Organizing Your Baby's Toys
When too many toys lead to playroom panic
There is a post-holiday syndrome that frequently hits households with babies and toddlers—toy overload. You know, when your child’s room or playroom has too many toys and looks like the aftermath of a toy store explosion? So what do you do about it?
For starters, more toys means more clutter. On top of that, too much of any kind of stimulation can create sensory overload, says Dr. Vicki Panaccione, better known as the “Parenting Professor” and founder of the Better Parenting Institute. “Toddlers can only take in so much information at one time,” she says.
Besides making her house look junky, Stephanie Nakhleh of Santa Fe, New Mexico, noticed that too many toys make her kids whiny and bored. In her 25 years as a child-clinical psychologist, Dr. Panaccione has seen this often. “Too much stimulation, too many choices can actually result in acting out or withdrawal behaviors,” Dr. Panaccione says. “Their little nervous systems have a hard time processing and dealing with so much information coming at them at one time.”
Dr. Panaccione also believes too many toys takes away the “specialness” from individual items. Toddlers will naturally go from toy to toy, exploring their options. “Too many toys can spoil the enthusiasm and decrease the chance that toddlers will fully explore [any one] toy, using creativity, imagination, and observational skills,” she says.
Dr. Carol E. Kessler, coordinator of the Early Childhood Education Programs at Cabrini College in Radnor, Pennsylvania, agrees that an overload of stuff isn’t a good thing for some youngsters. “They will throw the toys, break them intentionally, or use them aggressively (disrespecting property and other persons),” Dr. Kessler says. “[They can] be overwhelmed with clean up and certainly not be appreciative of their parent’s generosity.”
Baby Toy Guidelines
So how many toys should a young child have at once? And which toys best stimulate creativity and exploration? Dr. Kessler recommends an assortment, including books, blocks, and other manipulatives, paint, play dough, and balls. “I am not a fan of electronic toys,” she says. “Encourage children to use their imagination, and toys which facilitate this magic are the best choice.” She adds that fantasy play, such as puppetry, is child-healthy, and she loves puzzles.
“Ideally, I go for quality toys,” Nakhleh says. “The kind that are open-ended and look nice. Wooden building blocks, mosaic tiles [building blocks], wooden train sets, etc.” Add-ons for these toys extend the enjoyment on other occasions, and she finds these toys grow with kids, encourage creativity, and if a few pieces are lost, that’s OK. That’s a bonus in her book. “Never buy toys that have tons of little parts where you actually need each little part to make the toy work,” she says.
Dr. Panaccione also reminds parents to limit the amount of any one kind of toy available. “They do not need five baby dolls, a 72-box of crayons, 1,000 building blocks, etc.,” she says.
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