Christmas can be a hard time for parents. There’s a lot of pressure on parents to avoid spoiling their kids, but at the same time no one wants to be the Grinch parent that doesn’t celebrate Christmas like ‘normal parents,’ and it’s an emotional blow to be judged as the mean mom or dad by others.
Your kids are going to be influenced by their classmates and friends, what they see on television and what they notice in stores. That means they will almost certainly be pestering you for a long and specific list of toys this holiday season. Your son will want that Air Hogs Thunder Trax remote control ATV and at least three new video games. Your daughter is going to ask you for the Discovery Kids Rock Tumbler kit, along with five other cool gadgets and a puppy. It will be difficult to say no to them.
But if you do cave in and get them everything they want, you’ll only teach them that the best Christmas is the one where they get the most things. And besides, behavioral scientists believe that too many toys can prevent young children from learning and growing as effectively as they would if left to their own imagination. This Christmas season, try limiting the number of toys you wrap up for your kids.
The downside of too many toys
Too many toys can leave your child distracted and unable to focus, according to a small scientific study conducted by the University of Toledo. That effect might be amplified in a world full of smart phones, television and other instant-gratification devices that are almost certainly linked to rising incidences of ADHD and ADD. Kids are already notoriously bad at focusing - you don’t need to make it worse by adding a plethora of toys to the mix. Limiting the number available makes your children play with each toy for longer and in more creative ways, expanding their capacity to understand the world.
Another problem that comes up is that most modern children’s toys are built for very singular-use purposes. They aren’t designed to enhance a child’s creativity but to complete a simple, easy task for a gratifying reward. And it can also be easy to start enforcing gendered expectations if you start buying a series of highly specialized gifts, as opposed to more open-ended toys that encourage creativity like construction blocks. Limiting the toys you do give and ensuring that they’re not restrictive in nature will make your child more creative and keep their options and interests open.
How many is too many?
There isn’t a precise number for how many toys you can get your child for Christmas - it can vary depending on your financial situation, how many toys they have and how many children you have. But many parents recommend a maximum of four gifts per child. Others take the four-gift rule further and specify four specific gifts a parent should get each child for Christmas: something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to eat. This compromise has the benefit of teaching your child how to value more than just toys as a gift from their parents and effectively limits the number of toys to one.
If you’re an absolute bleeding heart, you can get your child one or two more toys if you don’t have any older children’s toys hanging around, but try to avoid exceeding that significantly if you want to limit your Christmas gift giving.
What you can give them instead
The four-gift rule sets a good start for alternative suggestions to toys for Christmas gifts, but that list can be expanded. You can also buy your child an experience, such as a ticket to a local museum or zoo so they can learn and explore. You can announce that you’re enrolling them in an after-school sport they may be interested in, or throw a small get-together with friends over winter break as a Christmas gift that lets your kid have a good time.
Look for alternatives that provide stimulation and education, rather than another opportunity to sit in the play room for hours on end. Give them a booklet of things you’ll promise to do with them, like bake a new recipe together or go to the park.
Teach your children to value more than material goods this Christmas season. Limit the toys and turn Christmas gifts into an opportunity to learn, explore and form new memories together instead.