How to Make Your Kids Happy Without Giving Them More Stuff

May 4, 2022

If you’ve been a parent for more than a few minutes, then you know how hard it is to keep your kid happy. It seems like every time you turn around they have a new request or they need something immediately. Everything is urgent to them, and it feels like their wants are all needs.

So how can we keep them happy without spoiling them and without giving them more stuff that they’ll probably never touch again after the first day they have it?

Here are a few things your child wants from you, their parent, that won’t cost you a thing:

Quality time

Most parents naturally know that spending quality time with their kids is important. And studies have been conducted that make that connection as well. 

According to one study, parent work schedules that significantly reduce time spent with children reduce the quality of the home environment and are significantly linked to risky behaviors in adolescents such as cigarette smoking, alcohol use, drug use, delinquency, and sexual behavior.

This isn’t news to most parents, though. In fact, the amount of time parents spend with their kids has increased since 1965, yet most parents still feel like they need to spend more time with their kids. While spending more time with your kids is generally a good idea, more time might not be what your child needs most from you.

It turns out, based on research, what’s more important is the quality of the time you spend with your kids. So while you should certainly strive to spend more time with them, you’ll build your relationship and their character much more by engaging them directly and being all-in when you’re with them.


Kids love when their parents get creative with them. They can sense how engaged their parents are, and if we’re only halfway engaging them, they’ll notice, and we’ll leave them wanting more of us than just surface-level engagement.

Come up with activities that are outside the norm – have an art show with them, build a fort, create a pretend nerf battle scenario, or play paper football. Anything outside of the box or out of the ordinary will signal to them that you’re truly engaged, and that will make them happy beyond anything else.


Words can feel un-impactful sometimes, but the reality is, words have the power to make or break our characters. And words have a profound impact on the development of kids.

One study found that kids who receive words of encouragement from a teacher are significantly more likely to continue their education beyond the age of 16 than those who do not.

Another study said, “Brain studies indicate that we respond to social approval in much the same way that we respond to monetary rewards”.

But it seems that more vague, process-based encouragement is better than focusing on outcomes or on specific performance-based encouragement. When we over-praise kids for outcomes they may or may not control, then they can actually lost motivation and self-esteem because they either see it as insincere, they become conceited, or they feel like they’ll never live up to the outcomes expected of them.

Instead, encourage your child’s character and effort more, and give them positive verbal reinforcements as often as you can. 

That type of encouragement will build their character, and that type of encouragement will make them smile.


Kids have an amazing ability to locate fakenness. If you’re not being honest or genuine with them, they’ll eventually pick up on it. And when we, as parents, put up a mask in front of them to try to look perfect, we’re only doing them a disservice. 

We need to share some of our vulnerabilities with our kids – our weaknesses, fears, and insecurities. They might not be able to handle the really hard stuff, so don’t share everything with them, but they need to know that it’s okay to be flawed. They need to know what courage and grace look like in real life, and the only way they’ll know is by seeing our flaws and watching how we move forward in confidence and strength despite our weaknesses.

More than anything else, your child wants to connect with you. They want to know that they’re secure and safe to open up to you and to both give and receive love. To do that, we have to commit as parents to giving them our devoted, genuine time and attention. 

We can’t do that all the time, and it’s not realistic to think we can, so go easy on yourself. But we can be intentional and set aside time to engage fully both mentally and emotionally. When we do, our kids are better off in almost every aspect of their lives.

Posted by Mike P. Taylor

Mike P. Taylor is an author, speaker, and coach who helps people find purpose outside of their work so they can live and work with more purpose. He lives in Nashville, TN with his wife Sydney and their four kids.