By Dr. Oscar W. "Skip" Brown
Being all grown up, we adults are not very good toy evaluators.
In fact, many of us will stand for hours looking at the most high-tech representation of adult objects we can find. We think children will be attracted to these for hours on end.
We are wrong. Wonderfully simple toys have been around for years for a reason.
They are, in many cases, safer and more captivating than most of the ever-changing annual makeovers of new toys that appear.
Most designers, wholesalers and retailers are quite innovative in developing new toys that are meant to attract children and capture their fancy — as well as parental dollars.
But there is a secret that most of us forget or seem to become unaware of as we buy these toys.
The secret is this: Children enjoy and stay attracted to simple toys longer than more complex toys.
We as parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles would all be well served to remember that a simple toy allows a child to grow using their imagination. Toys are for play. In turn, play is very important to the developing child in order to acquire the skill of imagining.
It has been clearly shown that children who are deprived of adequate opportunities to play and use their imagination find it very difficult to think creatively. In other words, finding toys — and giving toys — that allow children to use their imaginations is a very positive way to help them develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills as they grow.
A toy is much more than just the object that we identify and then wrestle with the masses to find this time of year for our children to enjoy. It can be an important gateway to enhance development and skills that will be important as the child matures.
More complex toys often entertain children but do not encourage the child to use imagination. Imagination is a wonderfully joyful gift to give a child.
However, the most important aspect that we need to consider in toy purchases is, of course, safety.
There are too many children each year who are afflicted with injuries because they were given toys that were age-inappropriate.
As parents, our responsibility is to evaluate and do a much better job of preventing these injuries by being informed and purchasing age-appropriate toys.
I would advise against the following:
• A toy with sharp edges.
• A toy that’s able to be swallowed by infants and toddlers.
• A toy that has the potential to cause a fall.
• A toy with paint that is not child safe (no lead or other heavy metals).
• Clothing that is not fire resistant.
If we take our toy-giving responsibility seriously, children will enjoy their toys for years and use them to become wonderfully imaginative as well.
Dr. Oscar W. “Skip” Brown is a pediatrician at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and medical director of the University of Texas Medical Branch Pediatric Specialty Center at Bay Colony.