Ask the Pediatrician: What Should I Give My Child for the Holidays?

When it comes to choosing baby toys, your doctor has some advice.
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Baby in pajamas playing with ring toy
Image: Stocksy

Meet Dina DiMaggio, MD, and Anthony F. Porto MD, MPH, official spokespeople for the American Academy of Pediatrics and the co-authors of The Pediatrician’s Guide to Feeding Babies and Toddlers. Each month, they’ll write about the latest AAP guidelines, studies and seasonal issues affecting babies and toddlers. Follow them on Instagram @pediatriciansguide.

It’s our favorite time of year! A time for family, food, and of course, gift giving. But how do you sort through all the junk to find toys that are safe—and developmentally appropriate—for baby? Here are our top 10 AAP-approved tips for choosing the best gift for your child.

  1. Choose toys that are appropriate for your child’s age. The best choices are ones that help build developmental or motor skills, such as blocks, shape sorters, puzzles with big pieces, and musical instruments.

  2. Toys that encourage imagination, like dolls, play kitchens, dress-up costumes, cars, shopping carts and train sets are also high on the list. Pots and pans for the kitchen are a great way to help children get more involved with cooking, and as an added bonus, may help encourage kids to be less picky eaters.

  3. Our all-time go-to gift is books, no matter what the age. They help encourage meaningful interaction between a child and caregiver, as opposed to toys that talk and leave less time for parents and children to talk to each other. For infants and toddlers, books with sturdy pages, different colors, textures and fun hidden flaps are a wonderful way to encourage exploration.

  4. Coloring and activity books make great stocking stuffers. Kids learn by touching and getting messy—finger paints and bigger crayons that toddler hands can easily grab are perfect for encouraging fine motor skills. Activity books or magazines, such as Highlights, with age appropriate games, rhymes and stories are a great holiday gift for young minds.

  5. We know you don’t always feel like fighting the winter coat and mittens battle. Ask relatives for gifts that can entertain indoors. Crafts like making puppets, cards, drawings, room decorations, or even decorating cardboard boxes to create a house or a rocket ship can help develop fine motor skills, which is closely linked to language development in small children.

  6. Make sure all toys are safe. Always read the label on toys to make sure they are developmentally appropriate. Check all toys for too-small parts that can be choking hazards, for loose parts, or potential safety issues such as long ribbons or strings that can pose choking hazards (strings that are more than 12 inches long could be a strangulation risk for babies).

  7. Try to avoid toys with magnets and make sure all batteries are safely secured inside the toy. Small magnets, if swallowed, can cause severe injuries to the stomach and the intestines. If you believe your child has swallowed a magnet (or more than one magnet), your pediatrician should be alerted right away. Likewise, make sure that your child can’t get the battery out of their toy or that the battery doesn’t fall out when the toy is dropped; more than 3,000 batteries are ingested each year in the United States.

  8. For younger children, focus on toys that are larger and can’t fit in your child’s mouth. Don’t buy something that looks like candy; those expandable water beads are cute, but there are reports of kids sticking them in ears and also swallowing them, causing serious harm. Avoid toys that shoot (best to avoid a trip to the ER during the holidays with an eye injury or choking episode). Finally, toys that are loud can damage your child’s hearing.

  9. A common gift kids receive from relatives are cuddly stuffed animals. Before giving them to your child, make sure they are well-made—that seams and edges are tight so that no stuffing is coming loose, that they don’t contain small pellet stuffing that can easily come out and cause choking, and that they are machine washable.

  10. f you live in a small space and are trying to save room, other perfect gifts are museum or zoo memberships, class passes, or tickets to shows or other kid-friendly venues.

Anthony is a board certified pediatrician and board certified pediatric gastroenterologist. He is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Associate Clinical Chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology at Yale University. He has won numerous awards including the Norman J. Siegel Award at Yale University for leadership and providing outstanding clinical care as well as Physician of the Year during his time at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. He has been named Castle Connolly Top Doctors since 2012. Anthony is interested in nutrition, especially in the care of children with difficulty gaining weight, feeding issues, and celiac disease. He loves teaching and educating parents and gives lectures to parents throughout New York and Connecticut.

Published December 2017

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