by Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD
Toys can be great ways to help kids learn, socialize, mimic the adult world, have fun, learn how to share, practice vocabulary and motor skills, and learn pre-academic skills.
Here are 8 ways to sustain interest in toys and use them to overcome everyday challenges.
As kids go through squirrely stages, keep a “diaper toy” stash at the changing table. Diaper toys are extremely interesting hand-held toys that are only given to babies or toddlers during poopy diaper changes. They work wonders and cut down on struggles. Some favorite diaper toys might include: a wallet with business cards and a coin tucked inside, a small wooden box with a tiny wooden book inside, a play phone with tons of electronic buttons and noises, a screw-off pill box, or a tiny car with doors that open and close.
One Extra Thing or Person to Renew Interest in Toys
Adding one extra thing often helps kids play with their toys in a whole new way. For example, if you set up a small desk and a chair in your play room, kids may get their toy keyboard, toy phone, and toy computer and play “office.” If you set up a table with a blanket on top, they might play “restaurant” by making menus, using toy food and teapots, and setting up their toy cash register. If you make a fort with a blanket draped over a few chairs, they might play “UPS delivery” and use their toy car to deliver packages to the fort-house. If you add a bunch of coins or plastic dinosaurs and spoons to a sandbox, kids might play there for eons instead of ignoring it. When you have people over, you probably notice that your children play with everyday toys with renewed enthusiasm and in different ways too.
If you have loads of board games, write each game name (or glue a photo of each game) onto index cards, then put them in a large bucket. Choose a few nights of the week to be “game nights.” Let your child choose one of the index cards from the bucket and play that game on that night. This keeps you rotating games all the time, and adds novelty and excitement.
Waiting Around Play Packs
If you have children who have to wait in a hallway, a room, or on a bench while siblings attend classes (such as swimming or dance), make “play packs” for them. If you rotate 5 to 7 different play packs, then it’s more likely your child will enjoy them and stay interested. You might add: a super ball, a squishy ball, a baseball and mitt, crayons and paper, a few books, magic-ink coloring books, a can of play dough, a felt “quiet book,” containers to open and close and put coins in and out of, a small Lego set, matchbox cars, or any combination of things. Play packs can prevent waiting time from being wasted time.
Stroller toys might include bubbles, sidewalk chalk, a ball, shovels, and buckets. Sometimes the park has a sand pit, and it’s great to have extra shovels to share with other kids. Blowing bubbles is a calming routine/ritual to transition the kids out of the park to go home. You may also pack a small towel in your stroller to dry the slides or the swings if they are wet, muddy, or full of dew. Drying the playground is an easy “good deed for the day” for kids to complete.
Rotating toys – having a few out at one time – helps prevent overstimulation and boredom. Ask children to help you decide what to put in the closet for a while or what to take out that day. Put toys away for a few weeks or months. When you bring them back out, there may be renewed interest.
Sometimes kids tire of playing with kiddie stuff. They want adult things. Providing them with adult clothes and shoes to play dress up, adult purses or wallets to fill, your golf bag to check out, or adult jewelry or hair clips to mess with holds their attention. You might offer them other non-toy toys too, such as a martini shaker to put together, a medicine-squirter to shoot water out of, or pots and pans to stir and put lids on.
Choosing toys for vacation can be tricky, especially if you’re jam-packing a small suitcase or a small car. Just as parents might love a rest from their iPhone or T.V. on vacation, kids might benefit from a break from their toys. However, bringing a few comforting items from home, such as a teddy bear or some favorite books, can be soothing for kids who are in a whole new environment. If you experience inclement weather, a few choice toys such as play dough, necklace-making sets, or building sets, can be fun ways to share family time.
At times, kids don’t feel like playing with any objects at all. They would rather do an art project, snuggle in a fort, do chores, read books, run outside, play hide and seek, sit in the sun, or just hang out with family members. When they do feel like playing, being strategic can help.
Copyright 2015, Erin Leyba, All rights reserved
Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD is a psychotherapist for individuals and couples in Chicago’s western suburbs. She specializes in counseling for parents of babies and young children. www.erinleyba.com or firstname.lastname@example.org On Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/www.parenthappy.org