The holidays are underway and many families are hitting the stores and browsing online to find the perfect gift for the children and teens in their lives. Before shopping though, experts encourage families to check for recalled toys and keep toy safety guidelines in mind. Especially for younger children, beware of magnets, button batteries or toys that are excessively noisy or contain potentially dangerous chemicals. Alyssa Fritz, Ph.D., pediatric psychologist at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, offers safe toy ideas and breaks down great gift ideas for all age groups.
Babies (0-18 months)
As vision and motor abilities develop, this age group is associated with interest in bold patterns, bright colors and a preoccupation with learning to follow people’s faces. Toys to consider include ones with bold patterns, different textures and items that make noise. These items can help promote learning and exploration as babies begin reaching, grabbing and exploring the world.
As infants get older, it can be helpful to include toys that promote fine motor skills, such as nesting and stacking toys. At this age, it’s especially important to keep toy safety top of mind and monitor the size of toys in order to ensure babies are not able to swallow anything (including batteries and magnets) as well as making sure they are not able to cover their face with the toy or object.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends avoiding screen time unless it’s for video chatting and limiting screen time for children less than 18 months old.
Toddlers (18 months-3 years old)
Toddlers are continuing to develop language, improve balance, learn cause and effect, as well as practicing fine and gross motor movements. Toys at this age can focus on problem-solving (e.g., puzzles with 4-5 pieces), musical instruments, using snap/zippers/larger buttons, pushing/pulling toys and working large muscle groups to continue to foster motor milestones (e.g., balls, tunnels). This is also another age group to watch out for toy size and other hazards to ensure they are not able to chew on or swallow something that’s potentially harmful.
Young Child (3-7 years old)
Children in this age group are developing their imagination and creativity. Toys that foster imaginary play, promote creativity, and provide opportunities to practice emerging prosocial behaviors (e.g., sharing and turn-taking) are perfect for this age group. These toys can include trains, building blocks, crayons, cars, playdough, doll houses, and imaginary toys (e.g., kitchen toys, doctor kits and veterinarian kits). As children get older (6 to 7 years old), they start developing their own interests. Toys to consider include basic science kits, magnets, craft kits or construction sets.
Older Child (8-12 years old)
Children at this age are truly developing their own personalities, including identifying individual preferences and finding hobbies. When buying toys for this age, consider your child’s unique areas of interest (e.g., sports, reading, building, creativity or STEM toys).
Teenagers have well-established preferences and hobbies. Many parents know their teens prefer anything related to electronics (e.g., phones, tablets, video games, computer games). Additional ideas can include karaoke machines, specific Lego models, coding robots or games or preferred items (e.g., specific music groups, movies, books). As children reach this age, it can also be fun to plan one-on-one experiences rather than focus on gifts. Experiences could include a movie night together, going to a bookstore to choose a new book, learning a new skill (e.g., cooking classes) or spending time at aquariums, zoos or amusement parks.
This article first appeared in Tampa Bay Parenting magazine.