Giving children holidays instead of toys can boost both their happiness and brain development
Running around like a headless chicken trying to make sure you got enough bits for your kids' stockings, or still desperately trying to find the one thing they wished for that every Smyths Toys in the land are sold out of?
Stop right there.
There is an alternative to expensive toys: Gifting your children experiences and bonding time rather than things might be better for their soul (and even their brain).
In a recently resurfaced 2017 study, published in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, researchers surveyed close to 500 women between 18 and 93 years old, asking them to answer this one question, “Most people feel loved when … ” — and guess what? The most common answers had absolutely nothing to do with receiving a tangible item.
“Our research found that micro-moments of positivity, like a kind word, cuddling with a child or receiving compassion make people feel most loved,” one of the study’s authors — Dr Zita Oravecz, human development and family studies professor at Pennsylvania State University — told NPR.
Back in 2017, psychological author Oliver James explained to The Telegraph: “Give a 2-year-old a present and she’ll get absorbed in the box instead"
He pointed out that travel falls in under the same category:
"It’s similar with children and travel. We should let them explore their own ways of finding wonder in their surroundings.”
"Outings, experiences & vacations are “valued by children, both in the moment and for long afterwards in their memory,” psychologist and best-selling author Oliver James explained to The Telegraph. “It’s all about talking nonsense with your parents, sharing an ice cream and moments of time in which your interests are genuinely taken into account. So if you’re going to spend money on something, it’s pretty clear which option makes more sense.”
Want another reason to travel more with your children? As it turns out, travelling not only boosts our children's happiness, it can make them smarter.
“What is less widely known is that [vacations] can also advance brain development in children,” British child psychologist Dr Margot Sunderland said to The Telegraph.
"This is because, on a family [vacation], you are exercising two genetically ingrained systems deep in the brain’s limbic area, which can all too easily be ‘unexercised’ in the home.”
“These are the PLAY system and the SEEKING system” Sunderland continued, explaining that the brain’s PLAY system “is exercised every time you bury your child’s feet in the sand, tickle them on the pool lounger, or take them for a ride on your back. The SEEKING system is exercised each time you go exploring together: the forest, the beach, a hidden gem of a village. So when you take your child on a [vacation], you are supporting their explorative urge (SEEKING system) a vital resource for living life well, and their capacity to play (PLAY system),” she added. “In adulthood, this translates into the ability to play with ideas — essential, for example, to the successful entrepreneur.”
Oliver James said it’s worth noting that vacations “remove us, physically, from our highly pressured everyday lives where everyone’s focused on meeting targets. They are times when everyone can relax and be playful together.”
This collaborative playtime — devoid of solo-focused toys and technology — is "a crucial human experience, for children especially, but for adults too. Without it, life is very empty and lacking in joy,” he added.
“Children see the world differently,” James explained. “Through consumption, for example the way that French cafés have Orangina instead of Fanta is fascinating to kids, and details like that will stick with them for long after the [vacation] ends.”
Are YOU gifting experiences over gifts this year, parents? Let us know in the comments.