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Parenting blog

A blog for parents with effective techniques based on developmental psychology. 

Holidays and gifts

Sara Zaidi

With Christmas around the corner there isn’t much time left for holiday shopping. Before rushing out to grab that last Elsa doll off the shelf, however, here are some things to consider.

There are several guidelines for choosing the “right toy” — it should be safe and durable, open ended and challenging, multipurpose and timeless etc. Simple toys that can be used creatively in multiple ways help increase a child’s focus and attention span while stimulating neurological development: facts that correlate to social and academic success.

Most young children remain focused for an average of ten to fifteen minutes. By introducing different ways of utilizing one toy parents can significantly increase their child’s attention span. Take a plain wooden shape sorter, for example. It can be used for block play, building towers, teaching shapes and colors, matching, counting and sorting, thus incorporating language and Math activities. As a child grows older, these shapes can be used in conjunction with other toys. For example, the blocks can be used as pretend food while cooking, or boulders for construction during dramatic play.

Helping children recognize how one toy can be used in alternate ways encourages creativity and imagination. The enhanced imagination promotes lateral thinking which leads to better problem solving skills during play dates as well as with homework assignments. In addition, engaging children with one object or activity for longer periods allows them to absorb what they are learning, ask questions and stimulate their curiosity, which are important social and academic skills. The increased focus translates in to their ability to complete homework in one sitting, allow you to enjoy a meal without their wanting to get up from their seat, and travel long distances peacefully.

Indeed, having fewer, carefully chosen toys is far more valuable than having an abundance of toy chests. If children play with one or two toys at a time, they spend longer intervals examining those toys and coming up with new ways to play with them. Similarly, having fewer presents to open encourages them to appreciate them far more—they may be dismissive of the other gifts in favor of the superior one without recognizing the time, effort and money that was put in. Also, children take better care of things if they know they can’t be replaced, learning how to become responsible. And finally, toys create clutter, especially in apartment living. A cluttered room leads to a chaotic mind and a more disorganized child. Fewer toys mean less cleaning up and less reluctance from kids to participate in the process. Also remember that giving several presents all at once, sets up a similar expectation for the following year.

Finally, if children are inundated with gifts from well-meaning relatives and friends, encouraging them to choose something to give away to those less privileged, instills the values of gratefulness, empathy and sacrifice early on.

Here are some suggestions for this holiday season:  

Recommended gifts: wooden toys, blocks, manipulatives e.g. open ended lego or magna tiles, puppets, dress ups, pretend play sets, puzzles and brain teasers, arts and crafts supplies, play dough or model magic, board games, musical instruments, books.

Not recommended: battery operated toys with lights and sounds (don’t teach much more than cause and effect, if that), superhero or princess figures (project a certain kind of unrealistic image), remote control cars (limited imagination), and anything with guns and swords (accessories that promote aggressive behavior).

So how about making a more careful selection this year and letting the grandparents, aunts and uncles indulge the little one with more Frozen themed toys if they must!