By Will Barrios

You spent time looking for that perfect toy for the little one this holiday season. No doubt they asked for that pink pony you told them Santa might bring, or that hottest tech toy everyone is getting. Although you would do anything to get them the hottest new toy, you know finding a physical toy that is long lasting and educational (though you would never tell them) is important for their growth.

So you found that toy. You were excited. Your kid opened it up with all that childhood joy and excitement and they played with it for an hour at most. Maybe they played with it a couple more times but the interest faded quickly.

Now, it’s January and they’ve stopped playing with it altogether. It sits in a dusty corner of their room waiting for someone to play. Finally, after the holidays, they’ve moved on. They’re back on their tablet or phone and engrossed in social media or online games. As kids consume more and more online content they are constantly pulled from one thing to the other without focusing on one event. How do you get them back to that toy and engage them again?

It’s well known that play is an essential part of a child’s development. Through play kids learn problem solving, creative thinking, and spatial awareness. When kids play with others, children learn social skills such as collaboration and social awareness.

First things first –

  • Turn off the TV. Shut down the computer and put the tablets and phones away.
  • Tell your kids that you are committing an hour to family playtime – no screens and no Internet.
  • Ask your kids what activity they want to play. Do they want to color? Do they want to dress up? Try to shy away from games involving electronics and focus on physical toys and activities.

Now’s your chance. Time to ask about that special toy you bought that’s sitting in their room. Ask them why they haven’t played with it. Did they lose interest? Do they know how to put it together and play with it? During the holiday excitement they may have jumped from present to present and never got a chance to really learn about their new toy. Use this moment to assess the real issue and think about how you can help them.

Next, bring out the new toy and encourage them to take another look. You can make an agreement with them and say, “Let’s play with it again. You had fun the first couple of times. If we can commit to playing with this again for 30 minutes and you decide you don’t want to play with it anymore we can move on to the activity you chose.” Get a commitment from them to play again and explore the toy in a new way. Ask them questions about what they’re doing and how they are making choices about how to play. But most of all – have fun! Use this time to engage with them and connect. You recognize the educational value in the toy and you want to make it a positive choice for them.

When you encourage them to play again after they’ve lost interest you can help them develop social awareness. It teaches them to stick it out to the end and look at something in a new way that they may have missed before. In today’s world of pop-up notifications and fast moving social feeds this tactic supports a never-give-up attitude and makes sure the decision to stop playing was because they really didn’t have interest in the toy and not because they gave up. If they are able to see the toy in a new way encourage the way they are playing with it this time and give them the space to be creative.

Worst case scenario – maybe you purchased the toy with the best intentions but they found something else more fun. That’s okay. Let them explore that other interest in a way that is open and allows them the opportunity to learn more about their new activity.

Now, you made an agreement with them to play their activity once they played with the new toy so be sure to keep your commitment and have fun!

If they decide the toy is not for them encourage your child to pass it on. Bring it to a local shelter or library. Find a friend at school that may want it or a child in your neighborhood. Make it a positive experience either way and help them to create the social awareness to look at the situation in a different way. That can be a skill they benefit from for years to come.

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