THE BLOG
11/21/2013 10:40 am ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

Thanksgiving = Thanks + Giving

This year, let's put the givingback in Thanksgiving with a national dinner table conversation around giving and #GivingTuesday.

Thanksgiving, the ultimate American family dinner, brings us all together. Even families who have all but lost touch with the family dinner tradition sit down together on Thanksgiving Day.

Some families focus on the food, with an annual rush to get the turkey in the oven on time or find the yellowing family recipes passed down through the generations. (Don't dare try a new stuffing!) In other families, Thanksgiving may represent a time to brace for the annual interrogation about politics, marital status or child-rearing practices. Some families continue less stressful rituals, such as having everyone say why they're thankful.

This year, The Family Dinner Project team is suggesting that people talk about how they're going to give on #GivingTuesday and beyond -- not just money, but time and simple gifts of kindness. After all, Thanksgiving = Thanks + Giving, right?

The Family Dinner Project, a growing grassroots movement, champions family dinner as an opportunity to have food, fun and conversation about things that matter. With online resources and community-based programs, The Family Dinner Project helps families improve the quantity and quality of their meals together -- making dinner simpler, more nutritious, more fun and more meaningful.

Family dinners are well-researched, with years of documented physical, mental health and academic benefits. Research links regular family meals with the kinds of behaviors parents want for their children: healthier eating habits, of course, but also reduction of high-risk teenage behaviors such as drug use and teen pregnancy, lower rates of depression and anxiety, stronger resilience and self-esteem, and even higher grade point averages and better vocabularies from dinner conversations than from reading aloud.

On Thanksgiving (or during leftover lunches on Friday), we hope that families of all kinds will try conversations focused on giving and then decide how they're going to give. To make this easy, we're providing printable tips and tools on our website.

Everyone, even children, can talk about giving. But, sometimes they need a little encouragement. "Kids will come to the issue of giving with different sensitivities and sensibilities," says Dr. Anne Fishel, a founding member of The Family Dinner Project and associate clinical professor at Harvard Medical School. "With most kids, it's important to make a very personal connection to giving and explain that everyone -- kids and grownups alike -- needs help from others."

For young children, conversations can start with a question such as, "What is something you love that you'd like to share with someone else?" Older kids and adults alike might like to talk about these questions related to giving: "What is a strength or gift you have that you could share with others?" or, "Think about a time that someone did something nice for you. What was it and how did it make you feel? How do you feel when you do something nice for someone else?"

Making family plans for giving can be easy, fun and free. For example, you can talk about people your family appreciates (a relative, a teacher or coach, for example). Then, as a family, text or call that person. Or, your family can create and decorate a gratitude box. Everyone writes down why they're grateful, including something that another family member has done or said. The kids will start to see gratitude is a way to give.

If you want kids to learn to give money, you can start by asking them what they care about and perhaps give them some starter ideas, such as other children who need help, animals that need a home or a local park that could use a cleanup. Then, you can give them some money and help them give it to the cause of their choice.

You'll undoubtedly come up with your own great ideas for conversations and giving. After you do, we hope you'll share your giving spirit with us by:

· Letting us know how it goes. We'd love to hear how your conversation and your #GivingTuesday went! Please share your experience with others on our Facebook page

· Spreading the word. Follow us on Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter and share our #GivingTuesday and other resources with families and friends who might be interested.

All of us at The Family Dinner Project wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and hope you'll make giving and family dinner year-round traditions.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in celebration of #GivingTuesday, which will take place this year (2013) on December 3. The idea behind #GivingTuesday is to kickoff the holiday-giving season, in the same way that Black Friday and Cyber Monday kickoff the holiday-shopping season. We'll feature at least one post from a #GivingTuesday partner every weekday in November. To see all the posts in the series, click here; follow the conversation via #GivingTuesday and learn more here.

And if you'd like to share your own #GivingTuesday story, please send us your 500-850-word post to impactblogs@huffingtonpost.com.

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