There's no denying that gifts are a huge part of Christmas, especially for children. And every year at Christmas time articles appear warning of rampant materialism. Apparently we need to be careful not to spoil our children too much or they’ll be in danger of being turned into entitled little narcissists. After all, giving our children a bunch of treats once a year can be a high-risk proposition.
However, I’m yet to read any credible evidence that shows that gifts at Christmas are hazardous to our children’s mental health or wellbeing. And last time I checked, most parents love buying gifts for their children, and treating them to stuff they’ve “always wanted!”
Yet things seem a little less silly this year than I recall in years gone by. Parents are still excited to surprise their children with special gifts, but there appears 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.
Before you get too excited with fabulous new plans to spoil or un-spoil the 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.
The Gift of Time
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. These are the kinds of things that make Christmas memories extend all year. You might consider giving your children these 9 things:
- Tickles and wrestles at wake-up time each morning
- Story time before bed each night
- Ice-cream sundaes on Friday nights
- A bike ride once or twice a week
- A regular walk through the park or along the beach
- A month’s worth of Saturday night pizza outings
- A year’s worth of Sunday afternoon milkshakes on the back deck
- A guaranteed camping trip once a month
- A night together in the kitchen cooking a favourite meal once a week
It’s said that “kids spell love, T-I-M-E.” 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.
The Gift 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 7 extra-special gifts:
- Eye contact
- Your undivided attention
- Understanding when they make mistakes
- Gentleness when they don’t understand
- Patience when they don’t deserve it
- 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 was 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.