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As they get older it seems to become more difficult to decide what to give. They have plenty of toys and clothing - probably a lot more than they need.
Why do we seem to over-buy? Well, we give youngsters toys, in particular, for a variety of reasons - to watch their faces light up, show our love, help them to learn or develop motor skills, enhance their play, as a reward or because it’s a festive occasion.
However, less positively, sometimes we might give a particular toy because it appeals to us, because we didn’t have much as a child, as compensation for the time we don’t spend with them, or to keep them occupied so that we don’t have to spend so much time with them, or because we want them to like us.
A gift to a child should always be made without strings attached, in other words to show our love, appreciation or because it’s a gift-giving occasion. If there are rules around the gift that threaten its possession, then maybe it’s either not appropriate yet or should be a purchase separate from a gift-giving occasion.
Equally, there shouldn’t be expectations that the toy has to be liked or that there be expressions of great gratitude. If we’re after these, then our gift-giving verges on manipulative.
A toy or other gift as a reward or as motivation is fine. There’s nothing like getting something you’ve worked hard for.
However, too many toys can lead to the development of an "easy come, easy go" attitude, where nothing has any particular value. If the number of toys has reached saturation point and it seems that none are capturing their imagination and attention, then it’s time to weed some out by putting them away for a while or handing them on.
A toy that is "educational" needs to be carefully chosen so that it challenges without producing frustration. Toys that either frustrate or don’t provide enough challenge are quickly abandoned.
A good toy is one a child plays with in a variety of ways (a large cardboard box can even suffice), that exercises the imagination or extends physical or mental abilities, that provides for fun with others or, like the good old teddy bear, gives comfort.
Which brings me back to our current dilemma that we’re hoping, this time around, their parents can help us with. At least most are readers, so I suspect we might be moving on from toys to book vouchers.