Help! My kids don’t play with toys

Help my kids don’t play with toys!!

Kids and toys go hand in hand, don’t they? Not necessarily.

What do you do if your child isn’t really interested in toys? I can’t be the only one whose children would rather play with the egg beater or a hammer over race cars and dolls.

Does it make you feel uncomfortable? How do you handle it? 

Some toys may hold your kids’ attention longer than others, and your children may go through phases with their interests. That is okay and totally normal. I want you to know you are not alone. Society puts way too much pressure on parents. You know big toymakers and marketing to children are relatively new in the history of the world.[1]

For centuries children may have had a few simple toys, a doll, a ball, and nature objects. They would participate in the real work of running the home or become an apprentice. Kids used to just spend hours exploring outside. The idea of children needing entertainment to fill the hours of their day would have seemed ridiculous (just go ask your own parents or grandparents).

I’d like to challenge your thinking just slightly if I may

  • Are you okay with your children not really being interested in traditional toys? 
  • What is your comfort level towards children doing ‘real’ work or projects?
  • Do you feel you need to entertain your children?
  • What would happen if your kids were bored?
  • What are they interested in?
  • In your mind what is the purpose of play?

When we change our thinking about play we can begin to think of all sorts of new and creative ways to engage our children. Did you know that there are around 16 different types of play? [2] That is far more than the dramatic, construction, and creative play areas we most often think about. Play is all about doing an activity for fun rather than a specific purpose.

All that being said let’s take a look at some toys and activities that may engage your children.

Gross motor play: perhaps your children would prefer movement and climbing.

  • Climbing wall
  • Nugget couch or lots of couch cushions
  • Swings – inside or outside
  • Indoor play structure
  • Pickle triangle
  • Outside at playgrounds or nature
  • Obstacle course
  • Balance beams
  • Sports equipment
  • Passes to indoor playground or trampoline park
  • Passes to conservation area

Creative play: Your children love art and making things

  • Paints
  • Paper
  • Colouring supplies
  • Scissors
  • Tape (lots of tape)
  • Plasticine
  • Clay
  • Chalk
  • Glitter (Ha just joking, don’t do glitter)
  • Subscription box

Sensory play: Maybe your child love to touch and feel, or get messy

  • Playdough
  • Kinetic sand
  • Oobleck (cornstarch and water)
  • Slime
  • Slimebaff
  • Water beads
  • DIY sensory bins (or support a small business who makes kits)
  • Water play
  • Sandbox
  • Mud or dirt
  • Nature, just get outside
  • Fake snow
  • Kitchen experiments (think vinegar and baking soda, or using up old kitchen supplies)
  • Clay
  • Plasticine
  • Loose parts (so many options there)

Construction play: You have a little builder on your hands

  • Lego or similar
  • Magnetic tiles
  • Wooden blocks
  • Marble runs
  • Mechano
  • Lincoln logs
  • Minecraft or other screen activities
  • Recycling bin and lots of tape
  • Construction set
  • Real tools
  • Sandbox
  • Loose parts
  • Woodworking, whittling

Designer/engineer: Your child has the best inventions

  • Thrift store items to take apart
  • Subscription boxes
  • STEAM toys
  • Lego
  • Minecraft or other screen games
  • Coding
  • Real tools
  • Building kits
  • Marble runs
  • Loose parts
  • Lots of tape (lol)
  • Make your own inventor kit or buy one
  • Fort building
  • Ask friends and family for broken items your child can investigate
  • Tour factories or historic sites
  • Gears and gear toys
  • Mechano
  • Robot kits, sets and toys
  • Woodworking 
  • Apprentice

So perhaps you have a few ideas now. But you may have some questions and nagging doubts still.

Okay, This sounds great but my kids are just aimless when they have free time. They wrestle and fight and are sooo loud! What do I do?

I totally understand where you are coming from. We actually have industrial headphones in our home because it can get noisy and we have a bungalow with no basement. Here are some things to consider before you give up and get too frustrated.

Are your children used to a structured day at school or daycare? They may not know what to do with free time unless you have a chat about it or let them figure it out.

Does their choice of play trigger you? Perhaps you were not a rough-and-tumble child, or maybe it wasn’t allowed or you have trauma there. Try not to put your personal issues on your children. It is hard, I struggle so much when my boys pick on each other because I was bullied and I get triggered.

Is it the type of play that overwhelms you or their inability to play independently, without constantly needing you there? Perhaps you could start with shorter bursts of independent playtime. You may need to model how to play independently or let them figure it out a little. Brainstorming together may just help unlock some fun ideas.

If your child needing supervision a challenge? Perhaps it is age or ability but some kids may need a bit more supervision. Are there any activities they can do without you? Can they play while you rest or do anything else? Maybe you can set aside some time for their interests and unique play, or make it part of a special time with you.

I really want to let go of my worry and trust that my kids will turn out okay.

Don’t we all! Mine are the same way. I’ve invested a lot in tape and tools. My boys like real projects, tools, learning how to bake safely, etc. Two of them have rooms full of spare parts and junk. Trading parts was a big part of their summer. They go to the thrift store for things to take apart. My boys know each other so well because one gave his brother a plunger as a Christmas gift last year. 

Their lack of interest in traditional toys used to make me uncomfortable. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t just do what other kids did. I get very anxious about the mess. I still do as it is a lot of work to keep them contained. I do recommend knowing your own limits. Creating some contained space helps so that spare parts don’t take over the house. We actually built my son a shed in the yard to contain him a little.

But my middle son who is now 10 has built a lawn tractor from scratch with a little help from daddy. Over the years he’d gather parts as my husband would repair out vehicles and other lawn tractors (yes we are a crazy family with lots of lawn tractors). He watched and helped my husband fix projects in the driveway. Then he’d run off and try to put pieces together into his own creations. Bit by bit he was learning how vehicles work and what was needed to make his own.

He is currently taking apart electronics (DVD players, typewriters, gaming consoles) and using the parts to build a computer. He is learning about what each part does, looking up the specs online, and playing around with how to fit it all into an old case. So I see the value now down the road.

Overall our children are all unique and creative. Learning to trust, let go, and challenge our own thinking is also part of the parenting journey.

If you are looking for more support in your parenting let’s connect:

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References

[1] Children and Advertising History https://www.researchgate.net/publication/309565990_2015_Children_and_Advertising_History

[2] 16 Types of play https://www.encourageplay.com/blog/16-different-types-of-play