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Parent to Parent


Avoiding the holiday toy mountain

By Betsy Flagler
John Rosemond
Betsy Flagler, who lives in Davidson, writes the nationally syndicated Parent to Parent column.

Before you let another Thomas the Tank Engine, Furby, Elmo or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle come into your house this holiday season, meet Spencer.

Spencer’s toys have turned into a mountain and his stuffed animals are like a zoo. His mom negotiates with him about what to toss out. Not this one, the little lawyer-like boy pleads. Or that one. Definitely not that one, because “Grandma gave it to me!” Spencer is the main character in “Too Many Toys,” by David Shannon, author of the popular “No, David!” books for preschoolers. In the end, what Spencer wants to hang on to most is a box.

Sound familiar? Read the book with your child for inspiration, then start chipping away at your family’s own out-of-control mountain. Toss out toys with missing or broken pieces and send items in good condition to thrift stores or charities. Your child will have more fun playing with a couple of toys at a time, and clean-up time will be less of a battle.

Giving children too much – not just too many toys, but too many privileges and too much say in how the household runs – is hurtful in the long run. The three authors of the book “How Much is Enough?” have found in their research that parents who are overindulgent are actually harming, not helping, their kids. These parents tend to buy things to make themselves feel better, but don’t feel confident and satisfied with their parenting skills. And if you were overindulged as a child, you’re more likely to repeat the pattern with your own children.

David J. Bredehoft, Ph.D., is one of the book’s authors, and his latest research suggests that today’s younger parents are more apt to overindulge children compared to older parents. They need help resisting the pressure of buying too much and doing too much for their kids.

The authors run a website,, to help adults get a handle on the issue. A revision of “How Much is Enough?” is scheduled to come out next year.

No matter how much you whittle down your existing toy mountain, your child will want more this holiday season. Have him pare down his wish list to his top two or three choices. Before buying new toys, the American Occupational Therapy Association suggests asking these questions:

• Is the toy safe and age-appropriate? Age recommendations on toys are there for a reason. If the suggested age range is too young for the child, he or she may get bored quickly. If the range is too old, the child may get frustrated and give up, or be exposed to small parts that could pose a safety risk.

• Is the item durable and washable?

• Can the toy be played with in more than one way? Toys with unlimited possibilities can tap into children’s creativity. For example, blocks can be stacked, knocked down, lined up, crashed into and even used as play food in a pretend kitchen.

• Can the toy be used in more than one place or position? Toys that are easy to carry, and ones that can be used while sitting, standing or lying down, make play possible anywhere.

• Does the toy engage both hands? Construction toys, craft kits, puzzles, balls, riding toys and toss-and-catch sets develop motor skills.

• Does the toy encourage thinking or solving problems? Board games and science kits offer older kids the chance to think, while shape sorters and puzzles are great for babies and toddlers.

• Does the toy encourage interaction? Dress-up clothes, costumes, playhouses, kitchen sets and tools teach cooperation and creativity.

• Is the toy worth the cost? Consider the toy’s appeal and durability.

Email Betsy Flagler at

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