My dad, who turned 80 this year, told me he didn't want any gifts for Christmas, he just wanted everyone to be together.

The holidays are a special time for families and loved ones to gather. The bonding that happens at holiday time is important. The value comes from spending time together, not the money spent for gifts or travel.

There are many options for bonding through holiday activities. Some families enjoy caroling, serving at a soup kitchen, making Christmas cards, making homemade gifts or decorations, visiting nursing homes, picking out and decorating the family tree, baking and decorating cookies, watching holidays movies or attending worship services as a family. Find something your family enjoys doing together and make it a holiday tradition.

Creating a strong family bond helps to ensure happier and healthier children.

According to the Journal of Marriage and Family, the benefits of family bonding include greater emotional connection to family members, children are able to see love and affection displayed in a healthy way, children have better academic performance, children experience fewer behavioral problems and children are at a lower risk of substance abuse.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports family relationships provide children with a critical sense of being valued and with a vital network of historical linkages and social support. The family unit is vital to helping children develop positive interpersonal relationships and instills discipline and internalized codes of conduct.

By not setting aside time for family bonding, your family could face consequences such as poor relationships, feelings of being unloved, unsafe, insignificant or unimportant. If strong family ties are not developed, children can have serious health and development complications.

While the holidays can be rich in family traditions, Extension experts suggest families set aside time for bonding throughout the year as well.

Year-round family time makes it easier during the holidays when parents are encouraging their children to volunteer and share with others. For example, if parents have instilled in their children the importance of giving rather than receiving, then they will be more receptive to ringing the Salvation Army bell at Christmas or collecting and taking donations to the less fortunate.

There are plenty of options for year-round family bonding such as eating meals together, having game nights, attending a sports event or participating in a fun activity together such as bowling or seeing a movie.

The holidays are a special time for families to spend time together. But it's important to keep the tradition going throughout the year. Make as many opportunities as possible for family time together. Your family will be stronger for it. Merry Christmas.

Linda K. Beech is Ellis County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.