Consumerism has succeeded to convince us that kids need the latest gadgets, toys, clothes, and so much more. So, we constantly keep adding to the list of stuff our kids ‘need’ in the hope to make them happier (and less bored). Yet, children crave connection and affirmation, to feel loved and cherished. And consequently less toys CAN actually make your kids happier.
A few months ago we attended a little girl’s birthday party. My girls were instantly attracted to the cutest little doll house in the garden. However, as more friends arrived, more kids were evidently attracted to this adorable miniature house. After a while I noticed my girls playing outside the house on its porch. So I went over to find out what was wrong. My six-year old’s first words to me were “We can’t play inside – it’s a nest”! Which is the exact same words I use when something is a complete mess… So I peeked inside and saw it was an exact description of the inside. Toys were strewn everywhere!
This ‘Toy Story’ I witnessed stayed with me for a while, because even although my kids don’t have an abundance of toys, there are still toys they never play with. So I started looking into the relationship between children and toys and found some interesting studies that support it – less toys really make your kids happier!
1. Less toys = more creativity
“Having fewer toys can lead a young child to focus and engage in more creative, imaginative play, according to one study. Fewer toys, it turns out, result in healthier play, and, ultimately, deeper cognitive development…” – you can read the full study.
I’ve even noticed this with my own children – my kids get totally overwhelmed when there are too many options. Yet, they use their imagination to create a whimsical world where anything is possible when there are no toys to play with.
Like the one day when my partner was working in the garden. My youngest daughter, June, came running towards me with the biggest, proudest smile – super excited about showing me her ‘new house’. Which turned out to be a garden rake placed against the wall at an angle. She even continued to demonstrate how she fits perfectly into her tiny house when she sat on the grass. In that moment I realised how little children actually need in order to be entertained. And if we, as parents, stand back for a moment and stop trying to entertain them that we give them room to let their creativity flourish and roam free!
You see… When boredom sets in, creativity takes over. Kids are so used to being entertained – it’s TV shows, tablets, games on smart phones, researching activities to keep them occupied all holiday. None of this is wrong in itself. But why do we feel the need to do this every time they get bored? What is wrong with kids developing their cognitive activity through free play.
Sometimes my girls will play in their room and I’ll eavesdrop or peep around the corner to see what they get up to… At times, I will stand there listening to them chattering away with their dolls, mimicking things I say or speaking in different accents which they hear on tv. It can be quite entertaining! But more than that… they develop and play out scenarios that stuck with them…
Kids are used to being entertained all the time that initially they might get bored. But, it’s ok to let them be bored… Soon enough their creativity flares up and they start problem solving to combat the boredom.
2. They only play with their favourite toys
All of us have seen it… Buying toys we think they will love. And they do when they open it and play with it for a while. Yet, they always seem to gravitate back to their beloved toys.
Each child’s favourites will differ from the next child’s. That is why it is important to watch them play from time to time, or to play with them. You can see which toys they play with the most or which imaginary world they engage in often. My girls absolutely love any type of pretend play that centres around dolls, playing house, cooking, etc. And all three our youngest kids absolutely LOVE building with blocks (like Lego or anything similar) and definitely any form of art – drawing, painting and colouring in… That is also one of my favourite hobbies, so it is something we do together as a family.
3. Toys are rarely the highlight of their day
Every night at the dinner table we discuss our day based on three questions everyone gets a turn to answer. Each child (and adult) has a few uninterrupted minutes to discuss each answer in detail:
What was the best part of your day?
This makes them focus on the positive, which will lead to being grateful in years to come. This gives us an insight into each child’s passions and what makes them tick. Yet, it also struck me that these rarely include physical objects – it almost always centres around playing with their best friend, learning something new in ballet class or having a fun time with friends…
What was the worst part of your day?
The second question usually centres around a bad situation or something that upset them. That is a way for them to express their emotions and also for us to guide them on how to handle a similar situation in the future.
What did you learn today?
With the third question, we encourage them to find something new to learn every day – in order to grow and develop. I feel so often we stagnate because we become “victims of life” – getting stuck on the hamster wheel.
Sometimes if we don’t ask the questions quick enough, they will start asking US to prompt the conversation. How much they look forward to these simple questions each night actually surprised me. A few minutes to share the highlights and lowlights of their day. A few minutes to connect and have our full attention.
4. We remember experiences, not stuff
Take a second to think back to your own childhood… Did you celebrate Christmas? Or maybe any other celebration time where gifts are generally the focus. What do you remember about it? Do you remember each gift you received year after year? What are the memories that stick with you years later, deep into adulthood?
I can tell you what I remember about Christmas… To this day Christmas still remains my favourite celebration of the year. And it doesn’t have anything to do with the gifts, it’s the memories connected to it. It’s how we gathered together as kids to decorate the Christmas tree with so many ornaments that eventually there were barely any visible branches. It was a time of baking sweet biscuits with grandma – the scent of freshly baked cookies lingering in the house. Going to the Lutheran church to sing Christmas carols in German, which we didn’t even understand. While children could fetch brown paper bags in the front of the church filled with sweet treats.
I remember the smells, the traditions, the togetherness with our closest family, the Christmas carols, the mesmerising effect of the flickering lights, the scent of candles burning and the roast cooking in the oven. THAT is what I remember. The excitement of the toys fade, because memories are what sticks with us decades later. In the same way that is what will last for our children, which ties in with my last point.
5. Find the priceless moments
A few weeks ago I snuck a lavender flower from our garden and a tiny handwritten note into each child’s lunchbox. My girls were over the moon! The #1 highlight of their day were the notes and flowers and they insisted on going to bed with it next to their beds. The next day my daughter decided to write a tiny note for me and hid it in my lunchbox. The impact it had on her day was that big. In that instant my heart melted and my eyes filled with tears…
Have a vision
It is so sad that consumerism has succeeded to convince us that kids need the latest gadgets, toys, clothes, and so much more. Connection and affirmation is what children crave the most, knowing that they are loved and cherished.
I am no parenting expert by any means, but something that I’ve learned pertaining to all aspects of life – parenting, work, relationships, personal growth, whatever… Is that if you know what your vision is, then it’s easier to take small daily steps that align with it.
Our relationship with stuff
Our relationship with stuff goes so much deeper than I ever realised, and this quote by Bruce Lee’s just confirmed it again. I’m teaching my kids that it’s ok to have less and that their happiness shouldn’t depend on what they own. So many times we try to fill the gaping holes with stuff, but instead, it just leaves a bigger ‘need’ for more. Instead, we buy less toys and create a deeper connection through experiences.
Have you noticed the effect more toys potentially has on your child? Share your viewpoint or experience below.