Should You Have a Kids' Table at Thanksgiving?
The turkey’s roasting and the marshmallow sweet potato casserole is toasting. And you are — setting up a Thanksgiving dinner kids' table?
The smaller, separate table for the tiniest of Thanksgiving guests is a staple of this holiday tradition. But should it continue or do you need to revise your ideas on family-style dining?
From the pros and cons of a children’s table to the ways you can successfully serve a Thanksgiving meal with enough room for absolutely everyone in the extended family.
Read on to get tips for holiday dining with younger kiddos.
Related: 10 Ways to Teach Kids Gratitude This Thanksgiving
Why is there a Kids' Table at Thanksgiving Dinner?
Ah, the kids' table.
You have warm, fuzzy memories of the barely-able-to-stand-on-its-own, folding card table that your parents leveled with folded paper towels with the hope that it could withstand the weight of the mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.
While you eagerly poured yourself into one of the random plastic patio chairs, now you’re not so sure about repeating this holiday tradition with your littles.
The Thanksgiving kids' table serves a few different purposes. This can make it either super-easy or mildly challenging to decide whether you really need to add this extra seating arrangement or not.
Primarily, it serves as an extension of the main dining table. This allows you to add extra space and accommodate everyone in your extended family. While grandma and grandpa might balk at the idea of sitting in the dusty folding chairs that you just dragged out of the shed, most kiddos won’t really care.
Likewise, the youngest members of your family are probably less inclined to complain about sitting around a foam-topped card table than any of the grown-ups.
Along with the added area, the children’s table also gives each group (kids and grown-ups) a chance to enjoy their holiday meal with their peers.
The kiddos can play games, giggle, and make a mess while the adults discuss politics, gossip, or just enjoy any convo that doesn’t involve Paw Patrol.
And as if that wasn’t enough of a reason to set up a kids' table for Thanksgiving dinner, the second space also acts as a divider between the grown-up beverages (alcohol) and child-friendly choices.
What Are the Pros and Cons of a Kids’ Table?
Still not sold on the return of the kids' table? Or maybe you’re looking for a reason to reinstate this tradition?
Before you make a decision, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of this Thanksgiving set-up.
Pros of a Kids’ Table:
- More space for everything and everyone.
- Separate conversation areas — meaning that you won’t have to spell out half of the words just so your four-year-old doesn’t know what the grown-ups are talking about.
- Less noise at the adult end of the table. Maybe.
- The ability to adjust the timing of your meal for each age group. The kids can eat first and won’t have to sit through a two-hour big family Thanksgiving meal.
- Division of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages.
- Table decor. A separate kids' table means your tot won’t ruin the elegant placemats and impressive settings at the adult end of the area.
- Less mess. More specifically, less mess for the adults. Forget about flying cranberry sauce, the drips and drops can stay primarily on the children’s table.
- Extra activities. The kids' table can also double as a post-meal Thanksgiving activity center. The adult table is filled with fine china and a fancy centerpiece. But you can cover the children’s card table with butcher paper, hand out crayons, and use the space for a Thanksgiving art project.
Cons of a Kids’ Table:
- Two tables take up more space. Instead of squishing the littles into the bigger dining table, you will need extra square footage to set up a card table or other similar eating area.
- Supervision issues. How much supervision do your littles require? Even though you’re in the same room, you may have trouble seeing what the kids are actually doing.
- Less family inclusion. Does it feel like you’re ostracizing part of your big family? Thanksgiving is a time to come together. And two separate tables may make it seem like you’re pulling everyone apart.
- Bad manners. The kids get their own table. In some families this means they don’t have to follow the adult table etiquette. If you want to teach a lesson in manners, you may need to set your expectations higher and nix the individual eating areas.
- Age issues. How old is too old for the kids' table? Families with kids that range from toddlers to tweens may have difficulty creating an age cut-off — and your 13-year-old niece probably doesn’t want to hear that she’s in the same category as her three- and four-year-old cousins.
What Are the Best Ages For A Children’s Table?
Even though age-related issues are a potential con in this type of Thanksgiving dinner table arrangement, you can work through the problem.
Instead of lumping everyone 18 and under into one category, think about the best way to break down the ages for your family. This could include:
- Little kids only. This type of setup is for the toddler, Pre-k, and kindergarten group.
- Elementary ages. If the youngest family members need extra adult supervision, move them to the grown-up table and use the children’s area for kiddos who are more self-sufficient.
- Older kids and tweens. Even though older children and tweens (and possibly teens) can sit with the adults, they may not want to. Think of the table extension as a “kids’ club” for your almost-adult family members.
While babies and young toddlers are technically “kids,” they’re too young to sit at their own separate table.
If you don’t feel comfortable with your child sitting at another table or you’re not confident in their ability to eat solo, skip the separate dining area. High chairs/booster seats are a no-go.
What Is the Best Way To Keep Kids Occupied At the Thanksgiving Table?
The ability to pull off a quick meal and keep the kiddos occupied is a definite kids’ table benefit. But this doesn’t mean that the littles will occupy themselves.
Get creative and come up with a few Thanksgiving-themed activities to make the meal more enjoyable for everyone in the extended family. If you’re not sure where to start, some of the most popular (and easiest) ideas are:
- Crayon art. Butcher paper table cover plus crayons equals hours of artsy fun.
- Make your own placemats. Give the kiddos markers, crayons, or colored pencils and pieces of card stock before the main meal. While the adults nosh on apps, the kids can draw their own creative Thanksgiving placemats.
- Put together a centerpiece. Leave faux flowers, fall leaves, a plush turkey, and more on the kids’ table. When the littles sit down, they can puzzle together a cute holiday centerpiece.
- Thanksgiving bingo. Make or print out Thanksgiving themed bingo cards that feature holiday food faves. The kids can mark off each item as they eat their meal. The first one to get a row across, down, or diagonally wins a piece of pumpkin pie!
- Clean-up game. The adults are not responsible for the complete post-meal clean-up. Get the kids' table in on the action—but in a fun-filled way. Play music, time the kids as they clean, or throw a pick-up-your-place-setting dance party.
- Make Thanksgiving felt puzzles. Make turkeys and other Thanksgiving themed pictures from craft felt! Cut out shapes in fall colors, use another sheet of craft felt as a base, and watch (from the adult table) as the creative kids puzzle the pieces together.
What Should You Do If Your Child Refuses To Sit At the Children’s Table?
Your kids' table is a Thanksgiving masterpiece. It’s filled with colorful crayons, topped with festive dinnerware, and the perfect height for your youngest holiday guests. Even though the table is over-the-top-awesome, your child refuses to sit with the other kids. What can you do?
Before you beg or bribe your child to take their seat, decide whether it’s important that they sit at the kid’s Thanksgiving dinner table. If some of the other grandkids, cousins, or sibs will sit with their parents, let your child join in.
But if it is important that they sit at the table, get to the bottom of the problem. Ask your child why they’re shying away from this kid/adult seating arrangement. It’s possible they don’t feel comfortable with the cousins they just met, they don’t like the feel of the fold-out chairs, or they just miss mom or dad.
In that case, it’s okay to grab an extra chair, or a lap! As long as everyone has a fun Thanksgiving together with family, whatever you choose is up to you.
Are you looking for a few more Thanksgiving kids’ crafts for the children’s table at your holiday dinner? We’ve got you covered with this turkey art activity!
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Erica is an experienced parenting and education writer, with an M.S. in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh School of Education.