The Best Advice on Children's Products

Parent to Parent: Avoid Tantrums in Toy Aisle

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By Betsy Flagler
Buffalo News
November 16, 2009

As meltdowns occur in toy aisles across the nation, do your little ones a big favor. Understand that sensory overloads on empty tummies bring on screaming fits.

Make this the year for teamwork. Go shopping alone if possible to keep little minds from getting too stimulated by rows and rows of toys. And grandparents and divorced couples, touch base with each other to coordinate purchases. If Santa springs for a computer learning game, relatives can go in on a cartridge.

Some toys come with an automatic off-button to the imagination: Kids open them, check them out and toss them aside. Instead, child-development researchers suggest, go for open-ended toys, such as Lego, Mega Bloks and TRIO system of bricks, sticks and panels that click together, or K’nex for older kids.

Think about multiple uses: Toys for preschoolers that are puzzles and could be used for counting or in a play kitchen include “Crazy for Cupcakes” and “Oreo Matching Middles.”

A familiar character, such as Mr. or Mrs. Potato Head, helps a child build hand-eye coordination, which takes lots of practice. The skill is necessary for success in tasks such as writing with a pencil or hitting a ball with a bat.

Stevanne Auerbach, Ph. D., known as “Dr. Toy,” has spent more than 30 years developing her expertise on toys, educational products and why children need open-ended play.

The author of “Smart Play Smart Toys:How to Raise a Child With a High PQ” (Institute for Childhood Resources, 2006, $14.95), Auerbach says children need a mix of active, educational and creative toys to develop a variety of skills. The more a child plays, the higher his “PQ”—or play quotient— will be.

Auerbach suggests asking these questions to be sure the product you’re considering is the right fit for your child:

Will the product hold your child’s interest?
Does the product match the child’s age, skills and abilities?
Does your child match the age grading on the package? If the age range doesn’t match your child’s, he will likely be frustrated if he uses it.
Is the product well-designed and appealing?
Will the product be fun to play with? Children are attracted to a product based on how it plays.
Are there any potential hazards? Small parts can be choking hazards for any child under age 3.
Is there a guarantee? Save your receipts.
Will the product last a long time? Consider a product’s durability and versatility.

Auerbach includes information about 100 new toys and products by age of the child, price and type of toy, what she calls “Dr. Toy’s Toy Times’ Best Edition for 2009,” at her Web site, www.drtoy.com. Once you’ve settled on your budget and your toy choices, consider layaway plans to nab hot toys before they get gone, avoid crowds and spread out the payment, suggests Consumer Reports’ ShopSmart magazine.

Parenting tip

Check for toy recalls at the Consumer Product Safety Commission Web site at www.cpsc.gov. Following the recall of millions of toys in 2007, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 was created to address safety issues. Extensive changes include new lead limits for toy components.

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