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Outside the Box: 10 Children's Gifts to Help Them Tomorrow

Just because it’s wrapped in pretty paper doesn’t mean it’s valuable. Sometimes the best gifts aren’t appreciated until the child is older because they’re not “hands-on” toys, clothes, or accessories.

Here are 10 gifts that are worthy of your financial or time investment today because they “pay off” (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively) in the long run.

  1. Responsibility. Have you ever met a teen that has no chores? Whose parents do everything for him with little or no appreciation? Or who gets everything she wants AND a brand new sports car for her birthday? Teaching your children responsibility is a gift! By coddling a child, you do them a disservice to be prepared for life outside the home. Encourage them to volunteer, help around the house, get a summer job, and take responsibility for their actions and their future. Teach them to balance a checkbook, pay their bills on time, keep commitments, and be punctual. Responsibility is as much about valuing yourself as it is about valuing others. It builds independence, which is crucial for relationships, college, work life, and mental health.
  2. A savings account or savings bonds. Consider opening a savings account or purchasing savings bonds for your child. Although savings accounts don’t typically earn a ton of interest, you’ve got time on your side because, depending on the state, your child can’t touch the money until they’re 18 or 21. A savings bond ( earns interest over a period of time (from a year to 30 years) and start at just $25.
  3. Brain training. Unlike tutoring, which focuses on reteaching subject matter, one-on-one brain training strengthens the underlying skills that help us think, learn, process, memorize, and recall information. Personal brain training differs from online and computer-based brain training in that its programs use intense, customized, game-like exercises to strengthen the student’s cognitive skills. These include auditory and visual processing, logic & reasoning, processing speed, attention, and memory. “Brain training can help struggling students become better learners in ANY subject,” says Tanya Mitchell, Vice President of Research & Development for LearningRx (, a brain training company with 80+ centers across the United States. “On the flip side, it can strengthen the brain skills of gifted children, who want to better prepare for college-level classes, but might not otherwise be challenged enough at school.”
  4. Memberships. Teaching your children outside of school is a gift itself, and what better way to do that than with memberships to the local zoo, history museum, children’s museum, or performing arts center?
  5. A love of reading. Does your child have a library card? What about a subscription to “Highlights,” “Ranger Rick’s Nature Magazine,” or “National Geographic”? Do they have access to e-books? Head to a used or new bookstore, create a local book exchange with other parents, or find out when the library is having its next paperback sale. Few loves will take them further in life than a love of reading!
  6. Failure. Watching your kid fail is hard, even heartbreaking. But it’s a necessary part of life. How else do they learn from their mistakes? Part of the beauty of failure is that it encourages us to take risks (just think how many times successful entrepreneurs and inventors have failed!) and learn that we can survive the results, no matter what they may be. As Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
  7. Health. Put your kids on a track toward good physical, emotional, and mental health by staying active as a family, eating nutritious meals and snacks, and providing a supportive environment in which you’re an active listener. Enroll her in sports, sign the family up for a healthy cooking class, buy him a gym membership, or let them attend a fun, active summer camp! What you do now can set the tone for a lifetime of health and wellness.
  8. A college fund. Don’t count on scholarships or financial aid to pay for college. Investing just a small amount of money each month can really add up when they’re ready for college. Almost every state now offers 529 plans, which can offer special tax benefits.
  9. Purpose. Whether through religion, faith, teaching, healing, or serving others, finding your purpose can be exciting and liberating. You can’t tell your child what their purpose is, but you can help them understand how life-changing it is to discover it! Understanding what you’re here to do can help you make difficult decisions. Dr. Ken Gibson, author of “The Purpose-Directed Business,” ( explains purpose this way. “A guiding purpose will unify your thoughts and make sense of all the competing voices calling you. A strong purpose will help you know which opportunities to avail yourself of and which ones it’s OK to say no to.” And since life is all about decisions, what better gift to give your child than to encourage them to find and live their purpose?
  10. Your time. This is probably the most valuable gift of all. Eat dinner as a family. Read to them at bedtime (or have them read to you). Go camping together or just stargaze from your backyard. Teach them to bake, ride a bike, and write a thank-you note. Let them know through your words AND your actions that they are your greatest gifts!