Give Kids Vacations Instead of Toys

Why quality family time trumps gifts.

Posted on 12/21/2021

From Christmas to birthdays to all the holidays in between, gift-giving has become the norm for parents around the globe. Year after year, parents throw thousands of dollars into the toy market – and that can come from just a single household! Not to mention the amount of money that grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends spend to purchase gifts for their favorite kiddos. After all, the more toys our children have, the happier they are…right? Actually, this isn't the case at all, and parents have noticed.

In a world where materialism runs rampant, many parents are attempting to stem the tide of unnecessary "stuff" in their household. These parents feel that providing experiences for their children, such as a beach vacation in Destin, is better for their development than giving them presents.

And what do you know, experts agree!

2017 study explored the concept of love, specifically, how an individual perceives the feeling of love and what factors contribute to those feelings. Researchers asked participants to complete the phrase, "Most people feel loved when…" In general, responses were not specific to tangible gifts; rather, they had to do with behavior, feelings, perceptions, and experiences. The results of this study indicate that the perceived feeling of love is not exclusively tied to receiving gifts. Instead, this feeling of love extends beyond tangible items to experiences. This is true with children, as well.

Kids in Destin

When you look back on your own childhood, do you remember the coveted present that was under the Christmas tree or the feeling of love, joy, and contentment of spending time with your family? Just like you, children feel the most loved, not when they receive a gift, but when they share experiences with their loved ones. These feelings of love lead to increased happiness, which far surpasses the benefit of any tangible gift.

In addition to feeling loved, there are many other benefits of giving kids vacations instead of toys. Vacations improve brain development, reduce stress, enhance family relationships, and expose kids to new ideas and perspectives.

Improve Brain Development

Kids on Beach

In the 2017 Telegraph article, "The science behind how holidays make your child happier – and smarter," Dr. Margot Sunderland argues that vacations help improve brain development in children. One of the most important reasons for this is that during vacation, a child's play and seeking systems are activated. The play system refers to the time children and parents spend together playing and interacting, while the seeking system applies to the time spent exploring new experiences. Together these systems enhance a child's curiosity and encourage learning, both of which are qualities that contribute to success in adulthood. Additionally, Sunderland's article states: "Really using the brain's play and seeking systems well, as often happens on a family holiday, brings about brain growth and maturation in the frontal lobes, the very part of the brain involved in cognitive functioning, social intelligence, and well-focused, goal-directed behaviors that may last a lifetime (Panksepp, 2015; Burgdorf et al., 2010)." So, if you want to help improve your child's brain development, invest in a family vacation instead of toys!

Read more: Free Destin Activity Coloring Sheets

Reduce Stress (for Kids and Adults!)

Kids Stress Free Beach

Adults are well aware that the often-present stress and chaos of everyday life can feel overwhelming at times. But did you know that children also feel this burden of stress in their lives? School, social, and parental expectations combine to put more stress than should be allowed on those young souls. Kids should have the opportunity to be kids – free of much of the stress that plagues adults – and vacations can help alleviate that stress. Sunderland's Telegraph article discusses that in addition to boosting brain development, the play and seeking systems that are activated during vacation can reduce stress. The article states: "Once your family holiday experiences activate these systems in your brain and your children's brains, they trigger well-being neurochemicals including opioids, oxytocin, and dopamine…They reduce stress and activate warm, generous feelings towards each other and a lovely sense that all is well in the world. With all the anti-stress aspects of these systems firing, family members get to emotionally refuel." Reducing your child's stress levels through vacations is a great way to ensure they remain happy and healthy, without succumbing to anxieties that can have a negative effect on growth. Additionally, reducing your stress as a parent can lead to improved interactions with your children; therefore, enhancing your family relationships.  

Enhance Family Relationships

Family Vacation

Actively participating in a family vacation experience enhances relationships much more than gift-giving. Hattie Garlick's 2017 Telegraph article "The science behind why you should spend money on family holidays instead of toys" indicates that children may not value gifts as much as society, and the toy industry would have us believe. The article quotes Oliver James, a best-selling psychological author, saying, "'Do you have any idea what an extraordinary proportion of presents we give children aren't actually wanted or valued?' asks Oliver James… The answer ranges from one-in-five to two-thirds, depending on the survey you choose." Instead, children value vacations over tangible toys for multiple reasons, including the increased amount of time they get to spend with their parents. When parents take the time to be with their children without interruptions and without distractions – whether it's eating frozen yogurt together in a new city, building sandcastles on the beach, or playing make-believe on a forest hike – family bonds are strengthened. Those little moments not only enhance your relationships but also create life-long memories for you and your children to look back on.

Expose Kids to New Ideas and Perspectives

Kids Beach Vacation

Finally, family vacations expose children to new experiences, which leads to the ability to harness new ideas and perspectives. In Garlick's Telegraph article, she points out Oliver James' argument that although children regard travel experiences as more fulfilling than gifts, they value different aspects of the experience than adults. James indicates, "Children see the world differently…through consumption, for example: the way that French cafes have Orangina instead of Fanta is fascinating to kids, and details like that will stick with them for long after the holiday ends." Exposure to these nuances that are starkly different than what a child might consider "normal" inspires new ways of thinking. They begin to understand that the world is much bigger than their own little sphere. They learn that others have different experiences that shape their thoughts and behavior, which in turn drives a variety of cultural and societal norms. These enriched ideas and perspectives allow children to mature cognitively and socially, which will contribute to their ability to be successful and open-minded as adults. 

There you have it – vacations are better than gifts. And the science backs it up! Next time you find yourself adding unnecessary toys to your online shopping cart, ask yourself if it's worth it or if a vacation would be a better use of your money and your child's time.

Invest in your child's development by planning a vacation. The Destin and 30A areas are a great place to start, as the communities are family-friendly, and the beaches are a dream for parents and kids alike. Book your stay at one of our great Ocean Reef Resorts beach rentals to help get your vacation started the right way. Once here, you and the kids will enjoy all the benefits of a fun family vacation. Toys not necessary to have a good time!


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