Doctor tells the must-know facts about toys
Prominent paediatrician from Lyen Children’s Clinic, Dr Kenneth Reginald Lyen, shares his knowledge and advice on everything toy related. Toys can be detrimental to your kid's learning and development. Find out what kind of toys should be recommended for a child at each phase of their lives!
Toys are a safe and stimulating way of introducing children to the world, by arousing their curiosity and creativity. For example the texture of the toy can teach children about the different materials, toys that make sounds and music and inspire musical expression, drawing, building and assembling toys can enhance imagination.
Duracell believes in the power of toys and the positive impact it has on children. With support from the public, Duracell and Hasbro will donate toys to children with special needs from Rainbow Centre, to be used as part of their curriculum to improve a child’s sensory, motor and cognitive development.
The toys should be appropriate and safe for the child’s developmental age. The exact toy may be less important than the opportunity the toy creates in interaction with others. Even extremely poor families can improvise with toys, so that a piece of paper can be folded into animals or other shapes, and can be used for drawing upon. Even a colorful set of wooden blocks can be excellent for play.
The general principles I adopt are that toys should excite the child, preferably of different sizes and colors, and can change shapes or can be assembled into different objects, and can stimulate the child’s imagination. Provided the toy is safe, I think there is no restriction to what toys the child can play with.
Traditional toys such as animals, cars, dolls, are one category of toys. Musical instruments, art materials, and books are another set of “toys”. Computers, tablets, and phones, constitute a new type of toys that cannot be ignored. However, one should not neglect outdoor and physical activities.
Toys should be stimulating and challenging, but if the child becomes overly obsessed with any one toy, spending inordinate amounts of time with one particular toy, then this can be a potential problem. The classic example is the child who plays with computer games for hours on end, interfering with sleep, meals, and schoolwork. This can be detrimental.
There is some controversy whether toy weapons promote excessive aggression and make children insensitive to others. My own personal opinion is that I think they are, and therefore I would not give children toy guns.
How should parents deal with kids who insist on playing with toys which are harmful to their growth and development?
Parents need to monitor a child’s play, and lay down rules as to when and how long they are allowed to play. For example, the parent may only allow play after the child finishes eating, or completes the homework. Parents should provide alternative activities, such as encouraging art, music, reading, outdoor sports, nature exploration and other social activities.
Spending too much time on computer games can sometimes lead to insomnia, loss of appetite and weight loss, and deterioration in schoolwork. Playing with toy guns can convey the notion to the child that killing is all right. Ultimately this may desensitize the child to violence, and may lead to violent behavior when he becomes an adult.
Parents need to spend time interacting with their child. This can be quite difficult, especially when both parents are working full time. Many parents are well-meaning and arrange for their kids to go for language, mathematics, art, music and dance classes, and sports. The problem is this can be overdone, and the child’s timetable is so jam-packed with these supervised activities that there is no time for playing alone and daydreaming. Parents need to have a sense of balance.
They also need to know the difference between encouraging and pressurizing. Activities should be enjoyable, and if the child dislikes any particular pursuit, then perhaps it should be omitted for a while, and maybe reintroduced at a later date. Reading, nature studies, and outdoor activities are important activities that are often neglected in today’s busy lifestyle, and these are areas that parents can actively encourage and participate in.
Every child has different demands when it comes to toys, especially with children with special needs. The toys should be appropriate to the special needs child’s developmental age. For example if the chronological age is six, but the child is behaving like a three-year-old, then the child should probably be what the younger child might enjoy. With Duracell’s “Power a Child’s Smile Longer” campaign, Duracell and Hasbro worked closely with Rainbow Centre teachers to carefully select toys to meet the learning needs of these children.
Toys of different materials, bright colors, making sounds, and can change shapes when manipulated, provide excellent stimulation for the special needs child. If the child is physically impaired, then toys that improve movements are useful. These include balls for kicking and throwing, vehicles that need pushing, computer games that promote dancing and other movements.
What kind of toys should parents get their child to maximize their child’s potential if their child are more advanced in their growth and development compared to their peers?
Advanced children can be given toys appropriate to their developmental age. Hence a six-year-old with a mental age of twelve may want to construct a robot or a vehicle with a motor engine. More advanced books, harder jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, can also be given to challenge the gifted child.
Babies can be given cloth, rubber, or wooden toys. Mobiles hanging over their cots, with a string attached, so the baby can move it with their limbs, can help the child realize that movements can be controlled. In the first few years of age, children can enjoy learning about animals and the sounds they make, or build structures with wooden blocks.
It is an age-old observation that boys and girls tend to choose certain toys. Girls prefer to play with dolls, and boys with cars. However, no one should be worried if their boy plays with a doll, or their girl plays with cars. It does not reflect on the sexual preference of their child.
One needs to be sensible about how much to spend on buying toys. This depends on one’s financial circumstances. There is no need to buy excessively expensive toys. Children can use their imagination and a piece of paper or a block of wood can pretend to be something quite unpredictable.
This depends on the age of the child, and what else occupies his or her time. Spending too much time on any one activity may be detrimental, and hence one should set limits on the time spent on any single pursuit. This is particular applicable to children playing with computer games, or surfing the internet, as they can be so absorbed that they neglect everything else. There are no hard and fast rules, and each family has to negotiate a workable agreement between parent and child.
Duracell, together with renowned branded play company, Hashbro (Singapore) kicked off a toy donation programme, titled “Power a Child’s Smile Longer,” which sees children with special needs from Rainbow Centre Singapore receiving Hasbro toys.
Dr Kenneth Lyen, MA, BM BCh (Oxon), FRCP, FRCPCH, FAMS, DCH
Consultant Pediatrician, Mt Elizabeth Medical