Keep Kids Entertained this Holiday Season

A mom asks how to entertain her children during a long winter break.

Dear Susan,

I don’t know what to do with my kids for the winter break. 

I have two active girls, aged 7 and 4.  I have a lot of baking and wrapping and, well, the usual for these holidays.  I’m usually good to put the kids in front of the TV, but they’ve seen all the holiday movies already.  Plus, we’re traveling to visit family out of state and I just don’t know how to keep my kids entertained while we’re there.  And, worst of all, the DVD player in the van is out.  How can I survive this Christmas season?


Anxious Mommy


Dear Anxious,

You are not alone.  Many parents have the same anxieties.  And let me assure you that the answer is simple!  Ready?

Stop entertaining your children.

That's it!

You see, you are trying to solve a problem that only your children can solve. The problem is “entertaining your children.”  But that’s not your problem.  It's theirs.  Your children are perfectly capable of entertaining themselves.  You just need to step aside and let them figure out how to do it.

“But they bug me and hound me and get underfoot...” you might exclaim.  Yes, they do.  And they do that because as a very loving and well-intentioned parent, you have spent the past seven years giving them things so they’ll be entertained.  But your generosity has created a monster I like to call the “attention addict.”  Don’t worry, in just a couple of weeks your children will be entertaining themselves.

Here’s how to do it.

First, unplug the TV and hide all the electronic games your children have.  Change the log-ins on the computer so they cannot log on.  This is just for the holidays.  You can gradually add some TV and electronics time after the holidays (but they get to use these items only after their homework and chores are complete).

Let your children know that this holiday will be spent engaging with each other and the family/friends you’ll be visiting.  Dust off some of your favorite CDs and enjoy singing in the car or discussing the latest news, etc.  

Allow the children to bring books, toys and games to play with during the drive and while they’re visiting family.  But DO NOT pack these, your children will choose what they’ll bring (you may have to have a limit, say five items).  

During the drive, if it’s time for you and your husband to talk uninterrupted, by all means let the kids know that they need to read or entertain themselves and have that conversation (of course, keeping in mind that they can hear you).

Second, when they come to you saying “I’m bored” simply say, “Find something to do away from this kitchen/wrapping station/adult conversation or I’ll find something for you.”  

And when they come back (and yes, they will come back), give them a chore.  Maybe they can organize all the bows by color and put them in baggies.  Ask your relative if there is a shelf in the pantry that needs organizing.  I’ll bet the kitchen floor could use a good sweep or how about those bathtubs?  Could they use a good scrubbing?  Of course, there’s always my favorite: dusting the baseboards!

Once your children get the message that you will no longer be their “Julie McCoy” (uh, that’s the cruise director on the "Love Boat" ... I’m dating myself here), they will figure out how to entertain themselves.  And that is a wonderful gift to give children; the freedom to use their imagination, time to wonder, ponder, and imagine.  

Let me know how it goes!

Merry Christmas,



Lori Rader-Jacobs December 23, 2011 at 02:31 PM
What, children entertaining themselves? How ridiculous! Don’t you know that if my kids don’t have me constantly amusing them then I’ll have to find something else to give me value like learning something new or, heaven forbid, talking to my husband about adult topics. I might find time to relax or finish a project. Then what shall I complain about? If my precious angels actually have to learn a household skill and contribute to the running of the home then they may be UNCOMFORTABLE or UNHAPPY for a couple of moments before they realize the satisfaction of a job well done…absurd! No, no you crazy person. We mothers have listened intently to our parenting professionals for more than 40 years and we will not allow you to tell us to enjoy our holidays. Susan Eppley is a heretic and I, for one will have none of it. Merry Christmas everyone ;0)!
tracy December 24, 2011 at 02:32 PM
I love your advise! Admittedly, it sounds very very hard! My kids are older and I am able to tell them to go away and find something to do without consequence (most of the time). But, I am a personality type that would go crazy during the process and give in...especially to the 4 year old and just tell myself I would have a go of it after the holidays and then probably find an excuse to put it off another time. Susan, what do you suggest parents do to motivate themselves to keep it up during the already stressful time of the holiday marathon? I don't think I would be strong enough to deal with the constant frustration and I suspect others would feel the same. In fact, it makes me anxious to even fathom it! P.S. I think I know what you are going to say...
Michael Goettee December 27, 2011 at 10:49 PM
Where's the "Like" button on this page?
Susan Eppley January 03, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Tracy, it DOES sound harder that it is! Isn't that true of most things? It sounds hard because it's going out of your comfort zone. It's simply EASIER to give in...but only in the short term. In the long run, it's best to stay the course. And, as always, pray!
Susan Eppley January 03, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Thanks, Michael! I don't think I have one on Patch but you can find me on Facebook and "like" that page. Oh, and stay tuned...I'm going to move my column to a blog, still on Patch, of course! It'll allow my readers to really participate in the discussion. Stay tuned!


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