Child Development Experts Agree Toddlers Shouldn't Have Tons Of Toys — Here's Why

Once you come out of the sleep-deprived haze of the first few weeks of parenting when all your baby does is sleep and eat, toys become a big deal. You start to realize that they're not just for fun (for you to play with your kid with). They're actually important for your child's development, and you start packing your living room full of them. By the time they're a few years old you're bound to be wondering how many toys your toddler actually needs, because surely they don't need all that they've accumulated.

When it comes to children's toys, quality trumps quantity. "Many parents often ask how many toys are too many toys for their child," says Jennifer Cervantes, social worker at Texas Children's Developmental Pediatrics in an interview with Romper. "Generally speaking, it's not the number of toys that is most important, but how engaging and stimulating the toys are for your child."

But finding the best toys doesn't necessarily mean you need to search the internet for ones with the most bells and whistles. "The best toys available are those meant to encourage engagement, inquiry, experimentation, communication, joint attention, and social interaction," explains Cervantes. Thankfully, toys don't even have to be expensive in order to be stimulating and engaging for toddlers, either. Cervantes says, "Depending on your child's age, toys can be made out of everyday household items such as wooden spoons, containers, pots, pans, old clothes with zippers/buttons, boxes, or old remote controls. Objects such as these allow your child to not only use their imagination during play, but may also help them develop communication and fine motor skills as well."

In fact, having too many toys can overwhelm your child, causing them to skip from one toy to the next without fully engaging with the toy or using their imaginations. "Sometimes when children have too many toys, they may easily move from one toy to the other, having little quality interaction with each toy," said Cervantes.

Margaret Sheridan, PhD, chair of the human development department at Connecticut College, in New London, echoed Cervantes sentiments about limiting toys for toddlers. In an article on Parenting, she said "They pick up one toy, drop it, and move on. They can't focus on using any of their things to the fullest." With just a few toy options, toddlers are instead encouraged to use their imaginations to create new scenarios for them.

A recent study in Infant Behavior and Development looked at just that topic and the authors concluded that "when provided with fewer toys in the environment, toddlers engage in longer periods of play with a single toy, allowing better focus to explore and play more creatively." They compared two groups of toddlers: one group was offered 16 toys, and another was offered only four toys. The authors discovered that "an environment with fewer toys will lead to higher quality of play for toddlers."

Similarly, limiting toys can help toddlers and children learn to take responsibility for their belongings. "As children get older, limiting the amount of items they have allows them to find more value in their belongings, as there may not always be a replacement readily available," said Cervantes. This is an important life lesson better served earlier than later!

If you're searching for toys that will encourage engagement, Cervantes recommends "classic toys such as balls, blocks, stacking cups, and dolls," for their positive impact on your toddler's development and stressed that "when it comes to the amount of toys your child should have, quality over quantity is really the most important thing that parents should keep in mind."

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.