Helping to make life 'calmer, easier and happier' for parents, teachers and children everywhere
Christmas Holiday 2020 Top Tips:
How to reduce hysterics to create a harmonious holiday season.
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Christmas 2020 is likely to be a very different event compared to previous years. Your children will have had an abundance of time off school, and you may have had to spend many hours home-schooling your children while also juggling working from home. So the usual anticipation of the Christmas holidays may not hold the same buzz of excitement for you or your family.

But the good news - the Christmas holiday has not been cancelled!

So no matter what the cultural or religious traditions may be in your family and community, this Christmas can still provide you with opportunities to create a memorable holiday season that is calmer, easier, and happier for your whole family.

Read on for my tips on how to make this COVD-19 Christmas season a positive and harmonious experience. (And as always, each time I mention children in this article, I am including teens as well. The strategies that I talk about in this article will help bring out the best in teens as well as in younger children.)

Take some time to clarify your values

I always recommend that you start thinking about and planning for the Christmas holidays at least a month in advance.

With your partner (or with a friend if you’re a single parent) spend some time thinking through what this time of year means to you, and what you want your children to experience. You can do this either in one long sitting of an hour or two, or you can do it in several short bursts.

For many parents who have been on furlough, or even worse lost jobs and contracts, budgets are probably going to be much tighter than usual. Obviously this can be a significant cause of stress. So it’s doubly important to clarify your values and to plan how to make the best use of your time, finances, and other resources.

Here are some questions you might like to consider:

  • Do you want to have a simpler and less expensive holiday, guiding your children to place less emphasis on receiving and more on giving and sharing?
  • Do you want your children to realise that parents have to work long hours to pay for new toys, trips, outings, designer labels and the latest electronic gadgets?
  • Do you want the family to share cosy “down-time” together at home?
  • Do you want to make sure your children won’t be spending too much time glued to a screen?
  • Do you want to help your children complete overdue coursework, revise for exams or sharpen some rusty academic skills?
  • Do you want to make sure that your children won’t be eating too much junk food?
  • Do you want your children to learn and understand a bit more every year about the mid-winter festivals, such as Christmas, Chanukah, Diwali, Kwanzaa, etc.?
  • Do you want to use this time to introduce your children to some new experiences?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, read on for some tried and tested solutions.

Day-to-day planning

Regular routines

You have probably already had to adjust your routines, and we all may have to keep adjusting them as situations continue to change.

Nevertheless, in the run-up to Christmas and during the holidays, make sure you keep a structure of routines, rules and rewards. Whatever else is going on, whether because of home-schooling due to school closures, being furloughed or working from home, having predictable, consistent routines will help make December calmer, easier and happier. Keeping to routines will also help make the transition back to school and extra-curricular activities less stressful for the whole family.

Remember: Routines reduce resistance.

Daily plans

Agree on a plan for each day. To keep children from spending too much time in front of a screen or whingeing about being bored, parents need to arrange regular activities that are purposeful and challenging as well as fun.

Children always stay calmer, more cooperative and more flexible when they know what to expect, such as:

  • where they will be going and why
  • where they will be going
  • what choices they’ll have, and what decisions you will allow them to make for themselves
  • any new rules or routines
  • any unfamiliar foods they might be served
  • any unfamiliar events that they might be reluctant to participate in
  • what they can and cannot play with when they’re away from home
  • if, and when, they will be allowed screen time
  • what to do if a problem arises, such as an accident or hurt feelings

Agree on a plan for each day. To keep children from spending too much time in front of a screen or whingeing about being bored, parents need to arrange regular activities that are purposeful and challenging as well as fun. See further down this article for some ideas.


A think-through is a parenting tool that is very effective at guiding children and teens to become more cooperative, confident, motivated, self-reliant and considerate. Each think-through consists of a parent asking questions about what the child should do in a certain situation, and the child answering the questions.

After breakfast is a great time to do think-throughs for the day ahead. Wherever you are (which this year is likely to be at home), immediately after the family clears up after breakfast each day, formally sit your children down to preview what their day will consist of.

First you will need to tell them, very clearly and simply, what they need to know in order to be prepared for the day ahead.

Then you do the think-through. You ask your children to tell you, in their own words, what you will be expecting of them in each part of the day. Ask questions that start with: What, When, Where, How, Who, Why. As your child answers your questions, she is visualising herself doing all the things she is telling you. This will help to make the daily plan a reality.

Think-throughs last approximately one minute, not much less and not much more. Your child or teen needs to answer politely and in full sentences. Think-throughs are an excellent way to prepare for success.

