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Toys: The Good, the Bad and the Noisy

Gifts for kids that will make parents love and hate you.

There are certain toys that will send parents running for the ibuprofen. During the holiday season, the phrase “Some Assembly Required” is like a dirty word in most households with young children. And I’ve been known to plot the mysterious disappearance of anything with loud repetitive sounds or flashing lights.

Maybe I asked for it. In my pre-parent days I purchased a drum and tambourine set for my niece, thinking I was helping to expand her creative side, not realizing that I had given her parents the gift of incessant noise. They turned to me with pleading faces and rolling eyes, even making the vague threat, “I can’t wait until you have kids. Pay back.”

I’ve learned my lesson.

At this point our son is not quite at the age where he is asking for specific gifts. So it’s easy to weed out the items that might be migraine-inducing for us. It’s also up to us to gauge what he will like by his interests and age. I’m relishing this time while I still have a say.

A general rule I try to follow (but don’t always, admittedly) is to stick to items that encourage learning, creativity or being outside. Learning toys, like books or puzzles or blocks, can be both fun and educational. We also appreciate creative outlets like non-messy art projects (do those exist?), and yes, the occasional musical toy is welcome. Also, anything that can be used outside, such as chalk, sporting goods, or beach toys is a sure-fire hit with most kids and parents.

Basic safety is also a concern when deciding on which toys to purchase. Each year, the Illinois Public Interest Research Group researches hundreds of toys and reports back on the potential dangers they find, including lead levels, choking hazards and noise levels. This article from the Chicago Sun Times gives a great summary of this year's report. Although they do not research all toys, it’s a good reference. If you have any doubts about a toy, err on the side of caution.

Of course we all want our kids to be happy, but there are many options out there that will not drive mom and dad up the wall. At the end of the day, simply asking the parents for guidance is the safest bet. They know best if it’s something that will be used and enjoyed. And they also know what will be neglected, forgotten or mysteriously “lost” on the back of a basement shelf.

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