By Shannon Thomason
Toy overload is real. UAB experts have tips on how to give experiences that can engage, inspire and create lasting memories.
Giving exciting experiences rather than clutter-producing toys is on-trend this holiday season, and experts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have advice on how to do it right.
“Experiences are a wonderful way to offer an alternative” to traditional presents, said Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at UAB.
“Toy overload is real, and something we see every holiday season,” Klapow said. “In line with developmental milestones, very young children (under age 3) have few if any stated desires. As children grow from ages 4-12, they often have an increasing number of toys that they ‘must’ have. Then as they become teens the number drops again for higher-priced, but fewer items.”
Experiences can create a unique set of memories, and some, such as memberships to favorite amusements, can be used all year long. A family vacation or holiday destination is also a means to create deeper memories and not get trapped in toy overload.
When we look back at our favorite memories — those from childhood or a special vacation — they revolve around an experience we have had, says Amy Miller, M.A., director of Engagement at UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center.
“The effect, a feeling or the energy created during an experience, is often what stays with us over many years. For this reason, and many more, we are strongly encouraging families and friends to give an experience for the holidays, instead of an object or a toy,” Miller said.
But unlike a toy that can be returned, be prepared for the possibility that your child will not desire the membership, the event or the location. They may or may not like it. These tips can help givers create positive experiences that engage, inspire and create lasting memories:
- Make sure you choose something for them, if it is truly a gift for them, instead of something for yourself that you think they might enjoy, Klapow says.
- Younger children have a hard time with delayed gratification. The closer in time they can actually experience the gift, the more likely they are to enjoy it.
- Many children have a hard time with the abstract nature of a destination gift, says Klapow. “They can’t see it, touch it, understand it. If you can include pictures, videos or some approximation of what they are going to experience, it will help drive the meaningfulness home.” For example, a zoo membership could be accompanied by a plush toy of the child’s favorite zoo animal.
- Giving a gift of a shared experience, such as tickets to a concert or special event that you attend together, can create a lasting memory, Miller says.
- Trying something new is vital to learning, so explore a child’s or loved one’s interests. A burgeoning dancer may enjoy a community dance class, or an avid reader may enjoy a creative writing class. “You never know how one artistic moment may inspire someone, especially a child,” Miller said. “Plus, a new creative outlet is beneficial to their general health and development.”
- Ideally, create a mix, says Klapow. “A few smaller gifts (immediate reinforcement) and maybe one or two destination gifts that occur later will allow children to satisfy their developmentally appropriate desire for immediate gratification while still preventing toy overload.”