Why Fewer Toys are Better than Many for Anxious Children

Gifting your anxious child dozens of toys for the holidays may not be as beneficial as sticking with a select few. That’s the conclusion of a University of Toledo study that found children’s quality of play is enhanced when they have a smaller collection of toys at their disposal.

Study Details

The study, scheduled to be published in Infant Behavior and Development, involved 36 toddlers between the ages of 18 and 30 months. Researchers watched the toddlers engaging in free-play sessions, with each toddler receiving either 16 toys or four toys. The toddlers with four toys interacted differently with the toys than the children who had 16.

Having fewer toys resulted in play that involved:

  • Longer periods of time
  • A greater variety of methods for playing with the same toy
  • More sophisticated and advanced ways of playing with the toys
  • Increased involvement with toys

Such increased interaction with toys, in turn, can positively impact several areas of development, including:

  • Imagination
  • Problem solving
  • Self-expression
  • Fine motor coordination and other physical skills

Researchers concluded this enhanced the overall quality of play, resulting in play sessions that were healthier and could ultimately lead to richer cognitive development.

Overload for Anxious Children

The idea of providing fewer toys can be particularly beneficial for anxious children. Study researchers noted that an abundance of toys actually created a distraction that put the toddlers at a disadvantage. Anxious children tend to be easily overwhelmed, and a multitude of toys and distractions can add to feelings of anxiety and unease.

Clutter, whether in the form of hordes of toys or general disarray, can increase stress and anxiety in both children and adults. Clutter’s major drawbacks include:

  • Distraction, pulling attention away from what’s important
  • Overloading the mind with excessive stimuli, which makes the senses work harder to absorb information that’s not even necessary
  • Providing an ongoing signal that work is never finished
  • Clogging up open space that could otherwise invite creativity and imagination
  • Inviting frustration when specific items can’t be located or are otherwise swallowed up in the pile
  • Making it tough, if not impossible, to relax both the body and mind

Ideal Gifts for Anxious Children

Anxious children are likely to appreciate a few quality toys and quality family time more than a batch of toys that lose their appeal quickly. Quality toys can include those designed to soothe anxiety and stress, such as plush stuffed animals, stress balls, or a mini Zen sandbox.

Quality family time can consist of something as simple as a visit to your anxious child’s favorite restaurant or park. Family outings and trips can also bring joy as well as fond memories your anxious child may cherish forever.

Whatever gifts you choose, don’t feel obliged to choose dozens of them. Keeping the holidays as simple and relaxing as possible can be extremely helpful for anxious children, as well as the rest of your family.