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Confused about selecting toys for your toddler?
Many parents who consult have a question on what toys should be bought for their kids.
Does it really matter? Well Yes. Your child is going to spend a good part of his time so it is important that we be smart in giving the right toy at the right time so that the purchase of the toy benefits all, the child as well as the parent.
So what should we look for when buying a toy or an activity for a child? Should your child accompany you when you are buying a toy for him? Most parents would say a quick YES to this. Justifying it with a counter question, that it’s the child who has to play with the toy, so why not?
Demand Toys & Reinforcers
Well seriously, as a Child Development & Behaviour Modification therapist, I do have an insight into the role that a toy plays in the child's life. Mind you, it is deliberately that I chose the words. “A toy plays”. Think about it. It would make sense to give your attention to the concept of how a toy shapes a child.
So before buying any toy, a parent should always question the purpose of buying the toy. Is to just to provide happiness and pleasure in the child's leisure time, or do you plan that the child learns something constructive. If it is just so that the child whiles away his time, or because he just loves playing with that particular toy, then these toys can be used as Reinforcers which can be placed to be earned by accomplishing a task given to him. A task could be an activity that you planned for your child to learn or accomplish, which may or may not have caught enough interest of your child can be placed as demand in smaller targets, be it motor coordination skills, or sharpening the wits, learning communication or an academic activity and a toy purchased after such deliberation would be said to be a Demand Toy.
The purpose of a demand toy will always be to bring about an improvement in the development of certain skills. A reinforcer toy will always be either out of habit, or something the child plays with and derives pleasure, and always wants to play with it at all times. It could be something wants to get involved in and is ready to take the demand for that. The child is the best judge to pick up a reinforcers of his choice. Hence a child should always be present while purchasing the toy or activity with the purpose of being used as reinforcers. Demand toys has to as per child's developmental need which may or may not be of child’s interest
For a child, Toys are his world. And more so, if purchased by his parents, whom he perceives as the entire world. Gifted to him by his parents, he would value the toy. So it is the duty of parents to ensure that they are selective when planning to buy a toy.
Scheduling and dividing the playtime.
Reinforcers should not be available to the child always freely to maintain its crave. There should be an appropriate parental control over the reinforcers, be it puzzle toys, painting or block-building. It would be best if they are kept under lock and key, and given to the child as a reward for having accomplished some task.
Demand toys would require adult supervision, as adequate goals will be required to be achieved by the child and more over while learning to get hang on it child may lose interest easily so adult company would help him to be motivated and keep his attention on it. Once we ensure that the child has accomplished the goal, and once satisfied, he can then allow to be with reinforcers, as a reward for compliance, or having achieved the learning that was set. This will teach the child to alternate between the reinforcer and the Demand Toys. Ideally one demand slot should be followed by Reinforcer, so the child learns to balance his life early, and also learns the importance of what he earns which will help him in the future.
Make sure that the child does not become a slave to the toy by becoming addictive to playing only a certain toy, but that his time is spent in alternately playing with Demand and the reinforcer toys. Also keep changing reinforcers as and when needed and in the effort, the toy acts as a friend with dual benefit, relaxing the child as well as imparting important lessons by its use.
If you find that the Demand toy has now become the child's favourite toy, and the child now shows preference for playing with it, you can pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on making the right choice. The child, having become familiar with the Demand toy, has completed his learning so much so that he now enjoys playing with it.This gives you time to move to the next level of adding more such similar toys and activities that would benefit your child. Again the rules will apply for alternating the Demand & Reinforcer toys, and ensure balanced development for the child.