Jentrie Hales, community advocate, @techhealthyfamily


Take a moment and think about your favorite holiday memory as a child. No seriously, do it. Who did it include? What were you doing? For me it includes my whole family gathered around the piano with my mom on the keys, taking turns picking and singing our favorite Christmas songs. For as long as I can remember this simple (and usually off key) tradition has been my favorite thing about the holiday. Even after all these years, the Christmas Eves spent with my family trump any gift I have opened the next day. For me, and many others, it’s the memories that matter the most.

But I get it; life is so busy. There is so much on our plates as parents that we sometimes feel like we are drowning. It might feel easier to just online shop our love. The craziness of the holidays only adds to the high standard of what parents should buy for their kids. However, in researching this topic, I have good news: The success of our kids has a lot less to do with how much money you spend on them and more to do with the quality of time you spend with them. Our kids just need us. The research all points to simplifying. For example, a research study at the University of Cincinnati shows that giving your child too many toys actually has negative effects on their wellbeing.

This is what the research says:

1. Children and toddlers in particular learn better focus, explore, engage in more imaginative play with fewer toys. These are all qualities that benefit children in the long term.

2. Children who expect many and expensive gifts suffer negative social and emotional ramifications beyond childhood. As adults these children are more prone to credit card debt, gambling, and compulsive shopping.

3. Children with fewer toys, whose parents spend more time interacting with them, surpass kids with greater means in several areas of emotional and social development. The implication is that a parent’s direct engagement seems to beat any toy or screen.

Even more good news: A recent study in the Journal of Marriage and Family reinforces the point that it’s not even the amount of time we spend with our kids but the quality of time. There are amazing benefits that are seen in the classroom and at home when parents make the effort to make meaningful connections with their children. In summary, it’s the quality of engagement that matters in the long run. It’s the memories made, and the feelings felt. But like mentioned before, parents are juggling so much it may feel overwhelming to carve out any more time in your life, especially when you have several children. But, oh, it is so important.

Here are five tips for making the most out of the time with our families this holiday season.

1. Put your phone down. A study published by Science Direct suggests even having your phone out during a conversation reduces your level of happiness and connection. Give your kids your full attention when you can and maybe they will start to do the same.

2. Stop putting the emphasis on creating Christmas lists for Santa. Instead, work on bucket lists of memories to create together instead.

3. Make individual time with your kids a priority. Even if it is just 10 minutes a day and as simple as going for a drink run or playing a game. Just make it something that they are invested in.

4. Stress less about making the experiences picture perfect. Rather just focus on creating the experience.

5. Take it easy on yourself. You can’t do it all. Remember that your child doesn’t need a perfect parent but rather a present parent.

The happiness derived from childhood experiences are more significant and impactful than the amount of toys under the tree. So, what are they going to remember and value as they get older? I would guess it’s not going to be the gaming console or hoverboard you splurge for this year. But instead it’s going to be the simple, quiet moments where you took the time to make them feel loved, special, and seen or when you helped them do the same for someone else.