A family celebrates Thanksgiving. Learn how to have an emotionally safe Thanksgiving this year.

You’ve bought your turkey, prepped your sides, and the table is set. Even when you’re totally prepared, Thanksgiving can also be a source of stress and anxiety! This is especially true when family dynamics and differing viewpoints come into play. For kids, the added pressure of new social interactions and heightened expectations can make the holiday season even more overwhelming. Here are a few things you can do to have an emotionally safe Thanksgiving with your family:

1. Prepare for Emotional Challenges

Anticipate potential emotional pitfalls and develop coping mechanisms for both yourself and your children.

Identify Emotional Triggers:

  • Reflect on past gatherings and identify specific situations, topics, or interactions that have caused emotional discomfort for you or your children.
  • Pay attention to patterns and recurring themes that tend to trigger negative emotions.
  • Consider individual sensitivities and how different family members may be affected by certain dynamics or topics (Religion and politics, we are looking at you!)

Develop Coping Strategies:

  • Practice mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation, to manage stress and anxiety.
  • Have a plan of what to do if you or your child are uncomfortable in a situation. (This could be changing the subject on a disagreeable topic, or leaving the room)

2. Establish Boundaries and Expectations

Communicate your boundaries and expectations clearly to both family members and your children. If you have strong feelings about certain topics, politely request to avoid discussing them during the gathering.

  • Talk to your family members ahead of time. Let them know what topics you would prefer not to discuss, and what behaviors you are not comfortable with. For example, you might say something like, “I’m not really up for talking about politics today,” or “I’m not comfortable with you making jokes about my weight.”
  • Set clear expectations for your children. Talk to your kids about what behavior is expected of them at the gathering.
  • Be assertive when enforcing your boundaries. If someone crosses your boundaries, be clear and direct about your expectations. Make sure your children feel comfortable with their boundaries. For example, hugs should never be mandatory!
  • Be willing to walk away. If someone is repeatedly disrespecting your boundaries, it is okay to walk away from the conversation or the gathering altogether. Let your children know they should come and get you if they are having any problems.
A family eats Thanksgiving dinner outside together.

3. Focus on Shared Values and Experiences

One way to make sure your Thanksgiving is more enjoyable is to focus on the things that bring you together! Here are a few ideas:

  • Talk about your shared experiences. What are some of the favorite memories that you have as a family? What are some of the challenges that you have faced together? Talking about your shared experiences can help to strengthen your bonds as a family and remind you of the things that you have in common.
  • Celebrate your family traditions. What are some of the things that your family always does together on Thanksgiving? Traditions can help to create a sense of belonging and identity for family members. They can also provide a sense of comfort and stability during difficult times.
  • Engage in activities that bring everyone together. Play games, share stories, or reminiscing about past Thanksgiving celebrations. These activities can help to break the ice and create a more relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.

Additional Tips To Help Kids Feel Comfortable At Thanksgiving:

  • Involve your children in planning and preparation: Let kids help with age-appropriate tasks, such as setting the table, decorating, or making simple recipes. This will give them a sense of ownership and make them feel more invested in the celebration.
  • Create a child-friendly space: Set up a designated area where kids can play, draw, or read quietly if they need a break from the festivities.
  • Be mindful of sensory sensitivities: If your child has sensory sensitivities, be mindful of loud noises, bright lights, or overwhelming textures. Provide them with options to retreat to a calmer environment if needed.
  • Validate their emotions: Acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings, even if they seem trivial. Let them know it’s okay to feel overwhelmed or anxious, and offer them support and reassurance.
  • Focus on gratitude: It’s called Thanksgiving for a reason! Encourage your kids to express gratitude for the things they are thankful for, such as family, friends, health, or their favorite toys or activities. This can help shift their focus away from potential stressors and cultivate a positive mindset.

Final Thoughts

Remember, Thanksgiving should be a fun and emotionally safe holiday. By implementing strategies and tailored to your families specific needs, you can create a harmonious and emotionally safe environment.

Oftentimes, just doing some simple things can make a big difference:

  • Be inclusive. Make sure that everyone feels welcome and included in the activities. This may mean choosing activities that are appropriate for all ages and abilities. It may also mean being mindful of any cultural or religious sensitivities.
  • Be respectful. Even if you disagree with someone, it is important to be respectful of their opinions and beliefs. Avoid getting into heated arguments or debates.
  • Be present. Put away your phones and other distractions, and focus on spending time with your family. Make eye contact, listen actively, and ask questions.

I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday!

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