10 Ways Gifting Experiences Benefits Your Children & Relationships

In mindful parenting circles I often hear parents talking about gift giving.  They want to know how to encourage grandparents or other well meaning family members or friends to purchase more sustainable gifts, less gifts, or no gifts at all.


Well, it's frustrating for parents who are doing such intense inner work at being more mindful about what is going into their bodies, minds and homes, when others don't get it and continue to bombard their children with needless knick knacks, plastic toys, and often objectifying or violent play things.

Many parents graciously accept these things and then dispose of them in some way, whether regifting, donating, or selling.  But this comes with a slew of it's own problems - namely figuring out how to respectfully dispose of something that is now your child's property, not yours.

It puts parents into quite the conundrum, since being a respectful parent means disposing of something your child now owns without their permission, or manipulating them to get rid of it, is not in your bag of tricks.

Now what?

How do you gently encourage well meaning family and friends to understand why certain things aren't on your wish lists?

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you can't.  Letting go of the need to control what others do and being gracious when you are accepting yet another plastic or battery operated toy, is an important skill to master in life.  But that's a post for another day.

For those who are open to being respectful of your wishes and understanding where you are coming from and why, explaining to them what is wanted is a great place to start.

It's the same premise I teach when telling a child they can't have something - instead of focusing on what they can't have, tell them what they can have!

So instead of telling people what you don't want, shower them with ideas of things you'd welcome.

There are three categories of gifts I find to be the most beneficial for children:

  1. Experiences (Activities, Events, Outings, etc...)
  2. Experience Accessories (The things you need to create or complete the experience)
  3. Mindful Tools for Play (Sustainable, and simple supplies for learning)

Experiences is the first category I'm going to cover.  So I've compiled a list of 10 ways experiences benefit your children & relationships, in an attempt to share why experiences are much more valuable than stuff for our children's development and needs.

I'd encourage you to share this post with family members and friends so they better understand how beneficial experiences are, and then have the chance to give the kinds of gifts your family really enjoys.  Or, just share my Ultimate Mindful Experiences Guide for gift giving possibilities!

10 Reasons Experiences Are Beneficial:

1. Let the Energy Flow

An over abundance of stuff becomes toxic quite quickly, clogging your home with stagnant instead of flowing energy.  We all know this to be true, right?  Think about your mental state when you're home is cluttered and you are tripping over everything, versus when everything has it's place.

I know this is very true for me.  When I have a lot of stuff, things get lost, I forget everything, and I slide into depression and hopelessness much easier (which is why we use this method to minimize our stuff).

Holding on to stuff can also become a way of holding onto the past and not moving forward.  It often becomes an excuse for not letting go.  And is one sure fire way to feel trapped in your own home.  In this way, experiences don't just benefit our children, they benefit the whole family.

2. Enrich Life

Experiences show children that there is more to life than their playroom.  They encourage growth, cultural awareness, and learning about others.  And when we get out into the world and learn about people who are different from us, we are much more able to have empathy for others.

I mean, what is life without experiences?  Not to mention, children will choose the real experience over the make believe one (i.e. cooking real food over pretending in a toy kitchen) almost every time.  And research has also found "little data to support the widely held notion that pretend play is a crucial element of childhood." (Read more about these findings HERE).

3. Memories Are Valuable

Experiences teach us memories are more valuable than things.  When our focus is on stuff, stuff can become what we start to value instead of the people we could be sharing experiences with.  Sharing experiences with our children will reinforce the idea that people and the memories we make together, are more valuable than things.

4. More Socially Responsible

For the most part, experiences are more socially responsible than stuff.  Of course you can find experiences that are absolutely not mindful or socially aware (i.e. circuses with live animals, or experiences that focus on violence, strict gender roles, or overconsumption), but for this post, let's focus on the experiences that are mindful.

The environmental and social impact on communities who mass produce many of the plastic goods we purchase, is devastating.  Were they paid a fair wage?  Are their homes and air being polluted from the factories?  Not to mention, is the company and people who are profiting from these products ethical?  These are great questions to know about a product or service before purchasing.

5. Focus on Connection

There is much more of a focus on connection with experiences than things typically.  Experiences focus on doing something with other people instead of on the consumption of a toy for the sake of "giving".

Not to mention, think of how toys are typically used.  Often, the job of toys is to keep the children occupied while adults get something else done.  There of course is a place for this as independent play is a wonderful thing.  However, the benefit of experiences is that these are things you get to do with your children.

For that reason they are much more beneficial to your relationships with your children.  They are things you can talk about and reminisce about for years to come.  That's not typically the case with toys.

6. Hands-on Learning

Experiences enrich your child's development & creativity in amazing ways! Since most of us are a combination of kinesthetic/tactile & visual learners (which means we learn best by visually seeing and experiencing things, not just reading about or hearing them), experiences are an excellent tool for learning.

Also, we can use experiences to explore our community, learn about different cultures, help others, and give our children a much more holistic view of the world.

7. Encourage Self Awareness

One of the main things I hear parents want for their children, is a deep understanding of who they are.  And I could not agree more.  I think it is possibly the most important gift we can give our children - supporting and encouraging their own self awareness.

When children get old enough to start choosing their experiences, it is so fascinating to watch what they choose and such a profound way to watch their interests and personalities blossom.  In contrast, making a list of the newest toys or gadgets that all of their friends or advertizements have told them they need, doesn't typically support the same level of self awareness.

8. Support Natural Abilities

The things our children naturally gravitate towards tells us so much about who they are!  One of my favorite things to do is take my son somewhere new and watch him explore!  It is amazing what he will check out first, the questions he asks, and the things he is interested in and not so interested in.

Paying close attention to how your child wants to experience a new place gives you excellent clues about who they are and what things they most enjoy.  When we pay attention and then encourage and support their natural abilities & interests, thriving is inevitable.

9. Inclusiveness

The collection and sometimes hoarding of stuff has become some sort of status symbol in our culture.  Experiences can be much more inclusive than stuff in that mindful experiences are not viewed as a status symbol as much as stuff can be (of course there will always be exceptions).

The cool thing about experiences is they can be a way to include everyone, especially if the gift is an experience for the whole family.  This way, gift giving favoritism or using gifts to manipulate can be avoided.

10. Creating Mindful Consumers

When the focus is shifted from things to experiences, it creates the room for our children to have a more mindful relationship with consumerism.  Children who are not used to asking for toys and things, are much less likely to ask for those things when you're at Target on a random Tuesday.

When getting things becomes an expected part of their day or year, then of course children will ask or beg for toys when shopping.  They have been taught this is how the world works - you ask for things, and then people give them to you.  When tons of gifts becomes normalized, we have moved into a very unhealthy version of reality.

Awareness Over Perfection

If you are a new parent or a parent to young children, this switch will probably be smoother.  You can start your child's life out with the expectation that experiences will take center stage over things.

But if you have older children, go sloooow.  If this resonates with you, try gradually switching your gift giving from things, to more experienced based gift giving, but don't overwhelm yourself.  For the next holiday or birthday, switch out a gift or two with an experience.  Be present with your child(ren) during the experience and watch as they begin to prefer experiences over things too.

Tell Your Story

Have you switched from stuff to mostly experiences?  What have you noticed as you've made the switch?  What are some of your favorite experiences to gift?  Which experiences do your children love?  Tell me in the comments.

With Harmony,