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It's a scenario many of us are all too familiar with. We spend weeks, if not months, carefully thinking about and selecting what will be the perfect, age-appropriate, intellectually stimulating, exciting-surprising-thrilling-you-name-it presents for our kids, anticipating their heart's desires—and our's.

Then days and money are spent shopping for them. We think we're done, and then one more inspiration, request or trendy must-have sends us back to the mall or laptop to satisfy one more impulse. And then one more, because, why not, it's Christmas and we are in the mood and our kids are so cute and we just want to see them happy.

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Christmas morning arrives and the weeks of anticipation are finally fulfilled amidst a flurry of ribbons, paper and excitement. There are squeals and smiles and sometimes tears. And all is well... for awhile.

But novelty wears off the shiniest of gifts, and soon many are forgotten with so many others to play with if something turns out to be not as fun or engaging as advertised. Our kids wind up bored… in a house full of toys.

All of us feel a little emptier in the aftermath, and we wonder, was it worth it?

One measure of happy kids on Christmas morning is a fully loaded Christmas tree. But there's a lot of evidence that suggests that giving your child lots of toys has the opposite desired effect—kids actually are less happy.

Kids need lots of quality play to develop fully.

Research says that through play, children learn to interpret the world around them, enhancing the development of their cognitive, emotional, social, and physical skills, and their subsequent health and well-being along the way. Additionally, play-based learning prepares children for academic readiness and success, so it is important to optimize the environment in which children play (Schaaf & Burke).

In a recent study at the University of Toledo, Ohio, researchers hypothesized that “an abundance of toys reduced the quality of toddlers' play, and that fewer toys will actually benefit children in the long-term."

In the study, 36 toddlers played for half an hour with either four or 16 toys. Toddlers playing with 16 toys spent less time playing with each toy, moving from toy to toy more frequently.

“During toddlerhood, children develop, but may not have mastered, higher level control over attention. Their attention, and therefore their play, may be disrupted by factors in their environments that present distraction. The results of the present study suggest that an abundance of toys may create such a distraction," says lead author, Dr. Carly Dauch, in the journal, Infant Behaviour and Development.

When given only four toys to play with, the toddlers “played with each for twice as long, thinking up more uses for each toy and lengthening and expanding their games, allowing for better focus to explore and play more creatively—qualities that benefit children in the long term."

But there's more to the story than that.

Research has shown that “children who expect many and expensive gifts can suffer negative social and emotional ramifications that extend well beyond their childhood," according to a study from the University of Missouri, Columbia. As adults, these children are “more prone to credit-card debt, gambling and compulsive shopping, feeding an insatiable hunger for more," predisposing them to addictive behaviors.

In the project, "Der Spielzeugfreie Kindergarten," or, The Toy-Free Nursery, German researchers conducted an experiment where toys were taken away from a Munich nursery for three months. The project was founded by Rainer Strick and Elke Schubert, public health officers who worked with adults who suffered from various forms of addiction.

Concerned about addictive habits that can start early in childhood, they wanted to show that children can play happily and creatively when they are not drowning in all their toys.

One of the nurseries that has participated in this project for the several years is Munich's Friedrich-Engels-Bogen nursery. There, teacher Gisela Marti, says, "In these three months, we offer the children space and time to get to know themselves, and because they are not being directed by teachers or toys, the children have to find new ways to master their day in their own individual way."

In a manner that has many elements of Montessori, the children's days are deliberately unstructured.

Left to their own devices, the children invent their own games and decide for themselves what to do. Marti found that once the children adjusted, their play became far more creative and social. "They loved acting and putting on a show, or pretending to be in a circus or on a train, but most importantly, all the time they were playing, they were learning to socialize," surmised Marti.

Additionally, Marti discovered, the concentration skills of the children improved greatly, especially when drawing and painting. "Before the pens and paper were taken away from them, the children used to do one little squiggle on a piece of paper and then throw it away," she says. "But when paper was given back to them they drew or painted all over it until there was not a patch of white paper left."

A study by Claire Lerner, a childhood development researcher with Zero to Three—a nation-wide US government funded and run pre-school educational program—underscores the theory that children are not playing and developing properly because they are being given too many toys and games. "Our studies show that giving children too many toys, or toys of the wrong types, can actually be doing them harm. They get overwhelmed and cannot concentrate on any one thing long enough to learn from it," says Lerner.

Her conclusions are reinforced by Michael Malone, Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Cincinnati, who found that parents should carefully manage their children's access to toys. "More is not necessarily better. This is a myth that needs to be extinguished from western suburban culture. Our work shows that having fewer toys is associated with less solitary play and increased sharing. Conversely, too many toys can cause a sense of overload," said Malone.

