The Laser Tag gift we got Alby for his 7th birthday and Christmas present involved a ‘hot lap’ in a tank! After seeing and hearing from him and his friends about how much fun they had, I feel awesome about choosing to give an experience! At the end of the day, we’ve not only given Alby the gift but also nine other children that he wanted to share the experience with. They spent the day outdoors getting lots of exercise, working in teams and discussing strategies.
This is not the first time we’ve combined the birthday and Christmas gift. Last year we gave Alby a motorbike for his 6th birthday and explained that this was his Christmas present too, and that because it was such as special gift, this also took the place of a party with friends. I was nervous that he would feel left out on Christmas Day but I had nothing to worry about, he understood and made me proud with how he handled the situation. It was the same this year. As every caller on the morning of his birthday asked what presents he had gotten, I heard him explaining that he hadn’t received anything yet because his gift from Mum and Dad was to play laser tag with his friends that afternoon and because it was a ‘big’ gift, it was his Christmas present too, just like last year with the motorbike. He is such a good kid!
I feel we are helping Alby understand the value of things (which will go some way toward counteracting a disposable culture) by explaining our reasons for a combined gift and negotiating whether a birthday party will take place. This year when he said he wanted to do laser tag for his birthday I was happy he was focused on an experience but I needed to be clear what that would mean so I said “…your choice is to play laser tag with all your friends, or not have a ‘party’ and get some other present instead.” After a couple of seconds, he had decided he would prefer laser tag. That’s what was important to him, and rightly so! The fun of playing laser tag with his friends is now an awesome memory they share going forward and this is important for developing friendships and being happy. But to be completely honest, he was smart enough to know that he would still get other gifts from friends and grandparents. However, by keeping celebrations to small groups of close friends and family we don’t end up with excessive amounts of ‘stuff’ because people know our child and give a more meaningful gift. It’s also much easier to aim for a zero waste party!
We knew Alby’s motorbike would be a worthwhile investment in our family because we live on a farm, have many relatives that ride motorbikes, he had excellent pushbike riding skills, and he had been expressing an interest in riding for some time. As it turns out he has ridden the bike almost every day for the past year. We will eventually pass it on to Ainsley if she wants to start riding and then a younger cousin. My point about the motorbike is that some gifts like this can facilitate experiences and social interaction, and that gifts should be a good fit with family values and family life. They shouldn’t be just another thing that ends up in landfill in 6 months’ time.
Providing children with enriching experiences is often recommended by child and parenting experts as a way to develop brain connections, social, emotional, and physical skills, and understanding about the world. Experiences definitely don’t need to cost a lot of money and most kids only really want the gift of our time anyway. There are endless ways to give our time that don’t cost anything at all. It might also be worth thinking about what you spend on presents for your child for their birthday, and then for their party, and then for Christmas, and deciding if all that money can’t be spent in a better way. Alby has proven to me that kids are more interested in a few well though-out gifts and experiences than masses of plastic fantastic.
The other day I read a great article in The Sydney Morning Herald called Should I buy my kids more stuff? I read it because it quotes Michael Grose, a parenting expert whose work I read a lot of. It talks about how children that receive many material rewards from their parents will continue to reward themselves with material goods during adulthood. I’ve previously written about the environmental problems of materialism and the lie that stuff makes us happy, and this article highlights these issues as a concern too. The article also delves into benefits for children like improved creativity if they have less. It’s worth a read if you’re not already convinced. So to raise happy fulfilled individuals and to lessen our environmental impact we need to stop the obsession with giving our kid’s so much stuff!
Going forward we will continue to assess the needs and interests of our children and provide relevant experiences within our means.