The house was more subdued than usual for Thanksgiving.

There was still the smell of turkey cooking that wafted through the house along with a multitude of side dishes. There were various football games playing on television. Even though aspects of Thanksgiving were evident, it was different in the midst of a pandemic. The usual hustle and bustle of extended family and friends was absent.

The pandemic has already caused substantial disruption to all aspects of daily life. The holidays are no exception as families prepare for Thanksgiving.

Since most health officials are advising against large gatherings, families are searching for alternative ways to celebrate a unique Thanksgiving.

One way to still be with extended family is to host a virtual Thanksgiving meal. Families can schedule a time to share a meal virtually through videoconference software, like Zoom. If family members live close by, this gathering can be further personalized by taking over side dishes and exchanging dishes in a contactless manner like leaving them on the porch. This way everyone will still be able to enjoy grandma’s sweet potato casserole.

Videoconferencing can be extended past dinner to allow everyone to share in watching a football game or synching a Netflix movie. The key is to do activities that help bring the family together while still allowing them to be safe.

If videoconferencing is not an option, parents can make efforts to make the day fun by playing games with their children and enjoying each other’s company.

Prior to any remote gathering, parents can start a new tradition. They can work with their children to have them write to those who were unable to come. The focus of these letters can be on giving thanks for all the things that have gone well this year.

Given the current challenges the country has experienced this year, it can seem like nothing good could have possibly happened, but it has.

Focusing on positive things that have happened this year can help change perspective and lead to feelings of gratitude. Too often, it is easy to focus on the negative issues that have seemed to be a constant this year.

Gratitude is something that has to be taught to children and parents need to model gratitude. Writing letters to family on Thanksgiving is a great way to start this process and to give thanks for one’s blessings.

As children learn to think about gratitude, they will start experiencing higher levels of happiness and optimism. They also will have lower levels of depression and stress.

While this year’s Thanksgiving is a perfect time to kick off being grateful, it can continue by parents having their children identify three things they are grateful for each day. Over time, it will become second nature for children.

This will be a unique Thanksgiving that is unlike previous ones. However, we can still focus on gathering together, albeit remotely, and to keep our thoughts on each other. Giving thanks for what we have and exhibiting gratitude.

Dan Florell, Ph.D., is a professor at Eastern Kentucky University and has a private practice, MindPsi (www.mindpsi.net). Praveena Salins, M.D., is a pediatrician at Madison Pediatric Associates (www.madisonpeds.com).

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