When your kid is a baby, toys are easy. Give them a rattle — or even just your car keys! — and they’ll be happy. A funny thing happens once your baby turns into a toddler, though. Suddenly, toy buying becomes a lot more complicated. For parents, knowing how to navigate this turn of events can make the difference between staying sane and getting... played.
In a perfect world, you would surround your toddler with educational toys that promote emotional development, problem solving, and fine motor skills. Of course, these would be wooden toys crafted by a 100-year-old blind toymaker in Belgium. Everyone would look at your Instagram photos and think, "Wow, what amazing parents this child has!" The truth, though, is that every parent who smugly posts their toddler's hand-carved wooden car on social media absolutely has some mindless plastic toy just out of frame. Don’t get us wrong, it’s admirable to try to get your toddler to use these beautiful, educational toys. But these toys are expensive, and toddlers are fickle beasts. So, to be safe, start out with some educational and developmental toys that don’t break the bank and go from there.
The hottest toys on the market are rarely much better. That Breakdancing Elmo that actually does the worm may look cool, but it is expensive and will only hold your toddler's interest for so long before it’s gathering dust next to the work of that blind, Belgium toymaker. So you'll want to think twice before handing over your card for these big-ticket toys too.
Put simply, buying toys for a toddler is an exercise in frustration. Your toddler might go nuts for a kitchen set at your friend's house, but when you buy it for your own home you’ll find they couldn't care less about it. Of course, when you go back to your friend's house they will LOVE the kitchen set again! Do your best to not bang your head against the wall.
So what can you do? The key is not spending too much, because the more you spend, the less likely you are to get your money’s worth (if you can, leave the big-ticket items for the grandparents). Toddlers have no concept of how much things cost and will often be satisfied with a cheap toy from the dollar bin (especially if it is related to their interests). There is nothing more frustrating than buying your kid a nice toy only to have them show more interest in the box it came in.
You will also want to avoid buying any toys that make your life harder. Your toddler may love toys that make a lot of noise, but will you? For the sake of your sanity, you might want to pass on loud toys or toys that sing the same damn song over and over. Easily breakable toys? Fuh-get-it. Toys that require hours of assembly? Take off your bad idea jeans, because your toddler will be over that toy before you get to step three. Things that will hurt to step on? Nope, nope, nope. And, of course, things with small parts should be immediately disqualified. It's all fun and games until you find yourself rushing to the emergency room because your toddler swallowed a tiny doll shoe. In the end, the best way to ensure your toddler engages with a toy is by getting on your knees and playing with it alongside your toddler. The more you help your child feel confident in play, the better they will become at it. Oh, and above all else, go with the flow. Toddlers, when it comes to toys or anything else, are designed to frustrate you!
Mike Spohr is the author of "The Toddler Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Whiny Unfed," now available on Amazon.