The holiday season may look very different from the one to which you have become accustomed, but in some ways it can be even better. You won’t be shuffling from one holiday party to another, or gathering as communities to perform or listen to festive tunes, but you also won’t have to endure endless waits on highways or tarmacs either. Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development has cooked up some amazing everyday ideas to add magic, fun and wonder to make your staycation the best it can be and your familiar and comforting traditions as festive as ever!

Give Yourselves a Break

It is beneficial for the whole family to be intentional about taking time off during the holidays. While it is tempting to work during this period, as a parent, you need to allow yourself adequate time and space to relax, spend some time in nature, get exercise, and take a mental health break. As they say before taking off on an airplane, take care of yourself first and you will be better equipped to take care of your child. Give yourself permission to delegate some responsibilities so that you have the energy to support family bonding. Be a great role model. Experts advise that when you are with your children, it is especially important to be off of your devices and to avoid technoference; the best gift you can give your family is your undivided attention and love.

Make a Wish(list)

Each member of your family has different hopes and goals for this season. It’s important for children and teens to consider what would make them happy and to have the opportunity to express themselves. Goal-setting supports discipline, responsibility, and confidence; in the midst of a quarantined winter break, working toward goals will help the whole family enjoy the break in healthy and entertaining ways. Conduct a family “survey” to find out what each person would like to achieve or experience during this time and, when they look back on this year, what they would like to remember. Some members of your family will know exactly what they would like to do, whether it is learning how to play a new instrument, master calligraphy, read a biography, — or just relaxing. For other members of your family, you may need to present a few options for activities and goals based on their interests. Once you understand what they would like to accomplish and the memories they wish to cherish, you can support their interests with your time, resources, and gifts.

Prepare to be Amazed

To make the most of family time, plan ahead and schedule times for family activities each day that don’t revolve around mealtime. Plan a movie night, game night, or puzzle night. Have a cookie decorating party, a dance party around the tree, or a fashion show. Build a gingerbread house or a sugar cube igloo as a family. Paint nesting Matryoshka dolls. Put on a family concert with your favorite band or holiday music. Make new ornaments for the tree or a new paper garland to hang above the door. Your plans don’t have to be fancy, as long as you are spending time together.

A Balancing Act

Although screens are an attractive way to spend hours relaxing during the holidays, it is important to set limits and strike a balance between “personal growth” screen time, such as researching a topic, watching a documentary or educational program, or socializing and connecting — and “entertainment” screen time. Every minute doesn’t have to be educational, but too much time watching YouTube videos or scrolling through TikTok isn’t great, either. A research study in 2019 of over 6500 adolescents showed that more than three hours a day on social media resulted in higher levels of anxiety and depression. Furthermore, increased screen usage can lead to decreased sleep duration and sleep problems, which has been associated with problem behaviors. Parents can encourage children by deliberately planning plenty of screen-free times into your family routine (see specific recommendations from experts here!).

Together Apart

Staying connected with friends and family this season is vital for keeping spirits high. Encourage your children to find time each day to connect with someone outside of your home by writing a note, text or email, placing a phone call, or arranging a video chat. You can even have extended family holiday dinners on Zoom or share the joy of kids opening gifts through video chat with grandparents and others.

Spice up Mealtime Convo

Make family dinnertime more interesting with conversation starters and leave your screens off the table. Ask questions like, if you could travel back in time, when would it be? If you would travel anywhere in the world, where would it be? Ask each family member to name one thing that they are curious about. Have each child share what he or she would like to be when they grow up. Look online for some interesting statistics from 2020 and ask your family questions like, What country in the world consumes the most candy per capita per year? Who was the most influential thinker who ever lived? Who is one person who has inspired you to help others during the pandemic? Bring up an issue and try arguing for or against. You may be surprised how much your family has to say!

Take Time for Others

During this season of giving, especially during a year that has been so difficult for so many, take the time to do something for those who are less fortunate. While you might not be comfortable serving food at a soup kitchen, there are many other ways to share your time and resources with others, such as donating clothing, food, or toys. Research options in your community, encourage your teens to help with the search, and give back as a family.

Share the Love

Encourage everyone in your household to share the love with someone each and every day! Give a hug (to someone in your house!), write a personal holiday card, create a homemade holiday gift, enjoy each person’s favorite meal just because it’s their favorite, send a holiday music video to grandma and grandpa – the possibilities are endless!

Traditions Reimagined

Though we cannot gather together to enjoy holiday parties or share in community traditions, many traditions can be reimagined in COVID-friendly ways. Take a long walk or a nice drive to look at Christmas lights together with to-go hot cocoa. Set up a Polar Express pajama party on zoom with holiday goodies and watch the film together. Put together a virtual holiday sing along or crafting afternoon! Remember the cookies your kids always bake with Grandma? Bring her into the kitchen via Facetime!

Create and Explore Together

This holiday season, bound to be quieter than most, is the perfect time to work together on a family project. Wax nostalgic sharing old family stories your kids might not know, looking back at and organizing or digitizing old photos, and/or exploring your ancestors’ journeys by creating a family genealogy. Creating new spaces in your home or working on a family art project to hang in the kitchen are also great ways to spend time together and give everyone a sense of purpose and accomplishment

Happy young mother and her two charming daughters in nice dresses sit on the carpet and open New Year's gifts in the light cozy room

The Gift of a Memory

While there are many exciting gifts on the market, find at least one gift per person that lends itself to an experience. For example, your teenage daughter might love a basket full of facial masks, nail polish, relaxing music, and lotion that comes with a mother-daughter afternoon at the home spa. Younger children might enjoy a book of kid-friendly recipes, kid-sized baking utensils and the ingredients for a new dish. Gifting a family movie night complete with candy, popcorn, and a kid-chosen movie or a new game for game night will surely be a hit!

Embrace New Traditions

There is no sugar coating the fact that several of our favorite holiday traditions won’t happen this year. However, there is no reason not to start some new festive ones with your immediate family at home. Embrace the opportunity to try new things – you never know what pandemic activity will become the holiday tradition you carry out for the next 50 years!

We hope you find many opportunities for joy and new experiences this season. We wish you a wonderful, safe, and healthy festive season and bright and hope-filled New Year!

About Children and Screens

Since its inception in 2013, Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development, has become one of the nation’s leading non-profit organizations dedicated to advancing and supporting interdisciplinary scientific research, enhancing human capital in the field, informing and educating the public, and advocating for sound public policy for child health and wellness. For more information, see or write to