Creative Child

Doing Stuff with Your Kids (Not Giving Them Stuff) Will Make Them Happier

by Rebecca Eanes


In her post, Simplifying Childhood May Protect Against Mental Health Issues, Tracy Gillet says, “We’ve become more sophisticated and entered a unique period in which, rather than struggling to provide enough parents are unable to resist providing too much. In doing so, we’re unknowingly creating an environment in which mental health issues flourish.” Gillet wasn’t just speaking of too many toys in this piece, she was referring to too much everything – information, activities, things. But there is a link between too much material possession and depression. Clutter has negative effects on our brains, including our children’s growing brains.

Studies show that children who have fewer toys actually play more than children with a lot of toys. Claire Lerner, a childhood development researcher with Zero to Three, says, “Our studies show that giving children too many toys, or the wrong types, can actually be doing them harm. They get overwhelmed and cannot concentrate on any one thing long enough to learn from it.” Limiting toys allows for depth of play as well as boosts creativity as your child finds new ways to play with what he has. In addition, with fewer toys and less overwhelm, you’re likely to see fewer meltdowns and sibling squabbles as well.

Even with all of this evidence in favor of experiences over toys, it may still be difficult to get rid of all the stuff you spent your hard-earned money on. Consider a toy rotation as a solution. Keep out a few toys and put the rest in bins and store them away. Periodically exchange the toys out, putting out different toys.

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In the end, your child’s best memories aren’t going to be of the cool toys you bought them but of the time you spent together enjoying one another’s company. True happiness comes not getting what we want but from wanting what we have and in being in close relationships.  Gilovich says, “We consume experiences with other people, and after they’re gone, they’re part of the stories we tell to one another.” If you want to be in your children’s stories tomorrow, share experiences with them today.

Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of multiple books including Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother. She is the grateful mom of two boys. 


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