I explain about think-throughs in detail in my books, and you can also find a bite-sized overview, with examples, over on my Instagram feed.

At-home projects

At-home projects are usually more relaxing, more fun and frequently more meaningful than bought treats, which can be expensive and end up being under-appreciated.

By the time the Christmas holidays are upon us, national lockdowns may have been lifted for most of the UK. But even then, there may not be many opportunities for outings, or trips away for new experiences, or even visits to family and friends.

Children do need to get out of the house, so plan other activities that you can do as a family. For example you can go on family walks. Involve your children in deciding the route before you leave home. Drawing a map together is fun and teaches many important skills. Tell your children ahead of time whether you will be buying food or souvenirs.

Idea: Together create a Christmas treasure hunt for your walk. This could take place in your neighbourhood or in a park .You can help your children find particular plants, trees, birds and other wildlife, Christmas decorations, signs, types of buildings and shops, etc.

Daily academic work

You may have already been home-schooling your children and teens this year. Keep this up five days a week even during the holidays, but for a shorter time each day.

A half-hour a day of structured, formal learning will keep academic skills sharp and will make the transition back to school calmer, easier, and happier. Teens may need to do longer than that, especially if they are revising for their mock exams, which are likely to be more important than ever in the coming year.

Doing daily academic work will support your children to make up for the lack of formal schooling they experienced earlier this year during lockdown. If the school hasn’t set any homework for the holidays, help each child to choose a project to work on each day. For younger children this could be about something that interests them, such as dinosaurs, football or art. For older children and teens, find out which subjects they need to improve. Sit with your children and work with them. They more engaged and enthusiastic you are, the more engaged and enthusiastic your children will be.

Fun fact: Spending just five minutes a day on any topic, such as multiplication facts, spellings, French vocabulary, science definitions etc., will improve skills and confidence faster than you might think possible.

Praise sensible work habits, and be enthusiastic:
‘In this word all your letters are on the line.’
‘In this paragraph you remembered most of the capital letters.’
‘That’s an interesting fact.’
‘You took the time to think carefully, so all your answers are correct.’
‘This essay is the longest one you’ve written so far.’
‘You weren’t sure what that word meant so you looked it up.’

Screen time

Television, video games and computers can eat up a lot of your children's time during the holidays.

To achieve a sensible balance, I always suggest that screen time should happen only after children have:

  • tidied their rooms
  • fed their pet
  • exercised
  • helped around the house and garden
  • completed their half-hour of academic work

Time in front of a screen is then seen as a reward they can earn, rather than as a right. And less screen time often motivates children and teens to pursue more intellectually challenging pastimes, such as reading or playing board games.

New experiences

Unfortunately, this year there will probably be fewer opportunities to expose your children to new experiences, such as attending a gospel Christmas concert, a play or pantomime, or visiting a museum or going to a new restaurant.

However, as an example, many museums now have their collections and numerous learning opportunities online. Such websites often provide activities for the whole family.

Where you are introducing new experiences, whether they will take place at home or outside the home, remember to Prepare For Success, which is one of the key strategies of ‘Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting’. Preparing for success benefits all children and teens, but it is especially useful for guiding a child with an extreme temperament, who may be inflexible and reluctant to try new things, to be braver and more open-minded.

  • Start telling them about the event that they are dreading days, or even weeks, ahead of time. Familiarity soon leads to acceptance.
  • Don’t give children a choice about whether they will attend. Instead, present it as non-negotiable fact.
  • Show them pictures of similar events, to take the edge off their apprehension.
  • Allow children to complain. When you state, or even imply, that your children will enjoy something, they may become determined to prove you wrong. Instead, empathise with them; acknowledge that they may indeed hate every moment of the event the first few times they do it.
  • When children ask, “Why do I have to?”, respond with a question of your own: “Why do you think we’re taking you to this event?”
  • Arrange a reward for minimal moaning during the event.
  • When the dreaded day finally arrives, praise even tiny signs of courage and willingness.

Food treats

Parents often feel sorry for children and teens who can’t spend time with their friends, due to COVID restrictions. Too often, parents try to make up for that by allowing more food treats than usual. During the Christmas holidays this can be an even greater temptation. But not only are food treats expensive, they're usually not good for our kids' moods or behaviour, either. So always keep food treats to a minimum. The fewer food treats you keep in the house, the easier it will be to limit non-nutritious snacks and sweets. A maximum of two or three non-nutritious treats a week is a good rule of thumb.