Not only can too many toys be distracting, they are a poor substitute for spending time with your kids.

Kathy Sylva, a professor of educational psychology at Oxford University, studied 3,000 children from the ages of three to five and concluded that, "There is a complex relationship between children's progress, the type of toys they are given and the time parents spend on them."

Sylva's research, underwritten by the Economic and Social Research Council, was inspired by concerns that childhood is being permanently altered by parents substituting toys and screens for spending time with their children. She's found that those children with fewer toys, whose parents spend more time interacting with them, surpass kids with greater means for laptops. etc., in several areas of emotional and social development. The implication is that a parent's direct engagement seems to beat any toy or screen.

So, how many toys are too many?

Experts hesitate to put a figure on the number of toys children should have, but a study by marketing researchers Bjorklund and Bjorklund indicates fewer toys are still best. In their study, 24 toddlers engaged in free play with three, 12, or 21 toys for 10 minutes. They found that the toddlers played longer with three toys than they did with 12 or 21 toys, implying that, “The value of providing a great number of toys is highly questionable."

In his book, ClutterFree with Kids, author Joshua Becker supports the concept that fewer toys are better for children. Becker echoes the belief that playrooms with fewer toys promote creativity, help develop attention spans and teach kids about taking care of their possessions. “A child will rarely learn to fully appreciate the toy in front of them when there are countless options still remaining on the shelf behind them," he said.

Becker notes other benefits to having fewer toys:

  • Kids have better social skills. Kids learn to develop their relationships, and studies have linked childhood friendships to greater academic and social success during adulthood.

  • Kids learn to take better care of things. When kids have too many toys, they tend to take care of and value them less since there is always another in the toy bin.

  • Kids spend more time reading, writing, and creating art. Fewer toys gives kids the space to love books and generally discover and develop their talents.

  • Kids become more resourceful. With only the materials at hand, kids learn to solve problems—a skill with unlimited potential.

  • Kids argue with each other less. A new toy in a relationship is another reason to establish territory between kids. But kids with fewer toys are compelled to share more, collaborate, and cooperate.

  • Kids learn to persevere. Kids with too many toys give up too quickly on a toy that challenges them, replacing it instead with another, easier one. In the process, they lose the opportunity to learn patience and determination.

  • Kids become less selfish. Kids who get everything they want believe they can have everything they want, setting the tone for developing a more unhappy and unhealthy lifestyle.

  • Kids go outside more. Kids with fewer toys look to the outdoors for entertainment and learn to appreciate nature, so are more likely to exercise, resulting in healthier and happier bodies.


Children throughout history and across cultures have had a great time playing with whatever materials were available to them—and the fewer the materials, the more creative kids have to be.

According to the Toy Hall of Fame, the best toy of all-time is… the stick, followed by the box, then string, cardboard tubes and dirt.

The Toy Association states that the global toy market exceeded $90 billion in sales in the last year. According to a recent study they conducted, the average parent will spend $6,500 on toys per child before they reach their teens. And at any given age, the average American child has between 70 and 100 toys—and some as many as 200.

Spending so much money on so many toys each year seems to benefit only the toy industry.

What can you do instead?

Give experiences, not toys. Researchers from Cornell University found that, “People are more grateful, and even more generous, when they enjoy experiences rather than material gifts." Psychology Professor Thomas Gilovich conducted several studies on the subject over decades and came to the conclusion that, “Happiness is derived from experiences, not things."

Gilovich explains, "One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation. We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them. We soon become used to our possessions."

Experiences can enhance kids' lives more than toys can. Use the money you would have spent on extra toys for a trip to Disneyland or the zoo instead. Research has shown that memories of the experiences children have last far longer than the excitement of the toys they receive on Christmas morning.

Giving your child too many toys can lower their self-esteem if they define themselves by what they have, and not who they are.

In fact, studies show that children who have fewer material possessions, but positive relationships with parents and peers, score higher on self-esteem assessment tests. They also have fewer behavior problems and demonstrate more resilience in the face of obstacles than kids with overindulging parents.

Additionally, researchers publishing in Harvard Business School's Journal of Happiness Studies found that, “People valued gifts they purchased for others more than gifts they bought for themselves. And when those “givers" completed a personal satisfaction scale, they consistently scored higher than those who purchased gifts only for themselves."

But none of this matters to a 5-year-old on Christmas morning, when all the anticipation and presents are gathered beneath the tree, awaiting the big reveal.

