All I Want For Christmas...
All I want for Christmas….
December is here again and Christmas is looming. Christmas is such a happy time for children. They just love the freedom to ask for anything they want, the anticipation as the day comes closer, the sheer excitement of Christmas Eve and the pure pleasure of opening up their presents. Most parents love Christmas too but there is always a lot of hard work and preparation involved for us. We have to plan and prepare, organise and above all budget. Many families are facing financial stresses this Christmas. Parents under financial pressure still pull out all the stops to give their children a great Christmas. This can create tremendous tension and anxiety within the home which may last long after the presents are forgotten.
My challenging behaviour practise involves visiting lots of different family homes and part of any intervention is teaching children how to play constructively and socially in a focussed way. Not all my clients are wealthy but I have never encountered a single child who did not have enough toys. Indeed most of them have far too many toys, video games and console type equipment. It is not unusual for pre-school children to have their own T.V. with DVD player in their bedroom or playroom, at least one hand held screen game, a range of outdoor play equipment and a variety of table top games and books. The quantity and variety of toys is in no way accountable for the behaviour problems but it shows that spending lots of money on toys will not, in and of itself, make children any happier.
Do children need toys? Absolutely!! Playing with toys is an essential part of childhood development. Playing with a range of toys allows children to develop their fine and gross motor skills, to use their imagination, to develop fitness and to interact appropriately with their peers. Do they want toys? Absolutely!! Children find toys very attractive – they are hard wired to play and to use toys in order to have fun. Play doesn’t feel like learning and development to them, just pure pleasure. If a child does not like to play or he plays in a very solitary way with no imagination, this could be a sign that he has Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Children play in different ways, at different stages of development; so don’t be alarmed if your toddler likes to play alone or your three year won’t take turns. I had a call from a worried mother some years ago. She felt something was wrong with her three year old but couldn’t figure out what it was. She felt he was intelligent and skilful but noticed he wasn’t getting on well with other children. The first thing I noticed when I sat down in the family house was the total absence of toys in the living area. We chatted for a while before I asked where the child’s toys were kept. ‘Oh he doesn’t really like toys but he has some in his room’ his parents replied. We went to see his toys; lots of little cars lined up in a row, lots of cuddly creatures all lined up in a row, lots of trains, Lego etc all lined up in a row. When I encouraged him to play all he wanted to do was to arrange his toys in a systematic way over and over again. Further assessment by a multi-disciplinary team showed that this little boy was autistic. My intervention focussed partly on helping him to develop functional communication, and also teaching him how to relate through imaginative play.
So children really do need toys. They love playing with them and we love to see their little faces when they open up their presents on Christmas morning/ middle of the night. This does not mean that they need a huge quantity of toys or that they need very expensive new toys. Babies under the age of eighteen months are unlikely to understand Christmas or presents and may actually feel overwhelmed by the over-stimulation of too many new toys at once. A soft toy and some baby books will be sufficient for this age group. I know there is a huge range of battery operated toys designed to guarantee that your unique little angel develops into a genius, but these machines simply mimic what parents have been doing since time began and parents do it much better. There is also play equipment with dangling mobiles which stimulate and encourage babies to look and touch etc. These are a good investment only if you are planning a large family because the baby will grow out of them in a few months. Some of these can be adapted as the child grows older but even so are quite expensive and a baby within a normal home environment will develop all the necessary skills with or without this equipment. Toddlers will love dolls, cars, trains, buggies etc depending on gender and individual personality.( Being politically correct I tried so hard to get my daughter to play with trucks and tools as a toddler, but she point blank refused and insisted on dolls. A friend of mine was so disappointed when her little girls loved tools and could assemble things straight from the package). These toys are so great for imaginative play and allow children to act out their beliefs and dreams as well as try on different roles. Watching children as they play in this way can be very revealing. Are they kind to their ‘babies’? Who is the hero in the action game?
I believe that every child over the age of eighteen months (depending on gender and personality) NEEDS the following toys during their early years. As each birthday and Christmas comes, they can acquire a few of the cheaper ones and one big one.
A vehicle to sit in and ‘drive,’ until such time that s/he can learn to use a tricycle or bicycle. (These can be passed on from older siblings, cousins or friends or bought second hand).
A tricycle or bicycle depending on age and development (not necessarily expensive or new but it must meet safety regulations and be the right size)
One or two dolls with clothes (old baby clothes are great)
A doll’s buggy.
Little cars, trucks etc.
One or two cuddly toys with names and histories, one of whom must be a
Colouring book, crayons, colouring pencils, paper, paint and brushes.
Two or three games such as Jenga, Buckaroo or Operation.
Three or four good quality jigsaws appropriate to age and development.
A few classic DVD s such as The Snowman, The Bear, Mary Poppins or Shrek.
A small library of books, to be built slowly - one or two books at a time. Babies love to have bright, simple pictures, from one year old they love Virginia Anderson’s ‘Bartholomew’ books, from two they will enjoy Tony Ross and Martin Waddell, from five or six they get a great kick out of Lauren Child’s Lola series and Dick King Smith’s ‘Sophie’ series.
A small collection of music to include nursery rhymes, childhood songs, a little bit of classical, some traditional music and whatever you and they enjoy listening to.
A sturdy child’s music player suitable to age and development.
A skipping rope.
Regular trips to the public playground to use the free equipment whilst learning to interact with new children of various ages and habits.
Old clothes to dress up in – I made a great dressing up box with old clothes, hats, shoes, high heels etc. for my two daughters but they NEVER showed the slightest interest in it and much prefer now to get their Halloween costumes form Claire’s Accessories…I did try to be a good mother…honestly!
So if you can’t afford to spend hundreds of euro on your child this Christmas don’t fret - they really, really don’t need expensive new toys and they can have just as much fun with a few well chosen inexpensive items. But if you want to you can buy them all of the above in one go this Christmas, plus lots more. It’s up to you. Perhaps Mammy really loves the all talking, all walking doll, complete with matching pram, clothes and accessories that costs more that the real thing, or Daddy wants a huge train set with real stations and a uniform - but that’s nothing to do with the kids, now, is it?
Siobhan O’Rourke is a Challenging Behaviour Therapist who provides a range of services to families, staff teams and parent groups.
You can contact Siobhan on 0862022521