Making Memories instead of Materialism

Posted By:

by Susan Newman, Ph.D.

Years of research, before and after writing Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day, have underscored that when asked what they find memorable, adults and older children remember the things the family did together— not the big splashy “must-have” toy of the moment.

Research points to repetition building muscle memory. Traditions and rituals are the things children will remember and will call upon for comfort and support as they grow.

Pay attention to what captures your children’s attention and repeat every year. Don’t underestimate the impact of the simple things you do with your children, especially things that seem commonplace or unexciting. Over time, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Often mishaps or the unexpected are hilarious and what kids remember best.

Here are eleven ideas to inspire making little memories matter big all year-round and well into the future.

A Purging Tradition

Before a holiday or shortly after, have everyone in the family search through closets and chests for coats, clothing, and toys to donate or sell at a garage sale. Also, have the kids help you decide what canned foods on your shelf to give to a shelter or food bank.

Special Delivery

Create a gesture that your child knows means “I love you.” Perhaps it’s your hand on your heart, your arms folded, or placing one finger on your cheek. Use it often and when your child least expects it—at a school event or sports game, in the grocery store, or when out with friends or relatives.

Secret praise

Let your child overhear you praising something s/he did. Don’t let on that you know they can hear you.

Double Desserts

Once a month or whenever you happen to have extra, shock your children by announcing double-dessert night.


If you want a chill-free snowball fight, make poof balls out of white yarn, and enjoy surprise attacking your kids without having your fingers go numb.

A Family Tale

Write a fun or fantasy short story about your family—its members near and far to read as part of one evening’s festivities. Reread what you wrote the previous year.

A Few of My Favorite Things

When the family is gathered for New Year’s, discuss everyone’s favorite thing about the year that’s ending. Record them in a computer or notebook or on video.

A Family New Year’s Resolution

Make a joint resolution that includes everyone in the family: to hug hello and goodbye, to let a person finish what he’s saying without interrupting, to honor each person’s personal space, or to not borrow something without asking.

Waiting for Midnight

Reserve one board game from the children’s gift pile with the express intent of playing it as part of a family New Year’s Eve celebration.

For No Reason

When the whole family is together, give each member a similar token surprise. Call it an “S” to heighten
the fun. It could be a pair of socks, a flower, a set of stickers, a pad, a pen, a box of crayons, or a book. The suspense of not knowing when there will be an “S” is what makes this a little thing long remembered.

Susan Newman, Ph.D. is a parenting expert, and prolific author of fifteen books including, Little Things Long Remembered, updated this year.

The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for young kids. Check out episodes of our “Ruby’s Studio” children’s video series, along with our beautiful children’s books, apps, music and more.


This article was originally published on July 31, 2015

Posted in: Expert Advice, Holidays