An image of a wrapped present with a bow on top of a blanket.


That fleeting break from the overwhelm of everyday school life; the rough days when homework seemed impossible. The way that the days felt long, and drowsy. The soft grass in summer, the treats of ice cream and beach trips. That TV theme from your favourite show. Each place, new and dazzling. The slow calendar of childhood, the fizzing nostalgia, and sharp regret, in the cocktail of memories. Do you remember the rewards, and gifts, you were given as a child?

As a child, we might be given two types of gifts or rewards: things and/or experiences. This option goes on to shape us in ways which our parents likely couldn’t know or imagine.

Gifts of things indicate that the family, guardian, or parent prioritises acquisition. Items are also a more common form of gift or reward in households where the guardian(s) have less time to spend on experiences- whether this lack of time is real, or imagined. Items are often isolating. While experiences may often include friends, family, or meeting new people, items don’t necessitate connection. That isn’t to say that children won’t use an item to expand their imagination, create characters, and play- but there will always be the element of a one-sided relationship in which the child feels for the item, but the item cannot feel in return.

It’s possible that childhoods with a greater amount of item-as-reward instances could result in children becoming more introverted, having uncommon attachment styles, and tending to be less socially active. It’s also possible that our experience of rewards impacts our love language later in life, and perhaps an item-focused reward style will lead to gift-giving ranking high in love language.

Gifts of experiences indicate that the family prioritises exploration. Experiences are a more common form of gift or reward in households which include more family members, as they can be more easily shared together than an item can. However, in families where the parents have less time to be present in the experiences, older siblings may learn to take on a parental role, or activities may not be suitable for all members of the family unit. Experiences, though, unlike items, necessitate connection between people to some degree.

There’s the potential that childhoods with a greater quantity of experience-as-reward instances result in children becoming more outgoing, socially active, and extroverted. If experience-based rewards are prevalent in childhood, then as adults we may be more likely to have quality time as a high ranking love language.

Our understanding of value, and reward, as children goes on to define how we subconsciously reward ourselves later in life. Our childhoods inevitably shape who we become, but we have the capacity to alter our actions and to mould ourselves into who we want to be.

How have your experience of childhood gifts impacted your choices as an adult? What will you choose to find valuable and rewarding?

Featured image: Mia Golic via Unsplash.

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