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Photo by “fbueno.net” on Flickr Q: I don't want to seem ungrateful, and I know my children would probably like the Dora or Batman version of toys, but I just find that sort of commercialism unnecessary. How can I tell my family that we'd prefer they not get the character versions of toys when giving my kids gifts?
– Particular about Presents in Ypsilanti, MI

A: Dear Particular,

What a great question to consider this holiday season. Cross-merchandised products encourage kids to see whatever movie or TV show they represent—even if it’s not appropriate for their age or stage of development. Plus, character toys often dictate how kids play with them: They encourage kids to act out the stories they know from the show or film rather than asking them to exercise their imaginations. This undermines the incredible value of open-ended free play

So what to say to your family? First, know that they’ll likely appreciate any insight you can offer as to what to buy your child. (Holiday shopping can be stressful for even seasoned relatives, no matter how many gifts they’ve given in the past!) Provide them with suggestions as to what your unique child really wants: Opt for toys that encourage creative, imagination-fueled play and independent and collaborative learning. Books, board games, art sets, instruments—these are just a few great potential presents for kids of all ages. (Read on for more media and non-media gift-giving tips.)

Also, it’s absolutely OK to tell your family directly that you’d prefer they not get the character versions of whatever toy they choose, even if they know your child is a fan of the show or movie. You can relay to them how important it is to you that your child make up her own stories instead of having her playtime scripted by pre-digested plotlines—or you can opt for whatever version of “Please choose non-character toys that expand our child’s mind” that works for you. 

However you make the message clear, remember to model these concepts yourself when choosing toys for cousins, nieces, and nephews: Think of your gift as an investment in that child’s future brain, and make your investment wisely.

Related Resource: The Guide to Commercial-Free Holidays

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician® 

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