Birthday: you buy your kid a toy.
Kindergarten graduation: you buy your kid a toy.
You accidentally passed the toy store during a quick trip to the mall: you buy your kid a toy.
If you genuinely enjoy showering your child with presents, that’s cool, but if you want to leave a longer-lasting impression, a psychologist says there’s a better route you can take: go on a good old family vacation. And unlike the latest figurine set your tyke is currently obsessing over, this is something you can enjoy, too.
According to Oliver James, Britain’s best-selling psychologist-author who wrote the book Love Bombing: Reset Your Child’s Emotional Thermostat, many of the toys we purchase for our children aren’t actually valued or wanted, The Telegraphinitially reported. Surveys have found one-fifth to two-thirds of toys are unvalued or unwanted. On the other hand, “family holidays are definitely valued by children, both in the moment and for long afterwards in their memory. So if you’re going to spend money on something, it’s pretty clear which option makes more sense,” James says.
Just like adults, kids value experiences more than material goods, James argues. While kiddos enjoy travel, they do so in a different way than adults do. “Children see the world differently, through consumption for example: the way that French cafes have Orangina instead of Fanta is fascinating to kids, and details like that will stick with them for long after the holiday ends,” James says.
But wait a minute—what about all those family vacays gone wrong, planned by you or your parents (when you were a kid)? James says parents often make the mistake of choosing a vacation destination they think their kid will be as excited about as they are. For example, learning about high culture can be interesting to you, as an adult, but flat-out BO-RING to your tiny jet-setter. A better approach, he says, is letting your children explore their own ways of finding wonder in their surroundings.
What’s more, family travel lets your kids see another side of you they might rarely see when you’re back home: the playful side (you know, as opposed to the over-caffeinated, highly stressed mombie side they’re so used to seeing). “The exam system that we put children through these days can be incredibly stressful, just as much so as the strains of adult life,” James says. “Holidays 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.”
While toys are thought to encourage play, James argues many of the modern ones put distance between family members. Play, James says, should be “a crucial human experience, for children especially, but for adults too … Without it, life is very empty and lacking in joy.”
Though we don’t see us skipping buying toys anytime soon, James does make a strong case for shifting the focus from playthings to vacationing, and we can all get onboard with that. We get to relax, our kids get to explore, we all win.
If you’re looking to start planning a getaway for the family soon, here are some ways to do so on the cheap.