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Christmas 2018: the Quest for the Perfect Toy!

With just a few days to go until Christmas, almost everyone’s thinking about their Christmas shopping. While the fierce Black Friday and Cyber Monday campaigns really helped kick-start the Christmas season back in late November, adverts for children’s toys have been appearing on the children’s TV channels for several months now. And it’s within this material context that the following question arises: how do we choose the ideal toy for our children?

If we had to send a letter to Father Christmas with a specification for the ideal toy for our children, we’d probably ask for something educational which would promote certain values. We’d state that it shouldn’t be too outrageous or flashy; it shouldn’t make a mess or have tiny pieces that might get lost; it shouldn’t break on the very first day and so on. The list of requirements would almost be as long as our children’s Christmas lists, but we definitely wouldn’t be doing them any favours. We shouldn’t restrict their play; their imaginations should be able to run wild; we should let them make a mess and they also have to learn to value and take care of what they have (and learn to put everything away!). However, we can decide which toys come into the house and what criteria they should comply with, and we can assist our children in their decision-making.

Finding the perfect toy is no simple task; it should satisfy both the children’s needs and the adults’ expectations. So, what do we need to look for?

- It needs to be age-appropriate, otherwise it could prove disappointing and the child might not make the most of what the game has to offer.
- It must comply with the European safety regulations and have undergone all the quality controls. 
- It should promote values ​like solidarity, effort and teamwork.
- It should be different from the ones they already have and, therefore, be something new and exciting. 
- Most importantly, in my opinion, it should allow us to spend some time together. How often do we find the time to sit down with our children and play for a while without hurrying? A game or a toy can provide us with the opportunity to spend some quality time with our children, establishing mutual understanding and opening up channels of communication that we are sure to appreciate as they move towards adolescence.

Playing has a crucial role in our children’s education, and although it’s very important for them to have toys, it’s also important that they get them in moderation. So, in addition to reaching a consensus with our children on what the most suitable toys are for this Christmas, we should also agree on the number of gifts.

In the first Harry Potter novel, titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry’s cousin Dudley Dursley, who could be defined as selfish, spoilt and materialistic, gets really angry with his parents because he receives one gift fewer on his birthday than the previous year. And it’s not as if he just had two or three gifts in total; no, he had over thirty gifts! I admit that this is an extreme case, but it’s a very clear example of what is known as ‘toy overload’. A surplus of toys divides the children’s attention and makes them value the accumulated number of gifts rather than the actual gifts themselves. How much attention can a child who has received so many presents give to one particular toy? Is opening gifts the only thing that matters? And is it case of the more the better? Don’t you think that they become disenchanted with it all when they know they’ll receive so many presents?

Speaking of disenchantment, an anecdote from a few years ago springs to mind. One day in the run up to Christmas, we were wandering around a toyshop I had taken my children to for ideas of what to put on their lists, when we bumped into a father from the Kids&Us Manresa school with his son. While the boy’s attention was focused elsewhere, he confessed to me that he felt immensely sad and disappointed. It turned out that when Ramón had asked his son what he wanted for Christmas, he answered: “I don’t really want anything because you always buy me everything I want”. This reply should make us reflect on another aspect, namely the anticipation. We should always try to make sure that our children never quite have everything they wish for. There always needs to be a slight void between what one has and what one would like to have because that void is the basic ingredient for anticipation. 

Now, getting back to what I was saying. While I was wondering what the right number of gifts should be and browsing the internet to research this post, I found some articles about the “four-gift rule” which I think is worth mentioning.

It’s a very simple rule that consists of selecting only four gifts that comply with the following requirements:

- Something to wear: clothes, shoes, accessories, etc.
- Something to read: a story or a subscription to a magazine, for example.
- Something the child needs: an umbrella with one of their favourite cartoon characters, a schoolbag or a pair of basketball shoes.
- Something he or she really wants: the toy that would bring them the most joy.

This might not be easy, especially if children know exactly what they want, or if teenagers have certain criteria that simply can’t be budged. Even so, I think it’s important to put the rule into practice as much as possible. Right now, we’re focusing on Christmas, but this also applies to birthdays and other family celebrations. As with everything, quality should prevail over quantity.

How do you choose your children’s gifts? Do you help them? Do you limit the number of toys? Tell us how you do it; you’ll be sure to help us all!

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