Vacations Are Better Holiday Gifts for Children Than Toys, Experts Suggest: 'Let Them Explore'
If you’re stressing about missing Black Friday deals and looking for an alternative to an expensive toy, there’s good news: Gifting your kids experiences and bonding time rather than things might be better for their soul (and mind!).
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 the question, “Most people feel loved when … ” — and the most popular answers had 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, a human development and family studies professor at Pennsylvania State University — told NPR.
In a 2017 conversation with U.K. outlet The Telegraph, psychological author Oliver James pointed out, “Give a 2-year-old a present and she’ll get absorbed in the box instead.”
“It’s similar with children and travel. We should let them explore their own ways of finding wonder in their surroundings,” James advised.
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Aside from a potential boost to long-term happiness, vacations can make children smarter, British child psychologist Dr. Margot Sunderland wrote in a 2017 piece for The Telegraph.
“What is less widely known is that [vacations] can also advance brain development in children,” she said. “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 (Panksepp 2016),” 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.”
James told The Telegraph 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 said about the pros of traveling with younger ones. “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.”
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