We were eating on the back patio of a restaurant this past summer. When dinner was over, Mazzy said she wanted a treat. I assumed she meant dessert, so I asked our server what they had. She handed me a dessert menu full of glossy pictures of huge brownie sundaes and banana splits, and I thought— uh-oh. This is going to be a way bigger treat than I was expecting.
But Mazzy didn’t want to look at the dessert menu. She wanted something she had seen inside the restaurant.
“Like on someone else’s plate?”
“No! At the front!”
Was there a refrigerator case full of desserts I had overlooked?
She led me by the hand into the restaurant where I was fully expecting to see a ten layer chocolate cake slathered with pink frosting on a table by the front door. But Mazzy walked up to the hostess station and pointed to a bowl of small plastic wrapped peppermints.
“That’s what you want?”
Sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s pretty easy to make kids happy with little things. Yes, you can take them to see Frozen on Ice or buy them the mini kitchen set with the real working fridge, but at this age, they’ll also be thrilled with a sticker or a balloon. They’ll be even happier that you are listening and living in the moment.
That’s the message behind the new American Express Everyday Card. I love that it places just as much importance on small purchases as big ones, by giving out points based on number of purchases you make, not just the dollars you spend. If you make 20 purchases—any purchases, from the $198 Barbie Pink Power Wheels Corvette to the $1.50 mini cupcake at the corner bakery—within a month, you could get a 20% bonus on Membership Rewards points.
Personally, I think spoiling a kid with too much stuff never sends a good message and little things can leave just as big of a lasting impression.
Here’s a list of small ways I make my kids happy, without going overboard or breaking the bank.
1. Ice cream
Not exactly brain surgery, I know. But I like to do it when they least expect it, like randomly after school or taking Mazzy out by herself on a Friday night after I put Harlow to bed. Bonus: I may not get my own cup, but I get to “fix” her cone when it starts to drip. I wonder when she’ll figure that one out.
2. Mickey Mouse Pancakes
Maybe some people make pancakes all the time so it’s nothing special. I prefer to save it for Sunday mornings so the girls think they are getting a treat. We like to make Mickey Mouse pancakes with just enough chocolate chips for the eyes and mouth.
3. Character Band Aids
As my regular readers know, my kids are both obsessed with character themed band aids. Yes, I try to curb their habit of using them on imaginary cuts and bruises, but nothing makes a little girl with a minor injury happier than opening up the medicine cabinet and discovering a new box of Tinkerbell or Dora themed band aids inside.
4. The 50-cent machine at the toy store around the corner
I don’t like to buy Mazzy toys without a special occasion, and I hate making every reward a sugar bomb. Instead, I’ll reward her with a special trip to the toy store to use their quarter machine. You risk the potential of her being upset with her prize, but everything’s a life lesson, right?
5. Letting her put her own Metrocard in the slot on our school bus commute
The kids all get a free card from the city to commute to school. The bus driver doesn’t make them use it, but most kids love to dip it in anyway. You should see her smile when her card gets sucked into the machine and spit back out.
6. The mighty sticker
Never underestimate the power of a sticker. It worked for potty training, so now I keep a stash to use as rewards for doing chores around the house. You can buy big packs with sheets and sheets of them for really cheap at your local party store.
7. Rainbow Colored SMOOTHIE Straws
Every morning, Mike makes blueberry banana smoothies. The girls like pulling up their chairs to the counter and pouring the ingredients into the blender almost as much as they like the smoothies themselves. We always make two glasses with four straws and let them decide who is sharing with mom and who is sharing with dad. But their favorite part is choosing their straw color. We buy special straws from Target with every color of the rainbow.
8. Farmer’s market pocket money
As I learned from Mazzy’s old preschool, kids love to get a set amount of money and the freedom to spend it as they see fit. I give Mazzy a little bit of cash and let her select anything she wants at the farmer’s market. Last visit, she surprised me by picking out a basil plant.
9. Creating a prize box
When I was trying to get Mazzy to stop coming into our bed in the middle of the night, I went to the dollar store and filled up a little box with cheap toys— plastic animal miniatures, beaded bracelets, bouncy balls, etc. Whenever she slept through the night in her own bed, I would let her pick one toy from the prize box. Worked like a charm.
10. Randomly Appearing Magnets
The back of our front door is painted like a chalkboard. Some time last year, I discovered it was also magnetic and surprised Mazzy by hanging alphabet magnets on it. Now, every once in awhile, I wait until the kids go to bed and then surprise them by hanging a new magnet on the door. It’s always the first thing they notice in the morning.
11. Mommy-daughter coffee dates
Taking Mazzy and Harlow for steamed milk in a coffee cup paired with a muffin or croissant is always a treat. I like to take them separately so it really equates to quality time with mom. Plus, they behave better that way.
12. Fairy bread
I was introduced to this concept at a birthday party for a little girl who was originally from Australia. It’s standard birthday party practice down there to serve buttered bread with rainbow sprinkles on top and call it “fairy bread”. To make it extra special, just use a cookie cutter. Sounds like a simple surprise on a regular day too!
13. Playing Tourist
We live in NYC and often don’t take advantage of the numerous kid-friendly attractions. I love taking Mazzy on a random trip to Times Square. We take the subway uptown, ride the Ferris Wheel in Toys ‘R Us, take a photo with one of the “Disney” characters hanging out on the corner and call it a day. All for under $10.
14. Urban petting zoo
I don’t want the responsibility of a pet, but that doesn’t mean we stay away from the pet store. They can look at the fish, pet the bunnies, gawk at the rats and mice, and wonder why anyone in their right minds would buy a ferret for their home. (At least I hope that’s what they are thinking.) We end the excursion by buying a treat for the neighbor’s dog.
I’ve done this with Mazzy once and she loved it. I must remember to do it again on the next rainy day. In my area, there are tons of places that give manicures for $10 plus tip. As an added bonus, I might let her pick my color as well as her own.
16. A balloon For no reason at all
There’s a party store about a block up from my sister’s apartment. Next time we go visit Mazzy’s aunt, maybe we should take a little detour to buy her a balloon. I don’t think she’s ever gotten one straight from the source.
I’m always looking to hear other parents’ ideas for incorporating small things that make their kids feel special. Please share yours in the comments below!
Thank you to American Express for sponsoring this post and inspiring me to make the most out of my everyday moments. I hope you don’t mind if I tell my kids the only one responsible for that random balloon is Mom.