A pediatrician’s simple formula for successful toy-buying
Selecting gifts for children isn’t always the simplest task, as anyone who’s given an age-inappropriate present or kazoo-type gift—loved by the recipient, hated by the rest of the family—can attest. But according to Elizabeth B. Murray, DO, MBA, a board-certified pediatrician and pediatric emergency medicine physician in Rochester, New York, there’s a simple formula for successful toy-buying.
“Toys provide opportunities for growth, learning, development, and fun,” she explains, “so it’s important to keep those aspects front-of-mind as we buy gifts for the children in our lives.”
Below, Dr. Murray shares tips for choosing toys that are safe, age-appropriate, creative, and fun for younger and older children.
Toddlers and young children
When purchasing toys for young children, Dr. Murray says, safety and creative play should be top of mind. Toys that are easy to clean and are made up of large pieces are ideal—Legos, for instance, wouldn’t be a good choice for this age group due to their small, choking-hazard size.
Versatility is also important to consider.
“It’s good to look for a toy the child can play with independently, but that also allows a parent, caregiver, or big brother or sister to join in and play as well,” Dr. Murray explains.
Another word of advice: With this age group, less can be more.
“My toddler loves building all kinds of structures out of multicolored cups and knocking them down,” Dr. Murray notes. “Parents joke that kids are sometimes more excited to play with the box than the gift itself, and that really speaks to the importance of creative play.”
Older children and teens
With many young people attending school remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, parents may be reluctant to give gifts that involve more screen time. But Dr. Murray says this concern may not be totally warranted.
“It’s crucial for older kids and teens to stay close with their friends, so playing a game online with friends or checking out e-books or comic books from the library on an e-reader can be great options,” she says.
However, with gaming or any online activity, it’s important for older children and teens to keep a few key safety rules in mind.
“Kids have to be extremely mindful of not identifying themselves or sharing private information with strangers online—it’s very easy to feel like you know the person on the other side of the avatar, but you really don’t know them,” Dr. Murray cautions.
She also recommends resting your eyes by taking a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away; wrapping up all screen time at least an hour before bedtime; and being sure to get plenty of exercise outside.
Gift cards are another option that may be worth considering for older children and teens.
“I think it’s important for older kids to be given some autonomy with their gifts,” Dr. Murray explains. “Gift cards can be really great because the child can choose what they would like, but at the same time, it instills important lessons about spending money wisely.”
Gift buying in difficult times
Buying presents for children is a joyful task but one that can also feel fraught—this year, perhaps, more than most.
“I think right now, with the pandemic, it’s really tempting to want to spoil our children,” says Dr. Murray. “It’s easy to go overboard, but we don’t need to—getting more and more toys is not necessarily better for children.”
Her advice instead?
“Giving ourselves time to relax, disengage, and do something we truly enjoy, whether that’s a creative project or just relaxing, is so important, whether it’s the holidays or any other time of year,” says Dr. Murray.