What children ‘really’ want for Christmas

Many of us are looking forward to celebrating the end of the year with friends and family—perhaps even more than usual after the stress and isolation of COVID-19. Hopefully, the New Year will bring more reasons for optimism and fewer challenges like those experienced by so many in 2020, due to natural disasters as well as the pandemic.

The upcoming celebrations of Christmas and other significant holidays will likely bring some degree of stress over food, family gatherings and gifts. Thousands of parents will be asked what their children want or need. Many parents will say no to more toys and stuff children don’t really need; often what they would really like to give their children is less screen time and more time outside.

Research with young children consistently tells us that rather than the latest gadget or toy, most want more quality time with loved ones, particularly their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Adults are often surprised to hear that, perhaps even a tad sceptical. But isn’t it natural for children to want time and connection, to feel important to someone and of course to engage the grown-ups in play? Perhaps the most valued gift we can give is to slow down, spend time and connect with our families.

‘That’s all very well’, you might think, ‘but I still need something to wrap and leave under the tree!’ There are some gifts that are perhaps more likely to support play and engagement and can be tailored to a child’s interests, such as:

  • an entry pass or membership to a fun attraction like a national park, swimming pool, theme park, skating rink, botanic gardens, zoo or reptile park
  • a card or set of cards promising to spend time with them, and perhaps playing a favourite game, watching a movie, kicking a ball at the park, going swimming or getting an ice cream
  • a storybook that features the child, and possibly their pets, friends, family members, favourite characters or activities
  • a children’s cookbook with recipes for the child to pick that you can make together (Wombat Stew was a favourite in my household when mine were little)
  • simple musical instruments. Drums, bells, triangles, xylophones and glockenspiels are all good options to provide hours of fun without being expensive or needing to be charged
  • materials for being creative. Things like playdough, crayons, chalk, packets of (recycled) paper or card, parent-approved pencils or textas can be great-value gifts
  • items for the dress-up box. Colourful silks, hats, capes, aprons and so on are versatile and provide an endless variety of role-play options
  • imaginative play props—maybe felt puppets or a tea set. These are even better if you are willing to join in!

Another way to make this a special time of the year for children is to develop or strengthen rituals or traditions. This can help build a sense of security, identity and belonging. Over the years they learn what to expect and how to participate. For example, you could:

  • read Christmas-themed storybooks and poems in the nights leading up to Christmas
  • play your favourite carols or songs in the lead-up to the holidays. Babies love the sound of your voice singing to them and as they grow, they can start to join in. There are lots of collections like this one on YouTube or this one on ClassicFM
  • plan some time to visit houses, shops or local government with Christmas displays
  • have a photo taken with Santa—most shopping centres offer this but also some community and volunteer groups
  • decorate a tree or make decorations together (SBS has some great ideas)
  • watch holiday-themed movies suitable for the whole family (Dr Seuss’s The Grinch was a favourite with my family, and the Raising Children website has movie reviews for children)
  • cook some special Christmas treats (these Kidspot recipes might be a good starting point) discuss how to help others who are less fortunate or who are alone for the holidays, and find local organisations that support giving or sharing at this time of year.

Perhaps the most important message is to please be kind to yourself and others. It has been a difficult year, family gatherings can be stressful and for those navigating separation or grieving the loss of a loved one, it can be a particularly tough time. Give yourself time to think and plan how you want to spend the holidays, and reach out for help if you need to—beyondblue has a lot of useful information on mental health and support services available.

If you make time to play, cherish and listen to the children in your life, that in itself is a gift. Try not to let the stress or pressure of other demands get in the way, or overstretch yourself financially.

From all of us at Early Childhood Australia, we wish you a safe and happy holiday season.


And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?
It came without ribbons. It came without tags.
It came without packages, boxes or bags.
And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store?
What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?

Excerpt from The Grinch, by Dr. Seuss

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Early Childhood Australia

Early Childhood Australia (ECA) has been a voice for young children since 1938. We are the peak early childhood advocacy organisation, acting in the interests of young children, their families and those in the early childhood field. ECA advocates to ensure quality, social justice and equity in all issues relating to the education and care of children aged birth to eight years.

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