12 Fun and Safe Holiday Activities to Do With Kids

Tips on how to help children cope with a very different holiday season and alternative holiday ideas that the entire family can enjoy.

The 2020 holiday season will be unlike any other, with its focus on safety and precautions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. These changes can be especially difficult for children, but just because they won’t be singing in holiday concerts or sitting on Santa’s lap doesn’t mean the holidays are lost.

There are ways to keep this time special and stress-free with a simple reframing, according to Kelly Avila, a child life specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. NewYork-Presbyterian’s child life specialists have experience caring for families who aren’t spending the holidays in the way they had imagined. “Every holiday season we celebrate with our patients who are in the hospital and we focus on finding the joy of the moment,” says Avila.

“Children may be disappointed, and that’s OK,” says Rachel Cavaliere, who is also a child life specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “But the most important thing is for parents and caregivers to be there for them and assure them these holidays will still be fun and memorable.”

This holiday season, the child life team has the following advice for parents, including alternative holiday activities you can do with your kids.

Ages newborn to 3: Focus on family time

Babies and toddlers are too young to associate this time with loads of gifts and large family gatherings, so there’s no need to address those holiday expectations. Instead, it’s a great opportunity to slow down, be present, and focus on quality family time.

Holiday Ideas

  • Read holiday-themed books with your little ones. Story time is one of the best ways to connect no matter their age.
  • Make a simple holiday craft together for a keepsake you will cherish forever.
  • Fill your house with music and sing and dance with your kids.

Ages 4 to 6: Create new traditions and modify old ones

With all the changes and uncertainty, it’s normal for children to feel disappointment or frustration this year. Encourage them to express their feelings through words, singing, or drawing. Children this age do best with consistency, so enjoy favorite traditions — just with a spin.

Holiday Ideas

  • Bake holiday treats with extended family over Zoom.
  • Write letters to Santa together and arrange for a virtual visit this year.
  • Gather with extended family online and make it engaging for everyone with a virtual gift exchange or a game of holiday bingo.

Ages 7 to 12: Empower them with responsibility

Children in this age group may know more about how COVID-19 is impacting the world, so parents and caregivers should have open conversations to help them cope with any feelings of fear and build resiliency. Along with having a better understanding of the situation, these kids are also ready to handle more responsibility, so give them some control over this year’s holiday decisions. Giving kids a task they own will get them involved and invested.

Holiday Ideas

  • Put them in charge of the holiday cheer. Let them pick out the holiday cards and new decorations and ornaments.
  • Make meals extra special by letting them choose a new holiday recipe and then make it together.
  • Give to others. Find an organization that provides gifts to families in need and pick out a toy with your child to donate.

Ages 13 to 18: Provide safe choices

Many teens have felt isolated and anxious this year. While kids in this age group are finding their independence, parents and caregivers should remain present and available to listen and talk. Help them brainstorm fun alternative holiday activities and guide them toward safe choices that allow them to stay connected with peers and family.

Holiday Ideas

  • Encourage their creativity and host an ugly holiday sweater photo contest with friends.
  • Turn up the heat and hold a virtual bake-off, followed by no-contact holiday cookie exchanges with friends and neighbors.
  • Reboot the holiday playlist by enlisting your teens to create one with their favorite artists.

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