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Best Christmas present is your presence

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There’s no denying that gifts are a huge part of the joy of Christmas, especially for children. And every year at Christmas time, articles appear warning of rampant materialism.

However, I’m yet to read any credible evidence that shows that gifts at Christmas are hazardous to our children’s mental health or well-being. Besides, most parents love buying gifts for their children, and treating them to stuff they’ve “always wanted!”

Yet there does seem to be a push from parents trying to get away from the materialism that has decorated Christmases past. A concern about materialism appears to be making mums and dads more thoughtful about how to make Christmas count.

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Before you get too deep into plans for your children this Christmas, it might be worth pausing and asking a simple question:

What was the best Christmas ever for you? And why?

When I have asked adults and children this question, I have been surprised by the responses. Only rarely does anyone mention “That Christmas when I got (insert special gift here).”

To the contrary, most responses have nothing to do with gifts, whether given or received. Instead, people describe days without deadlines, magical moments with mothers, fabulous fun with fathers, great times with grandparents, and enjoyment with extended family.

Gifts of Time

It’s said that ‘kids spell love, T-I-M-E’. With that in mind, here are a few ideas to inspire you to make this Christmas more memorable, regardless of what is under the tree. You might consider giving your children these nine things:

  1. Tickles and wrestles at wake-up time each morning
  2. Story time before bed each night
  3. Ice-cream sundaes on Friday nights
  4. A bike ride once or twice a week
  5. A regular walk through the park or along the beach
  6. A month’s worth of Saturday night pizza outings
  7. A year’s worth of Sunday afternoon milkshakes on the back deck
  8. A guaranteed camping trip once a month
  9. A night together in the kitchen cooking a favourite meal once a week

These are simple low-cost or no-cost activities you can do together to make your family happier, and to make Christmas feel more magical by focusing less on “stuff” and more on being together, spending time with one another. By putting your plans in writing – perhaps in their Christmas card – you can extend the gift of time all year long.

Gifts of Attention

There are some other gifts you can give your children without leaving the house or spending money, and they’ll make an incredible difference to your relationships with your children. Try showering your children with these seven extra special gifts:

  1. Eye contact
  2. Kindness
  3. Your undivided attention
  4. Understanding when they make mistakes
  5. Gentleness when they don’t understand
  6. Patience when they don’t deserve it
  7. Touch – hugs, squeezes, and maybe even some wrestles (so long as no one ends up crying!)

Making Christmas Count

The most meaningful Christmases our family has experienced were when we found ways to look beyond our family to help some friends who were struggling through a family breakdown, and some people we knew who had nothing. Our children saw what it means – and how it feels – to help others in need, and truly serve without expecting anything in return.

This year, in addition to the gifts under the tree, make the time to provide your family with nothing to do except be together. Playing, swimming, kicking a ball, eating great food and enjoying the love of family. No deadlines, no emails, no distractions, no commitments, no cleaning, no chores. Just time together. All day.

Give them your time. Give them your attention and focus. As a family, find ways to help someone you know who is struggling.

But most of all, spread the Christmas spirit by leaving family and friends, especially your children, with the clear and absolute assurance that you love them.

Happy Christmas!

Dr Justin Coulson is one of Australia’s leading experts in the areas of parenting, relationships and wellbeing. He is an international speaker, podcaster and author of three books including 21 Days to a Happier Family (Harper Collins, 2016) and 9 Ways to a Resilient Child (Harper Collins, 2017).

He and his wife Kylie are the parents of six daughters. When he is not spending time with his family he can be found doing TV and radio appearances as well as travelling around the country delivering talks and workshops at schools and organisations helping parents, students and staff improve their personal and professional relationships. For more see happyfamilies.com.au

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