From brand-new action figures to ancient woven dolls, children throughout history have always seemed to play with toys. Every parent hears from their parent friends about some new toy that their child is crazy about. Children in the media are always shown with a toy or two with which they have some deep connection.
But what if children didn’t play with toys?
This is not a description of some dystopian future, but rather a reality that many parents already face. These parents are faced with children who refuse to play with toys, and many of them have no clue what to do with them. Some kids simply don’t like toys.
Why Children Play With Toys
Some children play with their toys by themselves all day long without asking for any attention. Others seem to put a toy down as soon as they pick it up, choosing to go chasing after mommy or daddy instead. The reality is, it’s a spectrum. Most children aren’t entirely opposed to toys or completely in love with them. They like a balance of “toy-time” and “people time”. But why do children like playing with toys in the first place?
Of course, one of the main reasons why human beings do anything is for entertainment, and this goes for children and their toys as well. The most entertaining toys seem to capture a child’s attention, and as their parent, you love to see them smile and laugh as they play with a new toy. Children turn to their toys to keep them entertained, simply because it makes them feel good.
The second most important reason that children play with toys is to learn. Similar to the entertainment value, learning is a pleasurable experience, especially for children. When you learn something, your brain releases dopamine, the chemical used to stimulate pleasure in the brain. Children’s brains are still very malleable, and as a result, they learn more quickly and easily than adults. This makes learning much more fun for children, and they often learn in ways adults can no longer understand.
Children are learning whenever they play. If they’re stacking up blocks, they’re learning physics and gaining more control over their movements. If they’re playing with dolls and having two of them have a conversation, they’re learning more about social interactions. No matter what toy your child is playing with, they won’t play with it unless there is something there to be learned.
Children like playing with toys because it can often give them a sense of independence. Rather than following mom or dad around the house as you do your chores, they have a chance to go off on their own and play by themselves. This alone-time is important for children, and it gives them a chance to develop a sense of self that is separate from their parents and siblings. Some parents even make alone time mandatory.
One mom, whose kids were constantly tagging along as she went about her daily chores, would have her children spend one hour a day on “room time”, in which they spent time by themselves in their rooms playing alone. She found that this time gave her children a chance to defuse any conflicts, and it also gave her a chance to take a well-deserved break.
Children love playing with toys because it stimulates their imagination. Some toys are open-ended enough that children must find their own ways of making it fun. This stimulates their brain, encouraging them to use their cognitive abilities to create their own scenarios, rules, and events.
These opportunities to be creative are incredibly important for the developing mind. Children who use their imagination and role-playing abilities more in childhood perform better on creativity and predictive reasoning tasks, and they often have higher emotional intelligence due to their ability to empathize more effectively.
What Causes Children to Not Play With Toys
Whether it’s been a slow week for the toy basket, or if it’s been a consistent trend throughout your child’s young life, sometimes children elect not to play with their toys. Many parents think that there must be something wrong with their child if they don’t like playing with toys, but it’s actually normal and extremely common. If your child hasn’t been playing with their new toys, it might be explained by one of these common reasons.
Some children simply aren’t old enough yet to enjoy being on their own. Many children love playing with a certain toy for hours while their parents play with them, but as soon as they’re alone they seem to get bored with it immediately. This is because playing alone requires a certain level of independence which takes time to develop.
Some children would simply rather draw, dance, or spend time with other people. In these cases, there’s nothing wrong with the child at all, they just prefer other things. If you’re absolutely desperate to find a toy these kids will love, try to find out more about what they’re interested in instead and see if you can’t find a toy that fits their preferences.
The child who has too many toys to choose from is a well-observed phenomenon. Countless parents report that they buy their children all sorts of toys. They have shelves covered in different toys, new and old, colorful and exciting. Yet, their child seems to never pick one up and actually use it for more than ten seconds. Having too many choices can literally overwhelm your child.
Many parents have had success rotating out toys, keeping only a few out at once and switching them with different toys every couple of weeks. Because they don’t have countless other options at hand, they’re more likely to engage with one or two toys more in-depth. This makes the toys they are using more special to them, encouraging them to spend more time playing with them.
Many children choose to not play with toys because they’d rather spend time with you. If they’re following you around, neglecting their toys, and bugging you all the time, it’s likely they’re vying for attention. Sometimes it’s because they just want your presence, and sometimes they want to do what you do. Children learn from watching their parents, and many, surprisingly, actually want to join you in doing your chores. If you can stand them tagging along with everything you do, it will help to let them join you in what you’re working on.
Alternatives to Toys
So what do you do with the child who doesn’t like to play with their toys? How do you deal with them tagging along, shadowing you, and seeming to never be able to spend time by themselves?
As I suggested before, your child might actually enjoy helping you with your chores. It will make them feel helpful, and they get to spend time with you. If they find chores too boring, turn it into a game. Playing pretend with your children will help them to grow their imaginations. Pretend you’re Cinderella as you do the dishes, make sweeping the kitchen a game. If you can make it fun, it’ll be a better time for both of you. There are plenty of toy cleaning equipment that children can use to feel a part of the chores.
If you have more than one child, one easy alternative is to get them to play with each other. If they don’t have siblings, help them make friends in the neighborhood. Although playing with toys at home has become the norm, it wasn’t always like this. Children used to spend the majority of their time outdoors with other children from their home and their neighborhood, and parents wouldn’t see them back until dinner time. It’s great for building their social skills as well!
Some parents like to give their children projects. With Christmas on the horizon, one good project example would be to build a gingerbread house. You will have to go to some lengths to purchase the materials for your child, but if you can give them an interesting goal and all the tools they need then they will entertain themselves for hours.
Similar to projects, learning activities are a good way to occupy your child’s time. A quick internet search will reveal hundreds, maybe even thousands of learning activities. Some you will have to do with your child, but many are great solo projects that will have your child learning while you’re free to clean house (or grab a quick glass of wine).
Whether it’s playing tag or just racing each other, or bouncing around on a trampoline, children love to exercise. Plus, getting them moving more often is great for their brains and bodies. It builds their strength, flexibility, and endurance while leaving them happier and more attentive in school and at home. Children need much more daily exercise than adults do, so try to find ways to get them moving. You might not be able to keep up with them, but trust me, they’ll love playing with you. Especially if they can win. Investing in Football, Cricket, Tennis, Badminton and many other outdoor sets is a great way to get your kids outside, as well as playing with their toys.
Who Needs Em?
It can be confusing when your child doesn’t like to play with toys, especially because so many other kids like it so much. However, playing without toys can actually be great for your child’s imagination, and it forces you and your kid to become more creative. Try to find new and interesting ways to keep them occupied, and pretty soon neither of you will even remember that dusty old box of toys.