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Does it matter if your son plays with a doll or a car?

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IN today’s times, almost all children have lots of toys, and these are no longer scarce. With such a huge variety of toys available, the choice can be overwhelming. Playing with a variety of toys can lead to appropriate growth for girls and boys because toys stimulate learning and keep a child’s interest at the same time.

The need for play is natural and has always been part of human nature. However, there are thoughts and beliefs about how children should play and what they should play with. Society, media and toy manufacturers expect boys to play with cars, balls and blocks and girls to play with dolls, kitchens and dress-up clothing.

Does it matter if your son plays with dolls, kitchens and dress-up clothing? This is a worry sometimes for parents in choosing age-appropriate toys for a young child. It’s not just science that recommends age-specific and gender-appropriate toys for children.

Dr Haleem Abdulrahman a consultant psychiatrist at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, stated that parents sometimes give toys that are gender-specific because they are trying to help the child grow up based on their gender.

He stated “We all know that our society helps children to grow up into acceptable niches. When you don’t let children have a straight path, towards what society accepts for them or expects of them and give them all the options, you are likely to confuse them.

“They are likely to get into a situation where they grow up and thinking “who am I or what am I”.  We help our children to go to school. Why? It is because we want them to learn an educational pathway. If I decide to put my child in a mechanic workshop, it is because I know what I want that child to be.

“But when you put the children in a situation, where they are just confused about what exactly they want to be. And you know that society expects, this of them, and you are setting them up for confusion in the future.

“So I don’t see anything wrong in saying that boys who are biologically male should play with male-gender toys, it helps them go into that societal line. Girls who are biologically females should also play with toys that will help them grow into that societal role.

“But when you don’t allow them to grow into those rules and you say they should wear ambiguous clothing and you say that they should read ambiguous books, you are going to set them up for confusion later in life. So that is my view.”

Dr Abdulrahman, however, added that selection of toys to play with must also be age-appropriate, and educational level-appropriate to ensure that it can stimulate learning and also keep the child’s interest at the same time.

“At the point in time, when you are teaching a child colours, then the toys around should have different colours that are clear-cut, not mixed colours. Teaching a child about objects, then the toys should also rhyme with that.

“But when you want them to start developing concepts, essentially the toys should also align with the educational stage of the child. And that means that children should not just have one toy that they play with throughout their lives, it just makes them attached to that particular choice. They should have changed as they are developing. They should have age-appropriate, level-appropriate toys to play with.”

Moreover, Dr Funmi Salami, a paediatrician and special adviser to Governor Seyi Makinde on Health, however, declared that choosing the right toys starts with parents reading the labels on them to know the age it is meant for, note if it has magnets, small batteries and other small parts or the paints are chipping off.

According to her, “the reason they put the age there is for a reason, so you want to pay attention to that and not just say my child will like this toy and get it. For instance, children less than 2 are not able to handle small pieces, they can choke on them. So if you have toys that have tiny parts that can break off easily, a child can put them in their mouth and can easily choke.

“Sometimes, when you see a particular toy, you want to check sometimes by going on Google search engine to find out what that toy contains”.

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Dr Salami added that even though age-specific toys are brought, parents still need to ensure that whenever the younger child is around an older child also with toys, the toys in that environment are safe for the younger child.

Small batteries in toy cars are very toxic and so you want to be mindful that if it has batteries, it is not something that children can easily access. Even when you change the battery, you don’t just leave them lying around.

Magnets themselves are not dangerous, but children can swallow a number of them when playing. What happens is that the magnet can align in the intestine and cause necrosis, and lead to all kinds of problems.  For instance, when a child swallows a magnet, he can start to bleed.

What benefits do toys give children?  Already from birth, they help develop the sense of sight, sound and touch. Even newborns notice toys – their eyes follow interesting objects, and they like to touch and listen to new sounds.

Through play, children learn logical thinking and learn about cause and effect. The fact is, all play leads to higher achievement in developmental milestones for children who are given the choice of how to play and what to play with. So, be open-minded when it comes to children and play.


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