I’m excited to see my kids’ faces on Christmas morning. They’ll each get a few gifts that I’m pretty sure they’re going to flip for. My five-year old loves books (especially about Asia), ABC workbooks, and construction toys. My two-year old is obsessed with cars. They’ll receive about three gifts each from me and my partner…grandma is on her way with a suitcase that I’m sure will be full of more presents.
This year in particular, I’ve noticed that parents seem to be getting all in a tizzy about presents: how many are given, what types are given, etc. I even read an article on MSNBC about a mom who is withholding gifts altogether this year in an attempt to get her children to focus on the “spirit” of the holiday. I get it. No one wants to raise materialistic kids. No one wants their homes full of noise and plastic. I used to be in a war with the toys in my home but more and more, I wonder if we’re making much ado about nothing.
The idea that not having presents will force children to focus on holiday sentiments is, in my opinion, a bit silly. When children are old enough for toys to be fun, a dramatic effort to ban them only draws more attention to their existence, or lack thereof.
There is definitely a battle with toys brewing that I find highly unnecessary and more an indication of a discomfort adults harbor within themselves.
These days as people are exploring ways to live more naturally, toys like Barbies and electronic toys have become “no nos” in many circles. I’m no fan of toys that can wake me up in the middle of the night with beeps and whistles and am definitely happy that my 5-year old daughter doesn’t know what a Barbie is, but don’t really think these gifts are a huge deal.
Mothers are quick to admonish Barbie for setting up unrealistic beauty standards. Huh? Children pick up values from their parents first and society second. Barbie is a reflection of an issue that womankind struggles with, not the cause. A little girl is far more likely to have body image issues if her mother does or if her best friends at school are on diets than if she plays with a doll with plastic perky boobs.
Want to raise a confident daughter? Let her see you behaving confidently. Are you being treated with respect in your relationships? Is she witnessing you bow to pressure? Do you stand up for yourself and others? Do you nurture your skills and passions?
The quickest way to ensure that your little girl accepts her body as it changes over the years is to resolve any conflicts one has with their own and start a dialogue for discussing this topic as soon as she is ready. As we all know, they’re always watching and are very strong perception skills. To think that all we have do to keep little girls innocent and carefree is keep them away from Bratz dolls is naive and rather simplistic.
I’m not running out to buy my kid a doll that looks like she turns tricks for a living but would actually welcome the conversation one would start in our home. What is makeup for? When is it appropriate? Why do little girl bodies look different than mommy bodies? Do some people not like their bodies? Why? How does one respect their body? How do people dress around the world? Why do people judge people based on clothes? It’s all very interesting.
A few months ago, my five-year old saw a billboard for laser skin treatments. The woman’s face in the ad was landscape of digital “perfection” of course. My daughter commented, “Her skin is sooo smooth!” which gave me the opportunity to explain how advertisers use computers to make people look different to get people to buy their products. We examined her skin for what an ad would consider an imperfection, then mine. We talked about what’s normal and what’s not. How skin changes over time. She found it fascinating because it is!
I believe in preparing my kids for the world they live in. It’s an exciting world full of Barbies (real and otherwise), noises, glitter, fantasy, and mirages. It’s amazingly beautiful, sad, infuriating, exhilarating and always changing. When we as adults witness children in their innocence and whimsy, our knee-jerk reaction is to create a model in which to protect when in fact, it should serve as an example for how we can live. What children have is available to anyone who wants in.
It’s not necessary to create synthetic realities, even when it appears more “natural”, for children. Take a cue from your kids and rediscover their ability to see the beauty in the reality you live in.
The problem is this: so many adults feel destroyed by adulthood. The decision to become a serious grown-up, trapped in a world obligations and limitations that so many of us live in, was our own. A child-like sense of wonder and adventure is here for any of us, at any time. Rather than hold the belief that “adult things” are off-limits and damaging to children. we can, in age-appropriate portions, serve it to our children honestly, giving them a passion for life. It isn’t always fun, but it is always an adventure. When we let go of the need to control and just flow with it, we can pass that on to our children.
When it comes to electronics, my beef is with noise, not the desire to create a felt & wool mystical wonderland. I bought my five-year old a remote-controlled crane set. Is it made of natural materials? No. But we live in a city, not the woods. She sees cranes and trucks every day when we walk around and is fascinated by the work they do. She constantly asks about where metals come from, the mining process, how minerals are pulled from the earth (so much so that I’m creating a sensory table dedicated to digging for “jewels” for our homeschool). She loves when I mix water and whole wheat flour to create “mountains” in which I hide little pieces of aluminum foil for her to mine with kitchen tools.
We talk about how plastic is made by scientists and the difference between synthetic and natural materials and our need for both in our world. Can you imagine a hospital without plastic? Talk to your kids like peers about real life and they will surprise you by their competence.
We don’t own a car, nor do I have any desire to, but my two-year old adores them. They’re fast, powerful and loud: pretty much a toddler’s dream object. So she’s getting one. And will probably get three more from relatives. It doesn’t bother me one bit.
Parents don’t have to be so fearful about the effects of toys. After all, we know that children will play with them for about twenty minutes before wanting to go outside. If you have too many, count your blessings that people care so much for your kids and either have them help you pick out which ones to donate to children in need or make them disappear on your own schedule. Don’t bother with making demands about what types of gifts you want from relatives; it’s a bit pretentious. If they ask for or want suggestions, tell them craft store gift certificates are great, but otherwise, be an example of how to be a gracious receiver for your little ones. You’d never complain about a gift a friend gave you. Why not show the same respect for your child’s grandparents or aunts? Their intent is pure and that’s what matters the most.
Toys do not define their childhoods- the people around them do. Things only have the power we assign to them. We live in a day of nervous parenting where creating bubble-like, contrived environments is used as a anecdote against adult life. But what, may I ask, is so horrible about the adult world? Death happens, job loss happens, divorce happens…but that doesn’t happen only to adults, it happens to children. We live in the same world. What if adults let go more and allowed experiences to occur without coloring their view of life? People often talk about the resiliency of children. The ability for children to move on from the same life events that cripple adults is 1) the lack of meaning they assign to events 2) their openess, lack of expectations.
This isn’t to say children can’t be hurt, even seriously emotionally hurt. It is our calling as parents to allow them to grow in emotionally and physically safe, warm, and, people often forget this one, honest environments.
Whether we want to admit it or not, our children experience the effects of our lives and struggles daily. Do you remember the happiest moments of your childhood? They most likely had little to do with where you were or what you were playing with; I’d be willing to bet that it was you parent’s presence and smile, laughter even, that made the moment a delight. Was there anything better than your parents being silly with you, playing with you, or giggling with you? There is no need to regimen their activities and environments to reflect something other than the lives we live as adults.. Take joy.
Toys that buzz, go wild, or are ready for the fashion runway are not dangerous alarm clocks, threatening to wake children from their peaceful juvenile slumber into a new world.
They’re just toys. They’re things. The only power they have is assigned to them to us. A truckload of Mattel does not have the power to change the character of a child. It might be aesthetically unpleasing but being raised by happy adults, excited about life and what the future holds far more weight in terms of who a child will grow up to be.
*photo from: blog.lib.umn.edu, sciencedaily.com, cdtbk.com
About Bunmi Laditan
Bunmi is a mother, writer, and social media entrepreneur living in Montréal, Canada (by way of California). She has two girls ages 6 and almost 2.