Green Parenting vs. the Real World: Toy Overkill

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toy overkill, green parenting, green kids

Photo courtesy of Jana Krenova

Too many toys are another big problem these days. Yes, toys can be useful and beneficial for child’s development, but as parents we should be careful and selective about them. The reality is, that toys are coming to your child from all directions, and chances are the those that give the toys as gifts mean well for your child (and his parents). Yet all the “toy giving” can get out of hand, quickly. Parents should be educated about the basic concerns about toys and the same should go for  grandparents, daycare/school teachers and our friends-basically everybody who is directly or indirectly affecting your child’s exposure to toys. Why? Because toys can also be harmful to children, both physically and mentally.

To start, we need to be aware of the following main issues that can affect your child’s health as well as proper development:

1. quality of materials used and its origin: Since children and especially the very young ones, often put their toys in their mouth or play and eat without washing their hands, the toy material matter greatly. Many toys coming from overseas tested positive for toxic compounds, which could really be dangerous to child’s health. So always check labels for used materials and perhaps the country of origin and verify the manufacturer’s reputation and history for recalls. Electric toys should be labeled UL, meaning they meet safety standards set by Underwriters Laboratories.

2. noise factor as danger for child’s hearing: According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), some toys are so loud that they can cause hearing damage in children. The Sight and Hearing Association publishes a list of the noisiest toys every year in November to provide a guide before holiday purchases. Parents should check even existing toys at home and decide if their noise levels are safe.

3. age-appropriate: A toy that is beneficial to a 3-year old can pose a risk to a 3-month old. Simple as that. Most toys have the appropriate age listed right on the box, so before you buy or receive a toy for your child, always verify the recommended age.

4. learning ability: Although toys are mainly intended for playing and entertainment, we can’t deny their importance in child’s learning. Therefore choose wisely, when it comes to your child’s toys. If you observe that it doesn’t stimulate his imagination or curiosity, maybe it’s not the right toy for him. Toys can be extremely helpful in child’s development, and many electronic toys (just like TV) keep children passive without any useful stimulation, which greatly affects their brain development but also their future interests in exploration and creativity. Think about a toy as a useful tool.

When it comes to all safety concerns (as listed above), they are monitored by the The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). All toys intended for use by children under 14 years of age must comply with the federal toy safety standard enacted by Congress in section 106 of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA).

Almost every time I visit a house with young children, the abundance of toys spread throughout the house shocks me. Not that our house doesn’t have any, which would be impossible having a 4-yearl old, but we try to moderate it. Actually, thinking back, as parents we have only purchased a handful of toys for our child ourselves. We inherited some from his older cousins, and most of the other toys were gifts from friends and family.

As of last year, I started organizing his birthday party in a potluck style with “No gifts allowed”. Of course there were few individuals such as grandma and some family members that didn’t quite get it and brought gift toys as before, but most friends really got the message and brought none. Was he disappointed? Not at all. He didn’t expect any and he got few. Mainly, he got to have fun with all of his friends and also decorate his own cake, so he was super happy at the end. See, sometimes quality is better than quantity.

green parenting, toys overkill

Kids decorating birthday cake with fruits and nuts

So what’s the solution when it comes to events such as birthday parties and Christmas, when children as well as their parents do expect some gifts? There might not be a perfect solution, but here are a few tips:

1. Ask the parents ahead, if the child needs:

  • any clothes and what kind they prefer (color, style, material);
  • something for school, such as books, lunch bag, school bag, supplies;
  • educational toys, such as interactive books, puzzles, bi-lingual toys, etc.
  • any other necessities that would help the parents, such as diapers, bed sheets, training potty, feeding bottles or cups, etc.

2. If you know the child’s interests or habits, go with your gut instinct. This might be a bit of a risk, but if you keep it practical, it shouldn’t go totally wrong. For instance:

  • if the child enjoys water activities, you can get fun and inexpensive inflatable water toys or tools that will help him learn to swim or at least enjoy the water (whether indoors in the bathtub or outdoors in the pool or beach);
  • if the child like books, find a book that is different and stirs his imagination or teaches him new things in a fun way. Books are always a good choice;
  • fun children’s’ plates, cups and silverware with healthy motives that can inspire kids to eat fruit, veggies and other nutritious foods;
  • make a fun gift package with healthy snacks (refraining from giving candy and other sweets) and few useful items such as crayons, hair clips or shoe laces.
  • handmade and wooden toys are a good and eco-friendly choice

Kids don’t needs an abundance of toys. What they need is quality time spent with their parents and other peers that will help them develop their social, creative and learning skills and help their proper brain development.

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Author:Katka Konecna-Rivera

Katka Konecna-Rivera, co-founder and host of Living Green with Baby, is an architect focused on sustainable design as well as a filmmaker, writer and personal wellness coach.

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