Dear Dr. Johnson: Do you have suggestions on the best gifts for children this holiday season?
Dear Reader: It is the time of year that many children are compiling their list for Santa. As parents, we want to make sure their holiday wishes are met but some gift options are definitely better than others.
For children of any age, gifts that require children to use their own imaginations can be very educational. Especially for young children, I recommend limiting toys that have a single defined use or way to play with them (many electronic toys). Something as simple as blocks can be more educational and entertaining: they can be used to make a fort for other toys; they can be stacked into a tower; they can make a road for toy cars; and many other possibilities. For children under 2, sometimes the box and wrapping can be as or more entertaining than the toy inside.
Screen time is not recommended for children under age 2 so tablets, movies, etc are not appropriate for this age group. Also avoid toys with small parts that could be choking hazards for small children.
Some children can become overwhelmed by the number of toys they receive during the holiday season. Once the gifts are opened, leave a few out for your child to play with and put the rest in a closet. Pulling out one of these “new” toys can provide needed entertainment on a cold, snowy January day.
For many older children, electronic devices may be high on their wish list. While these can be educational and entertaining, their use still needs to be limited. For children over the age of 2, all screen time (TV, video games, computers, etc.) should be limited to a total of 2 hours or less per day. How the device is used and what games are played also need to be monitored. So if Santa will be delivering a new video game system or iPod, be ready to set limits on use from the beginning. If the ground rules are set and enforced from the beginning, hopefully there will be fewer battles regarding use later. Sometimes Santa will even provide these rules along with the gift.
Help to set your child’s expectations as they are preparing their lists. If the list to Santa becomes quite long or expensive, explain to young children that Santa may not be able to bring them everything as he has to bring toys to all little girls and boys. For teenagers, you can discuss more the cost of gifts and narrowing the list based what they want the most.
The holiday season can also be a great time to teach children the joy of giving. Taking the opportunity to volunteer or purchasing gifts for those less fortunate can be a valuable learning experience to teach children the value of sharing time and treasure with others.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday season!
This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Johnson to people submitting questions.