Four ways to connect with your kids this Thanksgiving

Written by Melissa Swain
Published on November 18, 2022

Thanksgiving evokes lots of wonderful memories for me. As a kid, my family would gather at my grandmother’s where the cousins would watch the parade, the dads would watch old western movies and football, and the moms would bustle around in the kitchen until all the food was ready. We’d eat and then separate again – the kids often outside, the dads falling asleep in front of the TV in the living room, and the moms cleaning up, then joining the dads to talk and ‘shoo’ the kids back out to play. We’d all leave for home that evening, happy and exhausted. Honestly, I can’t look back and tell you the differences between one Thanksgiving and another. It’s not that they weren’t important. It’s that the holiday was more than how many servings of that weird Jell-o salad I ate or whether, the cousins played tag or basketball. 

Those individual moments were important, but over time, they all kind of congealed like that Jell-o salad into the memories I have of fun, family togetherness, and watching the parade on a tiny black and white TV. It can be like that when we connect with our kids, too. Our individual moments are important and valuable, but often we discount the accumulation of small moments spent with our kids, truly connecting with them.

We often try to create special moments. And that’s not bad — we need them. But where we go wrong is when we focus on connecting with the moment rather than connecting with our child. Connection is so much more than a moment in time or that thing we did once. Our kids may or may not remember all the individual moments, but they will remember the connection we built with them. 

So how do we connect with our kids? Holiday seasons are so busy! And to be honest, sometimes we are overwhelmed with all the things we have on our plate long before it’s time for Thanksgiving dinner. The best way to learn how to do something is to see how Jesus did it. Jesus modeled connection for us in the way he cared for people. And though it’s not always easy, it is simple: Show compassion, be authentic, be relevant by applying truth to all situations, and engage by investing and being present. Here are four ways we can slow down a bit this holiday season and show our kids we care.

1. Listen with our whole selves. 

In Matthew 19:14, Jesus instructed the disciples to let the children come to him. Can you imagine all the words pouring out of their little mouths in their excitement to see Jesus? I can just see him listening intently to each of them in turn, whether they wanted to tell him about their skinned knee or their favorite toy. Often, I catch myself typing away at a text message while my daughter tries to tell me something. I think I’m hearing what she’s saying, but there are so many times I get to the end of her story and have no idea what she just said. However, when I put my phone down, turn toward her, look at her, and truly give her my attention, I hear and understand what she’s saying. That gives me the ability to respond so much better, show her I value what she has to say, and model the respect and compassion Jesus showed us how to practice.

2. Share a struggle. 

Jesus shared his real self with the disciples, whether he was sad about the death of Lazarus (John 11:35) or sleeping while the disciples panicked (Mark 4:38). Not all of our holiday memories are good ones, and sometimes family gatherings can be stressful. If you’ve lost someone this year, the holiday might be particularly difficult. It’s important to let our kids know we struggle with things in an age-appropriate way. It doesn’t mean telling them everything or spilling family secrets, but when we trust them with our feelings and our true selves, we build connection. It also helps our kids understand they are not alone in their struggles and encourages them to stay open with us. 

3. Make something together. 

It can be a pie for dinner, a LEGO creation, or a guided drawing from YouTube. As we work together or side-by-side, our kids see that we must follow the same rules and we aren’t perfect (they already know, so we might as well admit it). Jesus used the Pharisees as an illustration of what to do and not do in Matthew 23:1-3. Yes, they were acting in a hypocritical way, but Jesus told the disciples to do what they said, not what they did. Why? Because they were saying the right things, they just weren’t doing them. What does it teach our kids if we tell them to do something and then we don’t follow our own rules? When we create together, we illustrate to our kids that the same rules that apply to them also apply to us. Let us teach our kids that we are held to the same standards they are, and God’s Word is truth that applies to us all.  

4. Find out what’s on their mind. 

We want to actively engage with our kids, and one way to find out what’s on their mind is to begin a sentence and let them finish it. You might be surprised with what you learn! Don’t be shocked if something about a bodily function slips into one or more of their answers. Go ahead and giggle, then encourage them to answer again. Jesus actively engaged with people, taking the initiative to have deep, truthful conversations with them. When he spoke with the woman at the well, Jesus discussed some pretty hard topics with her. But because he was engaging with her in a compassionate, authentic, and relevant way, she received what he had to say. Let us engage with our kids, hear them, and give them the opportunity to hear us. 

I may not be able to tell you the events of each Thanksgiving, but I do remember the instructions we often received on the way to family gatherings: No running in the house, watch out for your brother, and don’t believe everything your uncle tells you. Those instructions were great, but we did, in fact, forget every single one of those things at some point. The truly impactful thing was watching my parents. Seeing how they navigated the family dynamics was much more important than any list of instructions. Jesus gave instructions, certainly, but the disciples learned from him because he spent time with them. Everything they caught during that time was just as impactful as the things Jesus specifically taught them. The same holds true when we want connection with our kids. Spending intentional time with our kids is far more effective than just giving instructions and hoping they figure it out. By caring like Jesus did, we show our children they are important and loved by us and by God. 

Don’t let the holidays slip by without connecting with your kids. 


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Melissa Swain

Melissa Swain is the co-author of  Write It On Their Hearts: Practical Help for Discipling Your Kids, a homeschool mom, writer, and editor. She resides in Hendersonville, Tennessee, with her kids and their snoring bulldog. You can connect with Melissa on Instagram at @WITHtheSwains or writeitontheirhearts.com.

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