My philosophy when it comes to toys, media and stimulation in general, is less is more. Growing up is challenging enough without adding flashing lights, incessant beeping and a random torrent of television images. Regular household routines, lots of time exploring outside, make believe and as many picture books as possible make more sense to me. We treat screen time the way we dole out ice cream: occasionally and with great ceremony. (In our house that’s usually about half an hour once a week.)
Gifts are enormously tricky then. Because unless other people understand and value your philosophy, the noisy, plastic, beeping battery powered crap starts pouring in. It’s fun. It’s cheap. And of course, children love it. They love it like elderly people like slot machines and telephone scams. But that doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
My Toddler’s Precious Mind and Heart Are Not For Sale.
I don’t want to give one inch to the merciless marketing aimed at children. It’s sophisticated and employs a knowledge of child psychology much deeper and more nuanced than my own. Allowing my son to become familiar with omnipresent Disney characters is a slippery slope. I don’t need him instantly recognizing Elsa on every single package of yogurt, pretzels, juice and toothpaste available.
Why would I give strangers, who clearly want to sell us things we don’t need, such a powerful hook? They’ll have to work harder than that. (And I know they will. Nothing short of moving to Amish country could totally stop the consumer machinery we live in.) Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood is a great resource for this topic.
My Toddler Isn’t Making Choices, I am.
He’s still too young to make decisions about what we are buying, or even what he wants. It seems like a violation of his capacity for choice to put him into clothes emblazoned with brand names, phrases or characters. He’ll be ready to choose them himself someday, but for now, I prefer to keep it very neutral so he can relate to other kids as a kid first rather than as a “fan” of the Ninja Turtles.
We All Have to Live with These Objects. We Should All Enjoy Them.
Everyone in our household has to live with the toys, clothing and household necessities that belong to our son. I prefer for these things to be calming, quiet, and as neutral as possible, because that’s how I want our house to feel. Beautiful. Restful. Calm. Happy. Welcoming to everyone.
Toddler Gift Guidelines
Here are the rough parameters we’ve worked out so far. If an object passes these tests, it usually works out well in our home.
- No batteries – batteries do the work a child can and should be doing.
- No obnoxious sounds – this is a simple kindness for the rest of the household. My toddler is noisy enough without any help, thanks.
- Avoid plastic, Favor Natural Materials – plastic toys are easily broken, and often have lots of tiny, hard to corral pieces that contribute to clutter in the house. They feel insubstantial and disposable. I believe children also notice the difference between something made with quality and something cheaply made. Whenever possible, I like to give my child something that feels sturdy, solid, well made and pleasurable to look at, hold and interact with.
- No Branding, Characters or Phrases – toys that are thinly disguised promotional materials are everywhere. Why have a bike with princesses on it when the bike itself should be the cause of excitement and stimulation? It’s to reinforce a message about Princesses and to get us to buy more, and I want no part of that. One thing at a time.
Simple. Beautiful. Built to Last.
These guidelines can be hard to stick to- it’s tempting, even pleasurable, to give in when you see how children delight in the cheap and easy. But it comes with a hangover for everyone in the house.
How do you choose what toys enter your house? How do you decide what to get rid of?