Why Toys, Not Touchscreens, Are Better Gifts for Kids

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How traditional toys like building blocks, dolls, and action figures help children develop in ways video games can’t.
It’s that time of year again, when parents are scrambling to get their kids the hottest gifts.
This year, Fingerlings, Hatchimals, and Let’s Dance Elmo top that list.
But it turns out, the hottest gifts of the year may not actually be the best gifts for your child’s development.
On December 3, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) sent out a media release ahead of a clinical report that will be published in the January 2019 issue of Pediatrics.
The release titled “Ignore the Flashing Screens: The Best Toys Go Back to the Basics” implores parents to think about the type of toys they give their children this holiday season, and all year long.
According to the research, simple, traditional toys are better than the flashy electronic toys many kids have on their wish lists.
Pediatrician Dr. Aleeya Healey, one of the lead authors on the report, told Healthline that the motivation to release this report came down to helping parents attain physical, mental, and social well-being for all infants, children and youth.
“Toys and play are the tools in this endeavor, so I think it was important for the AAP to help guide parents and caregivers in choosing toys in early childhood that have research evidence of supporting child development,” she said.Research surrounding toys and development over the last 30 years has been extensive.
A study published in Infant Behavior Development in February of 2018 found that providing kids with fewer toys actually produced higher quality play, concluding that fewer toys might result in more focus and creativity.
A February 2016 study in JAMA Pediatrics found that traditional toys like puzzles, shape sorters, and blocks helped promote language development for children better than electronic toys.
Study author Anna Sosa, PhD, even expanded on this research on the Academic Minute podcast.
According to the research, less is more when it comes to toys.
Healey warns parents not to be enticed by the latest and greatest technology when it comes to toys.
“Traditional toys tend to have less of an electronic/digital or media-based background that can detract from promoting the use of a child’s own creativity and imagination,” she said.
Additionally, she explained that the lack of so-called ‘bells and whistles’ associated with more traditional toys seems to better encourage interaction with a caregiver, whether it be as a playmate or instructor.
So what kind of traditional toys are we talking about? Healey says the best choices are simple toys such as:
Parents should be looking for “toys that will foster interaction with the caregiver,” she explained. “Simple board games and card games are a great tool to work on development of turn-taking and self-regulation in a fun way.”
Nevertheless, she also acknowledged that all children are different and it’s important to keep the individual child’s likes and interests in mind.
Licensed psychologist Elaine Ducharme, PhD, is glad the AAP chose now to release this information.
“We should probably be talking about this every year around the holidays,” she told Healthline. “The holiday season has become so crazy, all about toys and shopping and parents trying to outdo each other. So this is probably a good reminder this time of year.”
When talking about traditional toys versus electronic ones, she mentioned how even traditional toys have started to strip the creativity out of playtime, using Legos as an example. “It used to be that kids would get a box of Legos and would spend hours building whatever their minds could come up with. Now, they get a box with the exact number of pieces and specific instructions to build something someone else thought of.”