Thanksgiving is one of the most beloved holidays. Surrounded by family and friends, not to mention the delicious meal.
However Thanksgiving can be really stressful for some kids who thrive with routines and familiarity, not to mention kids who are picky eaters!
We have gathered some information about why this holiday can be so tricky and provide you with some tips and tricks to get you through Turkey Day.
So what is the deal? Why is Thanksgiving stuffed with stress?
It is out of the ordinary. It is a day unlike any other in the schedule that comes with a lot of anticipation and preparation.
There can be a change of environment. Thanksgiving is one of the biggest days for travel. Regardless if you are traveling via plane, boat, or car, it is likely to cause a ruckus.
Turkey Day can be LOUD, crowded, and chaotic. Many people can be over for one meal. Many people can be sitting at a table or in one household. Thanksgiving meal preparation is often hectic at the least. A lot of people = a lot of drumsticks on the table (which isn’t the most regulating environment).
Food is associated with love. If you don’t eat Aunt Gertrude’s pecan pie, you must not love her. There is a lot of pressure on kiddos to eat non-preferred foods, from themselves and others.
Thanksgiving is a bountiful harvest of sensory experiences. The sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and textures can create opportunities for sensory overload.
So what can you do? Let’s carve out the family time!
Foreshadow. Foreshadow. Foreshadow. Talk, show pictures, read books, etc. about what is going to happen on Thanksgiving. Talk about the events of the days, the people included, the sights and smells of ALL of the food, the noise, and anything else (e.g., Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, black Friday shopping). Try to make the day predictable with as little surprises as possible.
Keep kiddos on a similar eating schedule regardless of the mealtime. If you are eating at 2:00, still provide your child with small, familiar, and safe meals beforehand at a regular mealtime.
Your pumpkin may want to gobble the all-preferred sweets before the big meal. Sweets actually suppress appetite and may reduce the likelihood they will eat or try the actual meal.
Modify your environment to help with the sensory overload.
Hearing: If there is going to be a large crowd, is there a way you can arrange the tables to make a quieter environment (hello kids table or quiet table)? If not, you can consider noise-canceling headphones or earplugs. While preparing the meal, is there a place you can have your child so they don’t have to hear the sounds of cooking? (scraping , mixing, mashing, timers, Oh My!)
Seeing: Consider the lighting. Does your child do better with dimmed lights? Does your child get stressed with intense lighting? We suggest lights at the same level or a dim level, depending on the child; however, if you are unsure how to proceed you can always consult one of our awesome OTs.
Smelling: What’s that smell?? From the sweet smell of pumpkin pie to the pungent odor of grandma’s perfume there are a lot of aromas that can cause lil’ pilgrims to feel overwhelmed. Consider having an alternate room away from the food to hang out in, asking relatives to be aware of strong perfumes or lotions, or wear a nose plug (if your child can tolerate this). If your child has a preferred scent, consider spraying it on a scarf. This may help mask the other scents going on.
Tasting: Considering altering some of your child’s favorite foods to squash their worries. Think textures and bold flavors. Can you make the flavor subtler (less salt, plain bread instead of cornbread, less spice, etc.)? Can you make the texture more preferred (smoother cranberry sauce, less chunky mashed-potatoes)? You can always consult one of our fabulous feeding therapists to guide you through the mealtime voyage.
Touch: If you have a little one, consider allowing messy play with the foods! There are lots of textures and flavors to explore around Thanksgiving! Messy play is a great stepping-stone to becoming comfortable with Thanksgiving foods.
These are just a few tips to stew over and that will (hopefully) make your day easy as pie. We are thankful for all of you.
Happy Turkey Day from CI! Gobble gobble.
Kimberly Lawless, M.S., CCC-SLP
Speech and Language Pathologist