Many parents have happy memories of Christmas from their own childhoods. Beach shacks and icy poles, warm mornings dawning with the prospect of untold adventure,  bike riding, swimming in the sea,  playing outdoors late into the evening before drifting to sleep to the tap of a sprinkler and the grit of sand in the sheets. 

It's a good time of year to reflect on what memories our children might have from their own childhood Christmases.  

Will they remember a hectic blur of Christmas functions and shopping expeditions, overtired and overstressed parents spending too much? Expensive presents fought over or forgotten about the next day? Family tension and meltdowns to ruin even the best-decorated occasion?

In Australia Christmas comes hot on the end of the school year and in the middle of our long, sizzling summer, creating a whole other level of excitement... and exhaustion. 

As parents we put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves over Christmas, but sometimes we overlook the most important things. It’s easy to forget that the true things that make Christmas magical mean more to our children than presents. 

We asked the paediatricians at Leading Steps what children needed this Christmas more than presents:

1. An adult in their lives who really takes the time to listen and to know and love the child just the way they are

When a child feels loved unconditionally they can blossom into the person they were meant to be. It means the child understands they don’t need to do anything, or be anything other than who they are to earn their parents’ love.  

Action: Make some time everyday so when your child speaks you stop what you are doing and pay attention. Don’t rush in, but try to listen and understand. 

2. A sense of gratitude

We live in a wonderful place in an excellent time in history. It’s easy to take our good fortune for granted. A sense of gratefulness gives children a chance to focus on the good things, and hopefully to see their good fortune as an opportunity to one day make the world a better place. 

Action: Before your child goes to sleep each night ask them to think of three things they are grateful for from that day.  Help your child pick a present to be donated to someone who needs it more.

3. A family routine and good nights sleep

Family routine and a good night’s sleep are important all year round, for everyone in the family.  Over Christmas hot, tired children find it hard to be their best selves, and meltdowns (parents or children!) can add another layer of stress to Christmas celebrations.  

Action: Try to keep a good routine throughout the holidays and try to ensure the whole family is well rested before big occasions.

4. Time spent outdoor in free play

Outdoor play is crucial to healthy growth, learning, development and well being for children.  Games like tiggy can create the basis of fitness for a lifetime of healthy activity.  In Australia we have the perfect opportunity for kids to run around, test their physical limits and improve gross motor skills, confidence and fitness. Spending time outdoors is also good for their imagination and even their eyesight. 

Action: Leave the screens at home and enjoy family time exploring the outdoors. Ride bikes, bring a picnic and enjoy our beaches, parks and rainforest hinterland. 

5. Family traditions and holiday rituals

If your family doesn’t have any traditions it’s time to start! Holiday traditions create memories and anticipation for happy times. Make a special occasion of setting up the tree together, bake special Christmas foods or decorate a gingerbread house, visit Christmas lights and/or count down to Christmas with a calendar.  

Action: Continue or create family rituals as part of your celebrations. Think back to something your family did when you were young. Consider incorporating a cultural tradition from your family’s ancestry as part of your unique family story.

6. Parents who take the time to care for themselves so they have something in the tank to be the parents they want to be

Parents often exhaust and stress themselves with late nights, military level organization, relatives, occasional over indulgence and the debt despair that’s become part of modern Christmas. The thing that will make kids happiest is seeing their parents calm, cheerful and enjoying family time and traditions together. 

Action: Take a nap, do some exercise, delegate, download a mindfulness app, take timeout when needed.

7. Some quiet time everyday

No matter what the occasion, make sure there is opportunity every day for quiet time, especially with a book. 

Action: Cuddle up on the couch or at bedtime, read for happiness and pleasure. If your child is struggling with reading take the opportunity to read to them instead.  You don’t even need to focus on the written text. Talk about the story and illustrations, about what the child thinks will happen next, and what the characters might be thinking. 

What do you think children need this Christmas?