't stop me getting to the table,” where they physically try and prevent you moving is great for others.

Make sure you set enough time to play and let them win so they get to the table feeling good. (Don't worry, you can still put up a good battle!)

Can't Eat, Won't Eat

thanksgiving-strugglesIf they won't eat, or won't stay at the table, try the bumper load of ideas in this post, 20 Playful Ways to Help a Picky Eater, including Sarah Maclaughlin's “Glue on the Seat” game.

Skye Munro's play-threat command is also a good one: “No-one eat those potatoes. Those are MY potatoes.”

Kds will dive into the “forbidden food” just to see your mock horror (For best results, act really displeased!).

When Kids Are Melting Down, Take Them Away

If the event is too much pressure for your child, don't be afraid to take them out of the situation. While you are sitting out, create a kind of cosy “time in.”

Offer quick burst of Special Time, or try something you know will make them laugh. In our house, this looks like saying, “The first one to smile loses…” and then trying to make each other smile.

Patty Wipfler describes playing away the pressure of needing to be well-mannered. At a family event she attended where the kids were falling apart, “My son and I took a break in another room and had a bad manners contest,” she says.

“We burped, blew bad breath at each other, made farting noises, and just laughed and laughed.”

After some cousins joined the contest, they played for another 15 minutes before heading back to the table, where the children were well-mannered and respectful.

5. They Don't Want to Leave

Isn't this the kicker? After all the madness and meltdowns, what happens when everyone is ready to leave? Your child refuses to budge or throws himself down on the floor in a tantrum.

It might not feel like it, but they are telling you they had a great time.

Your child is saying, “We had such a good time together, this feels like a fine, safe time to let all my pent up feelings loose.”

Get Ready, Go!

solve thanksgiving strugglesSaying “We're leaving soon,” before you actually need to can be useful.

If your child doesn't want to, you'll hear about it early, you'll be able to laugh about it, give them a “win,” and offer a little extra time. That way, things feel more relaxed. l

You can also try laughter here too. Act goofy about leaving.

  • Attempt to leave but put your jacket on back to front.
  • Tie a scarf around your legs
  • Exit through the wrong door, and get your child to help you find the right one.

Once you have them laughing, the whole room can relax a little. You can scoop your child up, give them a nuzzle and whizz out the door with everyone smiling.

Thanksgiving might be trying, exhausting and all-consuming, but it's a holiday with heart that we all deserve to enjoy.

We hope these connection parenting tools help you have a good time with plenty of laughter, for a family gathering you'll all remember for the right reasons. Let us know how they work out for you.

From the Hand in Hand Toolbox:

When kids take the lead in play we call it Playlistening. Find out how this simple tool is so powerful in What is Playlistening? 

Get more playful parenting tips in 15 Playful Ways To Solve Sibling Rivalry

Get your free Ultimate Guide to Sibling Rivalry here

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