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Written by:  Odile Fredericks
Date: December 19, 2011

Should you gift the girls on your shopping list typical "girl" toys, like dolls, and give the boys toys like trucks and race cars? Over the years, I've pondered this question and decided to move past convention. When my son was a tot, I gave him a small umbrella stroller so he could take his doll for a walk with me. I figured it was never too early to teach him parenting skills. I also gave him a dollhouse one year.

OK, so he did use his pirate ship to sack the doll's house, but we also enjoyed many leisurely outings with the stroller on sunny days. Was I doing the right thing? Deborah Best, a developmental psychologist at Wake Forest University, says that although children naturally gravitate to gender-appropriate toys, playing with other-gender toys may teach new skills.

Children need exposure to 'girl' toys, 'boy' toys and gender-neutral toys to gain experiences that will encourage them to play across boundaries, she says. She believes that too much same-gender play may narrow children's cognitive, social and motor skills. On the other hand, girls who play with trucks may refine gross motor skills, while boys may improve their fine motor skills when they practice buttoning doll clothing.

Apparently, I was right to give my son a doll. "Children learn nurturing and caretaking behaviors from taking care of dolls, pets or younger siblings," she says. "If you want boys to learn those behaviors, parents should provide opportunities."

Spatial toys, such as puzzles, help girls develop skills in manipulating objects.

The most important mistake parents make is to gift kids the same sorts of toys over and over, she says. When you buy a toy, she suggests you ask yourself these questions:

  • Will it stretch my child's interest?
  • Is it educational?
  • Does it inspire creativity?

If you're looking for great gifts for chldren, visit our Winter Holidays Guide to see the 2011 winners of the National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA). You'll find the year's finest toys, books, magazines and games to CDs, DVDs, apps, software, video games and websites. 


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