Talking to Kids about Thanksgiving

Much of the true history behind the Thanksgiving holiday is tragically misrepresented as a heart-warming (and white-washed) tale. It’s possible to acknowledge family traditions while also dispelling the untruths about Thanksgiving!

Find out what your child knows about the history

When you’re playing a game or perhaps making a pumpkin pie with your kiddo, ask them (in a friendly way) what they know about the holiday. Listen non-judgmentally and maintain neutral reactions as they speak. Their answers will give you great insight into their misconceptions.

Gently confront the myths

Depending on what they said in the previous point, you can tailor your response accordingly. Be honest but keep it basic! There’s no need for your kindergartener to hear the nitty-gritty details of genocide. You can add a little more information each year as your child grows and matures.

If you have a little one at home, your response could be as simple as: “Ah, you heard that the Pilgrims came to the U.S. and wanted to SHARE the land with the Indians. Unfortunately, that’s not true. The Pilgrims came and TOOK the land away from the people who already lived here. That wasn’t right.”

Build empathy

The story your kiddo has more than likely received is that the Native Americans shared food and supplies with the Pilgrims, who were super grateful, and then they all had a grand ol’ feast together. It might feel hard to break from that cheery story, but if you want to raise diversity-embracing, bias-confronting children, it’s important to help them take another perspective on the tale.

After explaining (in simple terms) that indigenous people had land stolen from them, ask your child to put themselves in their shoes. How would they feel if their home was taken from them? Would they feel sad? Angry? (Handle these questions with care – the point is NOT to frighten them, but to have a conversation.)

Seek information about the land you live on

Native-Land is an awesome and free website to help you figure this out. Visit the site with your kids and type in your address to find out which indigenous tribe(s) lived on your land before you did. For example, I learned that my home in Austin, Texas is on Jumano land.

If you have a big celebration with the extended family this year, encourage your kids to report what they learned!

Discuss ways we can respect the land we’re on

The least we can do is respect and take care of Earth and our local lands. Help your child identify ways that your family currently protects the planet – and if you come up short, no shame! Put your heads together and create new strategies.

Some ideas: recycling, reducing food waste, planting an herb or veggie garden, picking up litter in public places

Focus on gratitude

Many families go around the table on Thanksgiving day and identify something for which they’re grateful. This is a beautiful idea, and doesn’t have to be limited to the holidays! You can incorporate it as a daily practice in your home. Some ideas:

  • Everyone identifies an appreciation at dinner or bedtime
  • Say Grace at meals if you’re religious, or if you’re not, make a simple statement of gratitude for the food on your table. (I love this secular phrasing: “For the meal we are about to eat / for those who made it possible / and for those with whom we are about to share it / we are thankful.”)
  • Put a big bulletin board or white board on the wall and encourage family members to fill it with appreciations
  • Write and hand out simple thank-you notes to family, neighbors, teachers, coaches, and so on

Give back

Some ideas:

  • Support local efforts lead by indigenous people to protect land and sacred sites
  • Donate money to indigenous causes or organizations
  • Support BIPOC businesses (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color)
  • Support the work of native artists (e.g., music/movies/art/books made by indigenous people)

Keep the conversation going year-round

Talk about BIPOC issues throughout the year. Read children’s books that center indigenous characters and culture. Talk about current events in which people are discriminated against because of their race or heritage. Keep the lines of communication open about this important topic!

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