To make sure this experience is joyful, start by laying the groundwork:

  • Be intentional. Be proactive. Start early and keep it simple. Begin to build your traditions. Really think about it. Decide what Christmas will mean in your home, and chose toys and number accordingly.
  • Choose only a few, special items that you know your child will really enjoy, now and later. Make sure the toys you choose have value beyond just novelty and trend—that way you know they won't be forgotten soon after the novelty has worn off.
  • Stay the course! As time goes on and your kids get older and are exposed to other families and their practices, resist the urge to give-in to pressure to deviate from your vision of Christmas and gift giving.
  • Embrace your differences so you can be strong for your kids. Be prepared to answer your kids' questions about why they don't get as many or the same kind of gifts as their friends. Explain that it isn't a measure of your love or Santa's favor, but really one of choice. Assure them that every family has their own values and their own way of doing things, and that's OK.
  • Teach your children early that Christmas is about giving as much as it is about getting. Foster your child's generosity by giving them the chance to know what it feels like to give—seek out opportunities in your community to give to families who have less, and let your kids choose and wrap the gifts. Or, take your kids to the store and have them help shop for food to donate to a local food drive or family shelter.

It's not too early nor too late to decide what Christmas will look like for your family.

The thrill of a new toy doesn't last, but the joy of experiences can last a lifetime. Fewer, better gifts is better giving—but time is the best gift of all, and best given to those who mean the most to us.

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There are few kids television shows as successful as PAW Patrol. The Spin Masters series has spawned countless toys and clothing deals, a live show and now, a movie.

That's right mama, PAW Patrol is coming to the big screen in 2021.

The big-screen version of PAW Patrol will be made with Nickelodeon Movies and will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.

"We are thrilled to partner with Paramount and Nickelodeon to bring the PAW Patrol franchise, and the characters that children love, to the big screen," Spin Master Entertainment's Executive Vice President, Jennifer Dodge, announced Friday.

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"This first foray into the arena of feature film marks a significant strategic expansion for Spin Master Entertainment and our properties. This demonstrates our commitment to harnessing our own internal entertainment production teams to develop and deliver IP in a motion picture format and allows us to connect our characters to fans through shared theatrical experiences," Dodge says.

No word on the plot yet, but we're gonna bet there's a problem, 'round Aventure Bay, and Ryder and his team of pups will come and save the day.

We cannot even imagine how excited little PAW Patrol fans will be when this hits theatres in 2021. It's still too early to buy advance tickets but we would if we could!

News

In the middle of that postpartum daze, the sleepless nights, the recovery, the adjustment to a new schedule and learning the cues of a new baby, there are those moments when a new mom might think, I don't know how long I can do this.

Fortunately, right around that time, newborns smile their first real smile.

For many mothers, the experience is heart-melting and soul-lifting. It's a crumb of sustenance to help make it through the next challenges, whether that's sleep training, baby's first cold, or teething. Each time that baby smiles, the mother remembers, I can do this, and it's worth it.

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Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT a NYC-based psychotherapist and author of Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom, says she sees this in her clinical practice.

"One mother I worked with recounted her experience of her baby's first smile. At eight weeks postpartum, exhausted and overwhelmed, she remembered her baby smiling broadly at her just before a nighttime feeding," Kurtz says. "In that moment, she was overcome by tremendous joy and relief, and felt, for the first time, a real connection to her son."

So what is it about a baby's smile that can affect a mother so deeply? Can it all be attributed to those new-mom hormones? Perhaps it stems from the survival instincts that connect an infant with its mother, or the infant learning social cues. Or is there something more going on inside our brains?

In 2008, scientists in Houston, TX published their research on the topic. Their study, "What's in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues", takes data from the MRI images of 26 women as they observed images of infants smiling, crying, or with a neutral expression.

The images included the mother's own infant alternated with an unknown infant of similar ethnicity and in similar clothing and position. In each image, the baby displayed a different emotion through one of three facial expressions; happy, neutral, or sad. Researchers monitored the change in the mothers' brain activity through the transitions in images from own-infant to unknown-infant, and from happy to neutral to sad and vice versa.

The results?

"When first-time mothers see their own baby's face, an extensive brain network appears to be activated, wherein affective and cognitive information may be integrated and directed toward motor/behavioral outputs," wrote the study's authors. Seeing her infant smile or cry prompts the areas of the brain that would instigate a mother to act, whether it be to comfort, care for, or caress and play with the baby.

In addition, the authors found that reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, baby faces. The areas of the brain that lit up in their study are the same areas that release dopamine, the "pleasure chemical." For context, other activities that elicit dopamine surges include eating chocolate, having sex, or doing drugs. So in other words, a baby's smile may be as powerful as those other feel-good experiences.

And this gooey feeling moms may get from seeing their babies smile isn't just a recreational high—it serves a purpose.

