As I label yet another storage bin “Chloe’s Toybox” – the third one – I wonder about the lasting value of these toys. It seems like my daughter loves her stuffed elephant one week only to forget about it the next, in favor of a new sparkly Frozen Elsa doll.

Yes, the Fisher-Price Octopod Playset provides ample entertainment, but will it really impact my kid’s life in a significant way or make her a better, more self-assured person? Not to sound trite, but the saying, “The best things in life can’t be bought” comes to mind.

Next time you’re about to buy a present for your kid, consider this list of 13 gifts.

Meaningful Gifts For Your Children

#1 “Open when” letters

Starting from babyhood or early childhood, write letters to your kid’s future self with the label, “Open when you’re 18” or 22, 25, 30, etc. The point is to share details about what their younger selves are like. For example, I would write to the future Chloe that at 2 years and 11 months, she can write her name and count to 29, likes dancing with her hair down in front of mirrors, playing with sand, and eating chocolate cereal for breakfast.

These intimate letters offer a precious glimpse into your child’s fleeting childhood years and lets them know how much they have grown.

first time mother stories

#2 Attention

Sometimes when I desperately need to get stuff done, I’ll put on a movie for Chloe. But the other day she looked up and said, “Mummy, I want you to sit here.” It occurred to me that she didn’t just want to watch Frozen. She wanted to watch it with me. Rather than sitting at the dining table typing away on my laptop, I should have kept her company.

Parents have practically made a profession out of multitasking. We’ve grown accustomed to juggling multiple responsibilities. And most of us have, on occasion, divided our attention between our phones and our children.

Do you feel guilty about that? Good. That’s okay, now move on.

Going forward, remind yourself that when you give your child your full attention, it is a form of love. Little else makes them feel as important as your presence.

#3 A “follow through” attitude

Nobody likes flakey people who make promises only to break them. Teach your children that they’re held accountable for their words and actions. Model determination and gumption, so that your kids will understand the importance of completing commitments. Goal-getters are made of people who follow through.

#4 Memorable recordings

You probably already record your kids singing, dancing, playing, and talking, so this one’s easy. Just be sure you set these recordings aside for safe keeping to show your kids later. They’ll love these little gems.

#5 The confidence to say “No thank you”

Empower your kids to stand up for what they think is right instead of giving in to peer pressure. Teach them to be self-assured people who follow their guts, and who aren’t afraid to say no. This will save them from plenty of trouble, regret, and inconvenience in life. Be sure to tell them how proud you are of their courage, because as we all know, it takes lots of courage to say no.

#6 Undisputed support

The road to independence

No matter the problems and confusion your child encounters down the road, as long as they know they have your support, they’ll feel grounded. Let them know that you have their back. That you’re rooting for them. That you love and support them through and through.

#7 Trust

As kids grow older, they might crave a bit of space and privacy, which could explain why they’re exasperated by your constant hovering. Perhaps they suspect that you don’t trust them enough, which is an awful feeling. Give them some freedom to figure out who they are and how to be independent. Trust that they’ll make sound judgments.

But do have an open discussion first about your family rules with online activities, curfews, and hanging out with friends outside of school. Above all, be honest with each other about your expectations.

#8 Faithfulness to their other parent

husband and wife relationship

“The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother,” said John Wooden, an author and basketball player and coach. The quote can also be said for a mum loving her children’s father, of course. By demonstrating love and kindness to your spouse, you’re modeling the very behavior you aim to instill in your kids. And don’t forget that a wholesome and complete family is the ultimate gift for any child.

#9 A sense of adventure

Make everything an adventure, be it a family outing, a weekend trip to the mall, a walk to the park or even a simple errand. The key is exuding an adventurous attitude. So ask your kids, “Want to go on an adventure?” Chances are, they’ll say yes. Then proceed to make this trip to the grocery store as fun as possible.

You can make a small challenge out of bagging and weighing vegetables. Or give them clues about what item to grab (“It’s in a box. It’s crunchy, and usually eaten with milk”). Use your imagination—it will inspire them to use theirs.

#10 Education

The French don’t really use the word “discipline.” Instead, they use the term “educate” in reference to raising and teaching their children things outside of school, according to Pamela Druckerman, author of the bestseller Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. Discipline connotes punishment and stern correction. So let’s take on an educational spirit.

Have the patience and determination to guide and advise your children about what’s appropriate, kind, and ethical. They might not be grateful for it all the time, but they’ll thank you later.

#11 Your own happiness

Motherhood - season of gain and loss

The more obvious gift would be to give your children happiness. But let’s think about your happiness for a moment. Now, I’m not saying be selfish and think only about yourself. Instead, let me ask if you have any insecurities, moments when you dislike what you see in the mirror, question your self worth, or feel like you keep failing? Remember that your children are utterly affected by you. They learn from how you treat them, others, and yourself. Be kind, forgiving, and loving to yourself because it’s not just for your sake, it’s also for theirs.

Kids want their parents to be happy. Just as parents want their kids to be happy. So give them the gift of your own happiness.

#12 Affirmation

Kids need affirmation

“Look at me! Mummy, look at me!” Does that sound familiar? If your kids want to show you something they did, please put down what you’re doing and look. Acknowledge with warmth and enthusiasm as much as possible. Tell them you’re proud of them. Say the words, “I love you,” then say it again and again with your actions.

#13 Home as a haven

There are many things you can’t control in your kids’ lives outside of home. Friendship drama, pressure, unkind words, injuries, disappointments – all of which make life, life. But make your home a haven. Let them have no doubt that when they step inside, they’re in a place of comfort and security. This is a priceless gift that will impact them their whole lives – A home where they are accepted and loved.

By Jenny Tai

This article was first published in The New Age Parents e-magazine