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4 Must-Do's for (Regret-free) Holiday Toy-Buying

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  December 10, 2013 08:34 AM

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toys.jpgMy youngest informs me daily just how many days there are until Christmas. It's raising my blood pressure--because I am nowhere near done with shopping.

I'm not the only one in that boat. It's crunch time: we are all hitting the stores. But as you do, here are some things to keep in mind to be sure that what ends up under the tree is safe, not just a colossal waste of money--and maybe even good for your kid.

Safety First. As the yearly U.S. Public Interest Research Group Trouble in Toyland report points out, toys can be dangerous--even lethal. To make sure your child plays safe, here's what you can do:
  • Read labels. If it says it's not meant for kids under 3, don't buy it for your 12-month-old. 
  • Be aware of choking hazards--not just for the child who is getting the gift, but for others who have access to it. If you have an everything-in-the-mouth 15-month-old, it might not be the year to get that 1000 piece Lego set for your 10-year-old.
  • Stay away from magnets. Bad stuff happens when they get swallowed--and for all sorts of interesting and puzzling reasons, even big kids swallow them.
  • Projectiles aren't a good plan either. They don't always go where they should. 
  • Don't buy crib toys. There's simply no need, and it's asking for trouble.
  • Careful with anything with strings attached. They can end up around little necks.
  • Check the Consumer Products Safety Commission website for recalls and info about toys that have lead in them.
  • Save the mad scientist stuff for your teen. Chemistry experiments can go bad (my friend Katie and I exploded something once in her basement. We cleaned the glass and stinky stuff up really quickly. I'm still amazed we didn't get hurt.)
  • Be aware of noise danger. Apparently some toys, like the Chat and Count Smart Phone, are so loud they might actually be bad for your kids' ears. And here we were thinking that ear damage from noise was just an iPod and rock concert thing. Sigh. 
Avoid frustration. 
  • Again, read labels. It's not just about safety, but what's age-appropriate. If your kid can't do it, or can barely do it, it's not much fun. Yeah, maybe your kid is extraordinary, but if the Lego set is meant for an older kid, there could be a really good reason.
  • Speaking of Lego sets...back to that 1000 piece set...don't do it unless you've got a patient kid who will keep track of every darn piece until it's done. Keep your child's temperament and personality in mind as you choose a toy. Just because your friend's kid liked it doesn't mean yours will.
  • Read the fine print (eg "some assembly required".) Read reviews (I love that we can do that now--there are many toys I wouldn't have bought my older kids if I'd been able to read reviews). Amazingly, not everything is as easy and fun as the package and commercial might make it seem. 
Look for toys that foster interaction. This is especially true for young children, who really need that back-and-forth with you and other caregivers, but in general it's great to have toys that encourage play with others. Buy a board game everyone can play. Buy books to read to your children. Buy a toy your child can play with her friends. Not only can it be more fun, but it's just plain old good for your kid to interact with others sometimes. And it's plain old good for your family to interact with each other sometimes too. 

Look for toys that make your kid think. That would include toys that aim to teach, like educational software, but I'm actually talking more about ones that make them use their imagination (indeed, that's thinking too!). Like...dollhouses. Or building sets you can build anything with. Or paint and paper. Think about giving your child the starting point of play, instead of the end point.

Two more tips for holiday sanity (and perspective):
  • Use the holidays as an opportunity to clear out some toys that aren't being used anymore. Any chance to de-clutter is good...and kids may be less upset if they know new stuff is coming.
  • While buying for your child, pick up something for a child in need--or even better, donate to a worthy cause, especially one that helps children. Involve your child in choosing the cause. It helps reorient to what the holidays are theoretically supposed to be about.
Happy shopping...may what you want be in stock (and on sale)--and may the lines be short!

Is there something you'd like me to write about? Leave me a message on 
my Facebook page--and "like" the page for links to all my MD Mama blogs as well as my blogs on Thriving and Huffington Post. 

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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