This reward system (aka dopaminergic and oxytocinergic neuroendocrine system) exists to motivate the mother to forge a positive connection with the baby, according to Aurélie Athan, PhD, director of the Reproductive & Maternal Psychology Laboratory (a laboratory that created the first graduate courses of their kind in these subjects).

These networks also promote a mother's ability to share her emotional state with her child, which is the root of empathy. "A mother cries when baby cries, smiles when baby smiles," Athan says.

While there's a physiological explanation underlying that warm-and-fuzzy sensation elicited by a smile, there may be other factors at play too, Kurtz says.

"In my clinical practice, I often observe a stunning exchange between a mother and her baby when the latter smiles at her. A mother who is otherwise engaged in conversation with me may be, for that moment, entirely redirected to focus on her little one," Kurtz says. "This kind of attention-capturing on the part of the baby can enable and cultivate maternal attunement—a mother's ability to more deeply connect with her infant. The quality of attunement in early childhood often sets the stage for one's relationship patterns in the future."

Whether a physiological response, a neural activation, simple instinct, or the tightening of emotional connection, the feeling generated by babies' smiles is a buoy in the choppy ocean of new parenthood.

And while the first smile may be the most magical by virtue of its surprise and the necessity of that emotional lift, the fuzzy feeling can continue well into that baby's childhood and beyond. It keeps telling parents, you've got this!

[This was originally published on Apparently]

Life

Chrissy Teigen is one of the most famous moms in the world and definitely one of the most famous moms on social media.

She's the Queen of Twitter and at least the Duchess of Instagram but with a massive following comes a massive dose of mom-shame, and Teigen admits the online comments criticizing her parenting affects her.

"It's pretty much everything," Teigen told Today, noting that the bulk of the criticism falls into three categories: How she feeds her kids, how she uses her car seats and screen time.

"Any time I post a picture of them holding ribs or eating sausage, I get a lot of criticism," she explained. "Vegans and vegetarians are mad and feel that we're forcing meat upon them at a young age. They freak out."

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Teigen continues: "If they get a glimpse of the car seat there is a lot of buckle talk. Maybe for one half of a second, the strap slipped down. And TV is another big one. We have TV on a lot in my house. John and I work on television; we love watching television."

Teigen wants the shame to stop, not just for herself but for all the other moms who feel it. (And we agree.)

"Hearing that nine out of 10 moms don't feel like they're doing a good enough job is terrible," she said. "We're all so worried that we're not doing all that we can, when we really are."

The inspiration for Teigen talking publicly about mom-shame may be in part because of her participation in Pampers' "Share the Love" campaign. But even though Teigen's discussion coincides with this campaign, the message remains equally important. Advertising can be a powerful tool for shifting the way society thinks about what's "normal" and we would much rather see companies speaking out against mom-shame than inducing it to sell more stuff.

Calling out mom-shame in our culture is worth doing in our lives, our communities and yes, our diaper commercials. Thank you Chrissy (and thank you, Pampers).

News

Dear fellow mama,

I was thinking about the past the other day. About the time I had three small boys—a newborn, his 2-year-old brother and his 5-year-old brother.

How I was always drowning.

How I could never catch my breath between the constant requests.

How I always felt guilty no matter how hard I tried.

How hard it was—the constant exhaustion, struggling to keep my home any kind of clean or tidy, how I struggled to feed my kids nutritious meals, to bathe them and clean them and keep them warmly dressed in clean clothing, to love them well or enough or well enough.

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Those years were some of the toughest years I have ever encountered.

But mama, I am here to tell you that it doesn't last forever. Slowly, incrementally, without you even noticing, it gets easier. First, one child is toilet trained, then the bigger one can tie his own shoelaces, then finally they are all sleeping through the night.

It's hard to imagine; I really really get it.

It is going to get easier. I swear it. I'm not saying that there won't be new parenting challenges, that it won't be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. It will be. But it will get easier.

These days, all of my kids get the bus to school and back. Most of them dress themselves. They can all eat independently and use the toilet. Sometimes they play with each other for hours leaving me time to do whatever I need to do that day.

I sleep through the night. I am not constantly in a haze of exhaustion. I am not overwhelmed by three tiny little people needing me to help them with their basic needs, all at the same time.

I can drink a hot cup of coffee. I do not wish with every fiber of my being that I was an octopus, able to help each tiny person at the same time.

I am not tugged in opposite directions. I don't have to disappoint my 3-year-old who desperately wants to play with me while I am helping his first grade bother with his first grade reading homework.

And one day, you will be here too.

It's going to get easier. I promise. And while it may not happen today or even next week or even next month, it will happen. And you will look around in wonder at the magnificent people you helped to create and nurture and sustain.

Until then, you are stronger and more resilient than you can even imagine.

You've got this. Today and always.

Love,

A fellow mama

Life
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