Adventures in Toyland

Prompted by a story I heard on NPR recently, I thought it was a good time to talk about toys, boys, and holidays.

The holiday season brings with it the question of what kind of toys do you get for your boy? If that seems like an odd question, look at your son’s toys and think about what those toys say about him. The toy manufacturers seem to believe that children want gender appropriate toys – just go into the toy section of any store you will see this to be true. There is the “pink” aisle for girls and the “black and blue” aisle for boys – with a bit of camouflage thrown in for good measure. Well, I hear you say, hasn’t it always been that way? Not really.

image with toy blocksIn the past several decades, toys have begun to be more and more gendered – designed, decorated, and marketed to either boys or girls. In the past, this was not necessarily true and many toys were sold for all children. Think about wooden toys such as blocks, rocking horses, or pull-toys; toys for outside such as balls, sand boxes, or swings; ride-on toys such as tricycles, scooters, or bikes. All of these are for all children. True, dolls are primarily toys for girls, but boys can have dolls or perhaps a stuffed bear to hug. Boys seem to be more interested in small toys with wheels such as cars, but some girls like these as well.

What toy has your son asked for recently? Is that a reflection of his interests or the marketing ability of toy manufacturers? If your son gets only “masculine” toys, what is he going to think about himself if he finds the appropriate toys don’t interest him?

So what should your son get? First of all, fewer toys than he asks for. Children ask for a lot, but if they don’t get everything, that teaches them to realize that disappointment is temporary. It also teaches them to be satisfied with what they have. If they get everything they ask for, they will simply whine for something else. Before the holidays, every child should go through his toys and figure out what is broken and needs to be thrown out and what he has outgrown and should be given away. Yes, I know that some special toys need to be kept, but there are toys he never played with much and can easily be given to a child who is younger. One way around this is to form a neighborhood toy co-op whereby children can pass their toys on to younger neighbors. If you have toys that have never been played with, give them to children who have little. This gives your son the basis for developing empathy.

Once his toys have been sorted, you can discuss what he is now old enough to have. One large toy and several smaller ones is all any child should receive. And until your child is old enough to start caring about what he is wearing, clothes don’t make a great gift. I realize that in order for children to have something to open, clothing can be wrapped as a gift, but don’t expect him to be excited about it. Do make sure that some of what he receives is gender-free and suitable for all children of his age.

The most important part about receiving gifts is to learn to give gifts. Your son should be an active part of the selection of gifts for other family members and should contribute to the cost where he can. His gift should be something that he finds meaningful and making a gift is the best way for that. Our son took part in making cookies and breads to give to the family and today frequently makes gifts of food to others.

I hope you and your family have a happy holiday season.