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It’s the Thought that Counts: The Case for Non-Toy Gifts

Published on Dec. 13, 2021

Somehow, we are here: the home stretch, the last few weeks of the year. For many people, this period of time is full of joy – holiday cookies, hot chocolate, and putting those last few gifts under the tree. But for some, these weeks are stressful, brainstorming last-minute gift ideas, managing budgets, and figuring out how to make it all perfect.

If this feeling is familiar to you, you’re not alone. There’s something inherently a little bit stressful about gift-giving. After all, finding the perfect gift is not an easy task. And yet, there’s something so wonderful about watching someone open up a gift you gave them. There’s really nothing like the anticipation, followed by a moment of realization and then joy to make your heart smile.

Our shop-crazy culture doesn’t make this season any easier, though. I think it’s easy to forget – especially at this time of year, when every commercial is for the hot new toy and we are bombarded with this idea that true happiness can only come from a store – that all our children really want from us is our time.

So if you’re starting to stress because you don’t know what to get your child for Christmas, or are afraid that new-fangled toy you ordered online won’t make it in time, consider a gift that asks primarily for your dedicated time. The options are as endless as your imagination.


The Gift of Local Experiences

Together with your child, any outing can be an adventure! Memberships or gift cards to the local zoo or children’s museum – or any other gift that supports experiences in your local community – can be a special gift for a child because it’s something you experience together. Plus, memberships or gift cards can be used year-round, so they aren’t a one-and-done item.


Joy: Delivered

Depending on your budget, you might also consider subscription (or “box”) services that send books or science experiments to foster a love of learning. These, too, are usually activities that children do with their parents or other loved ones, and are perfect opportunities for creating lasting memories. They also encourage a child’s curiosity and challenge them to think critically or solve problems – benefits you don’t necessarily get from a typical toy.

Of course, you don’t need a subscription service to buy books for a child. There are many great ways you can share the joy of reading. Whether bought new or used from a bookstore or garage sale, passed down from family, or checked out at the local library, books are a wonderful gift that can be tailored based on age and interests.


Priceless Memories, Priced Less

The ideas above are meant to get you thinking about the wide variety of non-toy gift ideas, but I want to point out here that a meaningful gift doesn’t have to cost a penny. Oftentimes, handmade gifts are the most fun because they are the most unique. Just think: a handmade “coupon book” for kids could give them chances to skip chores for a day, get extra books at bedtime, or have breakfast for dinner. As another idea, consider making tickets for dinner and a movie: your child gets to pick their favorite homemade meal and their favorite movie for a fun night in. The options are endless, and the sillier, the better!


Those sorts of things won’t be featured in any magazine. We won’t see a flashy ad for them on TV. But years from now, we’ll realize that we gave our children some of the best gifts in the world: our time, our attention, and our care.

About the Author

Board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics, Dr. Hailey Nelson joined Valley Children’s as a complex care pediatrician at the Charlie Mitchell Children’s Center in 2016. Dr. Nelson enjoys working with children of all ages and abilities and is especially passionate about providing the best possible care to medically fragile children and their families. She is also a licensed breastfeeding consultant, certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultants to support nursing mothers and their babies.