At my daughter’s first birthday party, everyone made that same joke about her having more fun playing with the empty boxes than the toys that came in them. This timeless parenting principle was proven ever more true as she grew and as we continued to welcome useless things well-meaning people bought my toddler into our home. Some of the gifts were the result of a special occasion, but others were the bi-product of some visit to a national park because what 18-month-old child doesn't want a yo-yo as a souvenir, right?
I know how this happens, though. It is so easy to buy ridiculous crap for kids. In fact, the smaller my children are, the more susceptible I am to purchasing useless items on their behalf. I bought my newborn a purple suede, lamb’s wool-trimmed snowsuit that, once she was zipped into it, made it impossible for her to fit in her stroller. Even if I was able to strap her in with that overstuffed onesie roasting her, she would have outgrown it in a week. I wised up as my daughter got older, though. Other people — namely those without kids — did not. I get it, though. You read the convincing marketing copy on the packaging, see all those five-star reviews, and become convinced that you will be this child’s savior by gifting her with that one thing to ignite her genius and send her on the path towards the Ivy Leagues (on full scholarship, I hope).
The truth is, and I know this from living with a baby-turned-toddler-turned-child, it’s not usually the toy itself that helps a kid’s brain develop. Nope, it’s the myriad of ways a kid invents to play with the toy that has a hand in his or her development. Whether it was a Baby Einstein gadget or a half-deflated balloon, my kid’s interest was always in figuring out what she could do with the thing that defied its intended purpose. If the toy depended on batteries, everyone was usually screwed.
So after a decade of parenting, I’ve determined the following items to be a total waste for toddlers, even though they were purchased by well-meaning adults:
Play Cell Phone
Isn’t there something perverse about training our kids to be attached to devices? I’m not going to fight technology, since I rely on it so heavily to keep the busy lives of our family of four organized. But I do wish I could just put the phone away more often. I make a point to keep it out of sight when I am with my kids, because I want them to know they have my full attention and because I expect their full attention when they engage with me.
So don’t buy my kid a toy phone. Even if you don’t share my reasoning, I think we can all agree how annoying it is to be subjected to the toy’s constant beeping.
Really? You’re going to give my child something that encourages her to write on my walls? I don’t care if the stuff washes off, people. Oh no, it’s the principle of the thing. We don’t draw on walls. Thank you.
Now, I do have a super old desk that I let my kids go to town on. I think I bought it for about $25.00 off Craigslist in my 20s, and after one project with glitter went awry I decided it would be perfectly fine if marker, glue, stickers, and any other mixed media they were working with got on it. I love looking at it now, covered in a rainbow of squiggles and doodles. And I especially love that we have a dedicated space in the house where they can create with wild abandon. It makes it easier for us to limit their artistic expression to that area, and not on random walls.
Any Bath Toys, Really
I accumulated so much plastic crap in our bath tub, it took longer to drain and dry all that stuff than it did to actually bathe my child. And in our New York City apartment, I just couldn’t stand the clutter. Eventually we cleared all the bath toys and my child didn’t care. I gave her an old plastic take-out container which she gleefully used to make waterfalls and I never had to worry about mold growing in a wind-up octopus again.
A Toddler Tablet
Without even going into the debate about how much screen time is appropriate for really little kids, I would shoot down the idea of a rudimentary tablet based on the offerings of the device alone. My kids needed no pre-school version of electronics to figure out how to tap, swipe, and scroll to see what happened. When someone gave us a tablet that would “read” to our daughter, as she prompted it to go to the next “page,” I failed to see how it was any better than a human reading to her.
And I’m sorry, but the argument that it’s a great solution when a caregiver “doesn’t have time” to read to the child just doesn’t hold. Once we give the job of spending quality time with our kids over a book — even a tiny book with three soft pages and no actual sentences that takes exactly two minutes to “read” — to the robots, we are failing the next generation.
A Night Light With An Animated Underwater Scene
I am really opposed to these things. First of all, they illuminate the room way too much. When it’s lights out for our kids, it’s lights literally out. Teaching them to sleep in pitch blackness was important to my partner and I because we didn’t want them to develop a fear of the dark. By not introducing a night light, I think we were able to ingrain in our kids the concept of nighttime being dark, which does not mean it’s scary.
A Miniature Basketball Hoop
I am not into sports, but I see the benefit of physical activity. Just, you know, not in the house. It’s really hard to enforce the “no throwing” rule in the apartment when the child is gifted with a tot-sized hoop and basketball.
Not that I want to encourage my kid to bang on things and make even more noise than a 2-year-old already does, but playing “drums” is not something a toddler needs actual drums for. Hand my kid a wooden spoon and some pots and she’s delighted with her "drum set." Then, after a minute, please take those things away from her because it’s insanely loud.
Nice try but my kid always prefer the real deal to the fake stuff. I guess there is something so appealing about taking off with the parents’ housekeys and threatening to jam them into the DVD player that renders toy keys sub-par.
Yes to playdough. No to all the plastic tools that end up ruined with the dried clay gunks up the works. This leads to tears, and many, many tiny pellets of playdough… everywhere.
Why do they even manufacture these death traps? Yes they are sparkly and I admit, if they came in my size I might be tempted to try on a pair… like for a low-key day wedding or something. But on my toddler’s feet, these slides with the half-inch heels would send her skidding down the hall whenever she tried to traipse around in them. Coupled with the matching strangulation device, or necklace, it came with and this little dress-up ensemble had to suddenly “disappear” shortly after my daughter opened it for her birthday.
Excessively Furry, Plush Toys
I know they’re soft and squishy, but the synthetic fur gets incredibly disgusting in the hands of a toddler. Everything gets stuck in it, then it starts to smell, and no matter how many times you attempt to “spot clean” (because it’s only ever “spot clean” with these precious toys), it won’t ever get clean. Then you must take it away, and then the child will cry, and then I feel like the meanest Mom ever. But no. Gross.
Dolls With Long Hair
Because I love my daughter, I agreed to spend an entire Sunday attempting to work out the snags in her doll’s head of hair. I consulted the Pinterest experts for homemade detangling recipes. I left the doll’s head to soak overnight in a mixture of liquid fabric softener and lukewarm water and all we got was wet tangled hair. My daughter learned to give her dolls (permanent) haircuts and I’m not mad about it.
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