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The latest and greatest piece of information to hit the
headlines happens to work out in my favor, but not because I somehow saw into
the future or because of my excellent parenting skills. No, it was my
introversion and sound sensitivity that helped me get this one right.
A new study in JAMA
Pediatrics shows that those so-called electronic "educational" toys (you
know, the talking, beeping, light up, cheering ones) aren't so educational,
after all. In a study of communication during play between 26 parent-infant
dyads using three different toys, results showed that play with the electronic
toys were associated with fewer adult words, fewer parental responses, fewer
conversational turns and fewer productions of content specific words than
during play with traditional toys and books.
The study concludes that use of electronic toys should be discouraged in the interest of promoting early language development.
In other words, parents appear to
let the electronic toys do the interacting for them.
The study concludes that use of electronic toys should be
discouraged in the interest of promoting early language development. Researchers recommend, you guessed it!, reading to your children and playing with
"traditional" (make your own sound effects) toys.
Electronic educational toys popped up everywhere when I was
pregnant with my daughter. In fact, I received a few of them for shower gifts.
I remember one in particular that she seemed to enjoy. It was a ball that lit
up and sang the alphabet every time she made it spin. I remember watching her
play with it for the very first time and thinking, "Wow, that thing is loud and
annoying." I went out and bought a bunch of wooden blocks and shape sorters the
very next day.
In fairness, I did let her play with the loud, well-lit alphabet ball at times. But it was never my first choice. I wanted to sit and
interact with her, and loud, beeping toys seemed to distract us from our time
Here's the thing: While I pushed the loud, light-up things
to the back of the closet, because I really didn't like them (actually I couldn't stand them), parents everywhere
were being encouraged to use them. Labels on toy boxes promised language development,
letter sounds and hours of fun. Why wouldn't
a parent buy something so highly recommended by "pediatricians everywhere" (who
might or might not be related to 4 out 5 dentists.)
While I love that this new
research gives parents concrete information to lean on, I do wish it was
available before the infant toy
aisles began to overflow with those alleged "educational" electronics. Why must
we always learn the important information after the fact?
The fun part of the early years, however, is that you get to regress and be playful with your child.
With that in mind, here are my three best tips for interacting
with your babies:
1. Read, read, read
Reading is fun. Reading is calming. Reading is time spent
together sharing a laugh over a silly hippopotamus or saying goodnight to every
single thing in the bedroom. Reading is soothing and happy making at the same
2. Talk when you play
I know it feels a little "Dora the Explorer" in those early
days when you talk to your busy little baby only to meet with dead air, but
those early conversations are essential. Your baby learns to talk and converse
by watching you. Don't just narrate in baby talk, have conversations. Read and
respond to your child's nonverbal cues, as this will help her learn to do the same
as she grows.
We are all pulled in one million directions, and everyone
needs parenting breaks at times. But during that time spent together it is
super important to focus on your child. Let the phone go to voicemail, pull
yourself away from your daydreams, resist the urge to work through that to-do
list in your mind. Just be present.
The cruel trick of parenting is that people always tell you
it gets easier as they grow. I don't think that's true. It gets different. Each
stage has its benefits and challenges, but it's almost never "easy." The fun
part of the early years, however, is that you get to regress and be playful
with your child. Blow bubbles, scribble chalk on the sidewalk, swing high (or
low) together. Tap into your inner child to enjoy those moments and watch your