Ways to keep kids engaged and unplugged during the holidays

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Winter break is great time to bond with our kids and reengage our own minds. Boston Children's shares ideas how. (Image: Adobe Stock)

The winter holiday break is upon us. This means being away from routines and schedules and more time at home, traveling, or visiting loved ones. Bottom line: families will be spending more time together (again). But unlike the will-not-be-named reason for forced family time over the past two years, holiday togetherness centers on celebration and joy. So, how can we find ways to put down our phones and engage in the yuletide cheer together?

The novelty of family togetherness has ebbed and flowed over the last 21 months, but the holidays are still a great time to bond with our kids and reengage our own minds through activities and interests that don’t involve work or devices. Here are some ideas how:

Join in what sparks joy or motivates your kids

I often ask parents to investigate what will appeal enough to their kids that they’re willing to step away from their screens. Then I recommend to parents to take part in whatever that is. Maybe it’s a sport, music, cooking, or another hobby. Think about what’s the easiest way to draw your kids out enough to do something you can take part in.

Go outside

Ride a bike, take a walk, throw a football, play in the snow. Just being outside decreases depression, which is especially important during the winter months when there are fewer hours of daylight, and after almost two years of a pandemic that has forced everyone inside.

Let them teach you something

It may actually involve a screen — like a video game or graphic design, but kids – perhaps unknowingly — tend to respond well to being able to teach someone about their passion. Try asking how your child how to play their favorite video game or how to make a TikTok video. Before you know it, you could be spending hours together.

Accept small victories

The Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s offers insight and advice on how to help young people navigate their health and wellness in a digital environment. Their “Holiday Gift Guide 2021” offers great ideas for gifts that promote a healthy online/offline balance for children and young adults.

Even if it’s a car ride, running errands, or baking or preparing a meal, I applaud any activity that gets families in one place. So many events this time of year involve shopping or cooking – embrace these fleeting times as chances to be together, even if there isn’t deep conversation involved.

Be realistic

Kids have been developmentally impacted by the pandemic and are now more likely than ever to gravitate toward an online connection to friends and loved ones. Even schools have made online learning a cornerstone of their curricula. And for adults, phones and devices have become ingrained parts of our existence. It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect to be able to abandon them altogether. So, as parents, we won’t have much success if our focus is on stopping device use completely; we will be more productive if we focus on how to help our kids manage screen time.

This may mean completing household tasks before using devices, putting phones in a designated spot during meals or before bed, or not bringing phones with you on errands or family outings. Kids may love it after a while or completely hate it. Both are ok. As parents, it’s not our job to constantly make our kids happy. We have to be able to set and stick to limits and be able to tolerate any discomfort that may come as a result.

Learn more about how the Division of Adolescent Medicine/Young Adult Medicine cares for physical, psychological, and social conditions and concerns specific to adolescents and young adults, including how the Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders (CIMAID) helps address Problematic Interactive Media Use.

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