Fun idea: Making home-made healthy treats with your children is a great at-home activity. Involve your children in deciding which ones to experiment with.

Money matters

Children intuitively know everything there is to know about “pester-power”. On outings, instead of succumbing to pleas for tacky souvenirs that you know will soon be broken or forgotten, or junk food treats, a useful strategy is to hand each child a small amount of money at the beginning of the day which she can spend however she wants.

The amount of money you give your children must not be enough for a big splurge or for endless bags of crisps. Give them just enough money so that they will be forced to consider their options carefully; this teaches valuable lessons in delaying gratification, prioritising and problem-solving. Include a think-through before the outing about how they can spend their money. This strategy will keep you from being cast in the role of nay-saying ogre. Rather than lecturing, negotiating and repeating yourself, you will be free to have real conversations with your children while you all enjoy the outing.

Appreciating cultural traditions

Understanding the meaning behind winter festivals

You can deepen your children’s knowledge and understanding of the winter festivals of other religions and cultures, as well as of their own. Find a book that is at the right level for your children, and read to them about the event and its history, taking the time to clear up possible confusions and to explore any questions your children may have.

As a family you can all participate in an activity that is sometimes called a “circular story”. Starting at the beginning of the story, each person in the circle adds one more sentence to the story, including as many details as they can remember.

In addition to bedtimes, an often-overlooked time for reading to children is at mealtimes. Keep it to a maximum of ten minutes so that you “leave them wanting more”, as they say in show business. Even making a special outing to the library to find books on these topics can become a looked-forward-to holiday tradition.


When children are fixated on what they will be getting for Christmas, parents may feel frustrated, wishing they knew how to guide children towards experiencing the far deeper satisfaction that comes from giving and sharing.

Christmas-holiday clear-out

One way to kick-start this more mature and more rewarding attitude of giving and sharing is to establish a new tradition, sometimes called the “Christmas Clear-out.”

Explain to your children that as a family you will all be making room for new presents and that the toys and equipment you all no longer want can be used to raise money to help people who have much, much less. Make a project of carefully scouting around the house together, room by room, including the garden, collecting up:

  • all the toys, games, dolls, books and puzzles that are too babyish for even the youngest child
  • any sports equipment, electronic or kitchen gadgets that no one can be bothered to get fixed
  • any clothes that are too small, too worn or terminally uncool
  • any unnecessary duplicates
  • any toys or clothing that goes against your values

Involve your children in every aspect of the clear-out. Take them with you when you drop off the bags at the charity shop or recycling centre, and have them help you lug the bags out of the car. This clearing-out project can be repeated, on a smaller scale, before each birthday. From the experience of clearing out, your children will learn important lessons about letting go, recycling and sharing.

Family meetings

Family meetings are a way to bring sanity to gift-giving. All together, make a list of everyone to whom the family will be giving presents, for example: each other, the extended family, teachers, tutors and coaches, the children’s friends, etc. Then discuss together whether you will, as a family, make or buy each gift. What would each recipient appreciate and use? What is the budget? Schedule times for making or buying, and also plan when you will give or post each present.

Gift-buying vs gift-making

Help your children to think about the cost of buying a gift as compared to the cost of buying the materials to make a gift.

If you choose to buy gifts for your children’s teachers, sports coaches, after-school childminders, make sure that the gifts truly come from the child, not just from you. Take the children along when you go shopping for the gifts, and help your children evaluate the pros and cons of possible purchases and think about value for money.

Instead of having the presents wrapped in the shop, help your children wrap them at home. Encourage creativity, such as using comics, pieces of cloth or tin foil as wrapping paper, using brightly coloured wool or even strings of beads as ribbons, decorating the wrapping paper with drawings, photographs, stickers, cut-outs of pictures or words from magazines, etc.

If getting to the shops to buy gifts is more challenging than usual, rather than resorting to online shopping, why not opt for gift-making and creating home-made cards instead. You may need to order your craft supplies online; get your children involved even at this stage. Then as a family, have fun creating cards and gifts.

Remember: Use think-throughs before doing at-home craft activities.

The above suggestions are only a small sampling of the many strategies that parents have used to create new rituals or to tweak and transform old traditions. The results add up to less stress and more enjoyment all around.

We wish you a calmer, easier, happier Christmas 2020

© Noël Janis-Norton 2005 / 2020

You may like these ideas but be unsure how to put them into practice. Would you like some advice about how to make all this happen? To find out how the ‘Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting and Teaching’ resources and services can help you and your family, please browse our website or email us:

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