Thanksgiving dinner is one of America’s biggest traditions and memories spent with friends and family can last a lifetime. The big meal is a lot to plan in itself, especially for families of children with special needs. Planning in advance is key. Below are some tips to help your child with special needs feel comfortable and part of the family Thanksgiving tradition.
Fun and Engaging Thanksgiving Activities
Try involving your child in some these Thanksgiving activities that will help teach him or her about the traditions and customs that are associated with the holiday:
Turkey Baster Water Transfer
Encourages the development of fine motor skills!
- Set out 2 bowls, one filled with water one empty.
- Teach your child how to use a turkey baster and fill it with water.
- Have them use the baster to transfer water from one bowl to the other.
Put your child’s memory to the test with a matching game!
- Print out pictures of Thanksgiving-related images onto index cards, with 2 cards for each image.
- Lay the cards face down and have your child try to match the cards.
- Discuss the names of the images to promote language development.
Turkey Feather Counting
Promote number recognition and one-to-one correspondence!
- Draw images of turkeys without feathers.
- Write a number on the body of each turkey.
- Have your child glue the number of feathers onto the turkey that corresponds to the number.
Dressing for Thanksgiving
Showing off your family at its best dressed can be a little tricky when you have a special needs child. Don’t let fancy outfits make or break your holiday. If your child fusses, just let him or her pick the outfit. Then you can just add some festive accessories!
- Hang a Thanksgiving drawing like a turkey or pilgrim hat around your child’s neck with a piece of yarn.
- String some Thanksgiving colored large beads or pasta on a piece of yarn and your child can wear it as a bracelet or necklace.
- Paint a Thanksgiving design on your child’s cheek or hand.
- Stick a feather into a ponytail or braid, or pin it to the back of a sweatshirt hood.
- Use fabric paints to decorate a plain t-shirt with Thanksgiving designs.
- Re-lace your child’s shoes with Thanksgiving colored or themed shoelaces.
- Use Thanksgiving colored or themed socks.
- Find a lightweight Thanksgiving pin to attach to whatever outift your child agrees to wear.
- If all else fails, be thankful that your child agrees to wear clothes at all!
Planning Thanksgiving Dinner
When planning this yearly get-together, ask around to see which family member has the most accessible home. If you have an accessible, why not be the one to host dinner? This will already make your child feel more comfortable being in a very familiar place with less familiar faces and activities.
Traveling with your special needs is hard enough. To help make things a little easier, try asking a pre-teen or teen family member to travel with you as your helper. Chances are they will jump at the chance to travel to Grandma’s house with your family instead of his or her own. Your child will enjoy traveling and playing with someone closer to his or her own age.
Preparing Thanksgiving Foods
Some kids are on a special diet, which means they can’t eat all the same foods as the rest of the family. If possible, prepare their food in a special way to celebrate Thanksgiving.
For a child fed through a feeding tube, a family dinner can be tough. If relatives are comfortable with your child being fed while everyone else eats, try some thanksgiving tube feeding recipes. You can also feed your child ahead of time, or wait to attend the party until after dinner.
Because your child is eating differently, don’t let that make him or her feel left out. To help your child feel more included, have them help prepare the foods even they aren’t eating (children often want to try foods that they’ve helped make!) and in other productive ways like grocery shopping or setting the table.
Know What to Expect
Don’t expect the entire night to be perfect. Be prepared for at least one tantrum, but more kids at dinner usually means fewer tantrums because they’re having so much fun!
Do your best to prevent tantrums in the first place by making sure your child gets enough sleep the night before Thanksgiving dinner as well as his or her regularly scheduled nap.