The Guaranteed Favorite Toy

5 simple ideas for connection.

Posted Dec 13, 2018

"You will always be your child's favorite toy."  -- Vicki Lansky

iStock/Used with Permission
Source: iStock/Used with Permission

All of us want to make our children's faces shine by gifting them with something special, especially at the holidays, no matter what holiday we celebrate. Isn't that what makes dreams come true?

Unfortunately, no. In fact, those material presents are a bit like drugs--the dopamine lift is temporary, followed by a deeper inner craving. That's just the way human biology is designed, to keep us motivated toward our survival goals. But when this boom and bust cycle is repeated over and over -- especially when it happens quickly, as is usually the case on Christmas morning -- it can become tinged with desperation. 

There's also a psychological component. When we focus on presents, it actually fuels the fantasy that material things can give us what we need inside.  But that doesn't work, at least for long. So we're always looking for the next "thing" that might do the trick. That makes it hard to appreciate what we have. And it's what puts kids into a frenzy, so they tear through their presents looking for the next big thing, the answer to their cravings.

The truth is, your child IS enough and has enough. Happiness comes from connection, meaning and contribution, not from things.

But while saying that in words is important, you also have to LIVE it, or your child doesn't believe it. You do that by taking the focus off presents and putting it back on the love between you and your child. Since children spell love TIME, make it tangible by coming up with special ways to connect. Here are five simple ideas for connection to get you started. (Don't feel like you have to do them all -- choose one!)

1. Give the gift of your time. In one study, children were asked what they liked best about their vacations. It wasn't the fancy vacations or even the time off from school. It was the simple connection time with parents, when the parent was able to relax and enjoy the child without being stressed. Over and over again, children said things like "Lying on the blanket with my Dad, looking at the stars together."

The presents you buy your child will be quickly forgotten. Why not gift your child with the best present she'll ever get -- your focused time? Instead of feeding the dopamine craving cycle, these gifts give children lasting pleasure, from the anticipation to the loving connection to the savoring afterwards. Print out certificates for activities with you and wrap them so your child gets the pleasure of opening a present. 

  • Go out to brunch with the parent of your choice.
  • Dad's best foot massage.
  • Paint your room with Mom.
  • Soccer session with Dad.
  • Ice cream date with a parent.
  • Mom's special manicure.
  • Choose the movie for family movie night.

2. Share the magic. If you celebrate Hanukkah (it's late this year), I hope you take some time with the lights off to just sit in silence with your child to enjoy the flames. 

And no matter what holiday you celebrate, you can find that sense of wonder by going for a quiet walk together to look at your neighborhood lights. The fresh air melts away stress so everyone sleeps better, the dark night inspires awe, the novelty and sense of adventure create connection, and the walk gives a nice chance to chat, away from screens. Turn off all cell phones and just enjoy the moment with your family. 

3. Instead of taking a photo of your child on a bearded stranger's lap reciting lists of material items he covets, take photos of the two of you together -- making Grandma's present, decorating for the holiday, or baking treats for his class party. Send the photos to Grandma with her present, and also let your child glue the photos onto paper to make a little book about your family holidays. Don't be surprised if your little one asks for this book over and over, or reads it to comfort himself.

4. Let your child fall asleep in front of your tree (if you have one) in a sleeping bag -- with you by her side, chatting softly. You might even have a slumber party, one child at a time, and sleep on the couch next to your child. This will probably become your child's favorite holiday memory.

5. Start a blessing bowl, in which you write down things you and other family members are grateful for, from your year. Just toss them in as you think about them. Ask your children to contribute, too. One evening towards the end of the year, make popcorn, snuggle up together, and go through the bowl reading each gratitude item aloud. Talk about them together. Savor that feeling of emotional abundance that makes us feel grateful. Resist the urge to lecture, but share aloud how blessed you feel your family is -- particularly to have each other. This creates long-lasting feelings of gratitude, connection and meaning, which research shows makes kids and adults happier and more grateful even months later.

There's nothing wrong with exchanging presents to express your delight in each other. But this holiday, why not keep the focus on connection and meaning, which fills your child inside in a way that objects can never do? THAT is what makes dreams come true.

Kids may be screaming for the latest gadget, but what they want more than anything is time with the family. Make that your biggest gift this year.” – MidnightBliss