Instead of buying your kid the latest and greatest [insert trendy toy here], here's a tip: stash that money in a vacation fund. Turns out, family getaways have a long-lasting impact on kids' happiness. Win-win.
According to child clinical psychologist Oliver James, your money is way better spent on a family getaway than a new toy for your kid. (There's a high chance they'll get bored with the toy in about a week or two anyway.) "Family holidays are valued by children, both in the moment and for long afterward in their memory," James told The Telegraph. "It's all about talking nonsense with your parents, sharing an ice cream and moments of time in which your interests are genuinely taken into account."
Nothing you've read thus far should be too shocking. Of course, spending time together as a family is the preferred alternative to plopping a shiny new Xbox in front of your kid and letting them be. But a family road trip may also advance your kid's brain development.
According to a 2010 study by neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp published in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, the brain's play system and its explorative urge are exercised when kids are in new places. These areas, found deep in the limbic system, rarely get any action while kids are at home. When they're engaged while a child does and sees new things, a flurry of well-being neurochemicals is released. As described by The Telegraph, "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."
Too Good to Be True?
Maybe you forgot a key hurdle for taking the fam on a week-long getaway: the cost. The reality is that not everyone can afford to go on family vacations every year, or even every five years. But you can still give your children the gift of experience. Spending money on experiences makes you happier than spending it on stuff — and that's something that's true for both kids and adults. An experience could be as simple as exploring a local forest preserve, cooking a new meal, or building a birdhouse together. And just like that, your backyard becomes the new Disney World.