Thursday, June 5, 2014

Children's Toys : What they need, want and could be rewarded

 Would you like to know something awful? I sometimes feel frustrated over why I chose Frozen as the first film Addison would ever see in theaters. Watching kids brag about and compare what they have is super unpleasant to me when we should be happy for all we have and be happy for others for what they have. I mean, my daughter and her friends are 3-5 years old-it happens but it can also be addressed. It all happened so fast - new princess movie, the majority of her friends knew all about it and had all the toys already, my love for film and Addison being of age to go to a theater finally. It all seemed perfect. We went. We saw. We fell into the Frozen Obsession Oblivion. It's been a rocky road...

You see, I loved the classic princesses as a child and I absolutely want Addison to enjoy that dress up, princess, Disney experience. Things are different today, though. If you like ANYTHING mainstream, you can basically buy your daily needs and wants in the theme of your latest obsession. You like Dora? Go pick up some Dora tissues, bubblebath, popsicles. Your kids like Spiderman? Go buy some Spiderman bedsheets and mac 'n' cheese shapes. Princesses? I mean - what isn't in princess form these days? The problem for me as a parent is that I can walk around a store with not a single deep thought in my head, see something princess, and automatically think I should buy it because Addison likes princesses with absolutely NO regard for the fact that she likes a million other things too like Daisy from the Great Gatsby (don't ask, buuuut she does) and Pippi Longstocking and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Harry Potter but we don't see products in those themes as often so we simply don't possess them. On top of that I'm openly one of those parents who tries to steer clear of too many themed clothes and toys because I do what Addison to remember that it's special if she enjoys something and just because she does like Frozen she doesn't need everything that's ever been made that IS Frozen. I had a Kocoum (from Pocahontas, I was so not Team John Smith) doll that I saved $18.99 to buy from Ames or Jamesway when I was a little kid. Other than that, I played Nintendo sometimes and was mostly outdoors with the neighbors. I had some Barbies and Muppet Babies stuffed animals but I really don't recall being super obsessed with any one thing nor getting every associated product. And if you are a parent who has the opportunity to give to your child in the way you want that is your absolute right - I am certainly not trying to knock anyone but instead share my own personal take on handling what toys we have here in my home. I'm already known for "not liking princesses" as Addison tells everyone and I have to correct her that I very much so love princesses but liking something doesn't mean I need to buy everything related to what I like. She knows that because we like something we don't always need to have it - enjoy the existence of things we love for a change, I mean, you can love basketball without being an NBA star just like kids can play make believe and pretend with what they have and be happy for what they HAVE instead of being handed everything they WANT.

So here we are having seen the Frozen movie. I loved it. She absolutely loved it. I think within weeks the DVD went on sale and every.single.person on the planet seemed to have it. Addison hadn't really absorbed her love of this movie yet when suddenly everyone seemed to have everything Frozen and all she had was this measly visit to a theater with her mom that didn't seem to compare to having the dolls, costumes, blah blah blah. We talked about our theater visit a lot and the whole experience, not just the movie, the popcorn, the candy, the soda because I wanted her to remember that was a part of why Frozen was so special to US no matter what it means to anyone else. Fast forward to present time - she has the movie which she enjoys watching mostly on her own time with me (A lot of the kids are plain over it!) and she has a Frozen book which she keeps in her room and something special to her. Micah found a $7 Anna baby doll and bought that for her and I recently found a $17 Anna/Elsa doll set on eBay that she also keeps special in her room. That's it and the best part is she takes good care of those things and remembers this exclusive mother/daughter date for her first movie in a theater, Frozen. They aren't just another doll/book in the playroom and I'm proud of her for understanding that she can make the things she loves important and special from memory and a few relative toys. The best portion of time during the Frozen craze was when I began reading Little Women to the girls. I mean, it's the same story-sisters struggling with one another as they grow except they weren't Disney princesses this time. I shared the animated and live action films with them, as well, and I heard a whole lot more "Let's go sweep the attic!" and "Father is coming home from the war!" which was music to my ears, more so than "Let it Go," for a time being. It was the reminder I needed that these are smart kids who love literature and film and are open to something different whenever it's made available to them.

As I mentioned, we do try to stay away from mainstream toys in the house because oftentimes the kids shift gears and get into other things anyway. I try to keep our house filled with timeless "toys". Addison's great grandma gave her this small box of farm animals and I can't tell you how much fun the kids have playing with a toy they don't see very often. I recently found the Pick Up Sticks game and Jacks at an antique shop that I love, the Not Dot Shop. I used to play those games with my own grandma and, again, the kids were drawn to these new and different games. Then there are simple household items such as string, buttons, cloth samples. Have you ever just plopped things like this in front of your kids?? They will love them!! It is like finding old treasure and you can come up with endless games and crafts with household items. Step outside the box for everyone's sake. Spoil your children when you want, give them the tools they need to grow and reward your children with limited but special toys they can keep somewhere only they can access on their own time. I see far too many children break others' toys without a care or too many parents who don't really care when there kids' toys are broken. That's fine but the toys at our house are, in fact, limited so that we spend more time outdoors and doing crafts and I think that kids should still be held accountable with how they handle things (even if you don't mind if a toy is broken, I believe it should still be expressed to a child that they should be more careful) so they are better prepared when playing with toys in a public place like the library or at someone else's home. Accidents happen and I certainly would never be angry if something here were to break but I absolutely give a reminder that we have to be more careful or that similar toys perhaps should be set aside until they are more responsible with them.

As for Addison's "special" toys - she has a few in her room that she is allowed to play with on her own. She knows not to brag about them as to make anyone feel left out for not being able to play with them and she is great about waiting until guests are gone to pull them out. As an example, her Anna and Elsa doll as well as 2 mini American Girl dolls, Felicity and Kaya. These are wonderful tools to teach your child the importance of caring for something that is meaningful and I do believe that through this experience, she IS more careful with others toys as well as the toys/books in the playroom. 

Think back to what you loved to do as a child, read Little House in the Big Woods as a reminder of how much children can create with basic toys and where there imaginations can go with less toys to work with. The next time you see a toy you just KNOW your child will love, take a moment to think of another way to share your child's passion. If it's a mini Rapunzel doll, consider going home and actually playing Rapunzel with your child, letter him or her brush your hair and put clips and hair ties in. If you can't get enough of the discounted Ninja Turtles play tent you know your child will go wild over - take your peanut out for some pizza and play ninjas in the backyard afterwards? Find a place where you can visit a real live turtle? These are memories that you will build as opposed to a collection of toys you'll probably be sending off to Goodwill in a year - think about it ;)

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