When I was a child, I owned just one teddy bear. So did my brothers and my friends. These days it’s very rare for a child to only have one.
Most children these days have dozens of teddy bears or toy animals. Some have hundreds. They’re everywhere — decorating the bed, on top of cupboards, stacked in containers, or strewn all over the floor. In some homes, they’re confined to bedrooms. In others, they’ve taken over the whole house.
Do children really need so many toy animals?
Here’s the interesting thing. When I ask parents which is their child’s favourite, there’s always one that’s treasured the most. Sometimes there may be one or two others they are fond of as well. And that’s it. The rest don’t mean that much to them.
So do they really need all the others? I venture to suggest, no.
In fact I venture to suggest that giving so many toys to children predisposes them at an early age to turning to material things to comfort themselves, which may cause them to collect clutter in later life.
Many of the toys are gifts from doting parents or grandparents, meant as an expression of love. But are they really more a love substitute?
How children thrive without toys
When I lived in Bali, very few of the children I knew there had any toys at all. I remember seeing my friend’s children playing for days with an empty cardboard box they found — the height of juvenile bliss in a country where boxes have a resale value so are not usually left lying around to be played with.
Instead of toys, their parents and relatives gave them time. They gave them love. They held them often. They were there for them. The children felt wanted and secure. They had no need for fluffy substitutes.
Why western children have so many toys
Is the cuddly toy epidemic that can be seen in any child’s bedroom these days really a symptom of how hard we work and how little quality time we have?
Yes, I know there are other factors involved. There’s the massive influence of movie marketing (see the Happy Feet penguin in the photo above), and the resulting peer pressure (‘I gotta have one because my friend has got one’). But surely it’s time to say “enough”.
What to do
Of course I’m not suggesting that any parent takes their child’s stuffed toys and throws them in the trash. Whenever possible, the decision about what stays and what goes needs to be made by the child. But you can certainly ask grandparents, relatives and friends to ease off from giving this type of gift, and start to help your child to cull their collection.
Encourage them to give surplus toys to charities for needy kids, or if they are already too materially-minded for that, at least help them to sell them in some way (eBay, Craigslist, garage or car boot sales) to create money to buy new toys they would like. And if you’re new to parenthood and not yet caught in the cuddly toy epidemic, don’t even let it begin!
Copyright © Karen Kingston 2012, updated 2020
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