How to choose toys for your kids

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How many times have you gone to great lengths to get your child the hot new toy, only to find it abandoned in a pile with all of his other stuff? Here's some advice from toy expert Chris Byrne on how to buy toys that aren't just fads.

How to choose toys for your kids

No, you're not imagining it. There has been an explosion of both toys and lists of best selling, highest rated, most kid-friendly, greenest and 'hottest' toys. How do you choose?

  • The key is to get unbiased reviews. (Many 'special advertising sections' masquerade as reviews). Look at: the range of toys reviewed (not all from the same manufacturer), the recommended age range, the source of the review, and the testing methodology. (Beware the practice of reporting on evaluations that come exclusively from observing kids playing with toys. Kids love new toys especially and these subjective reports may be too biased to rely on.)
  • Trust your gut instinct. If a particular toy review sounds 'too good to be true', it probably is. Dig deeper to try to uncover any potential bias or conflict of interest in the reviewer.
  • It is critical to assess a list in the context of your kids and their interests. There's no use choosing toys that are the latest and hottest of the hot this year, but aren't even on your child's radar screen.
  • Think about toys in the context of what your kids are into. What they like to do with their leisure time. How they interact with their friends. And what types of toys they play with when playing with friends.
  • Most of us need to prioritize our kids' toy wish lists to manage their expectations. Watch T.V. commercials with them and help them critically assess if the allure will last beyond the excitement of opening a shiny new bauble. Remember: Classic toys are classics for a reason -- they engage kids' imagination and have passed the test of time.
  • Holidays should be a fun time for both you and your kids, so don't agonize over any given list of what's hot this season, or what others think your kids want this year. The hot toys are the ones that will appeal to your kids. And you know them better than anyone.
Transcript

RON: I'm Ron Corning for Howdini.com. If you're shopping for children during the holidays it seems that everywhere you turn there's a list of this year's best toys. And kids, of course, have their own list as well. All of this, all of this information, all of these toys, all of these lists, can make shopping for playthings a lot of work. Well, Chris Byrne the toy guy is here to put the fun back in toys. He is the editor-at-large for Toys & Family Entertainment, Royalties and also a contributing editor for Toy Wishes. Chris, it's nice to have you here.

CHRIS: Thank you.

RON: I know a lot of parents are wishing there might be fewer choices out there. And they have equally as many choices when it comes to information on which toys might be best for their kids. Where do they start?

CHRIS: They start by looking at the list. There are about 160,000 toys on the market at any given point in the United States. So the lists really do help. Starting in August and going right through December, magazines have lists, TV shows have lists, organizations that are designed to review toys have lists, so there's lots of information out there. But in many cases I've noticed if you pick up a magazine, it looks as if it's a review of the toys; if you look very closely it says “Special Advertisement.”

RON: How do you know if the stuff that you're seeing is unbiased, and not the manufacturer’s own advertisement?

CHRIS: Well, I think you have to look very carefully and see the range of toys covered, the age of toys, the source that it's coming from, what the testing methodology is. That's always very important because sometimes they'll give kids a toy, and kids really like toys when they get them and there's no other context for reviewing them. So, it's important to look for that special advertising section and again use your gut instinct and see what makes sense to you. I would think the best toy list, any list that you might go with, is only a guide, and that really it comes down to what your child wants as well. Because they have their own ideas about things that they've heard about, seen, tried out at a friend's house.

RON: Sure. Right, we always say that the hot toy is only hot if it's hot for your child.

CHRIS: Every toy is different. So this year's hot Barbie doll, for example, is not going to appeal to a 9-year-old boy. Ah, though it may have made every single list out there, so it's really important to know what your kids are into. What they like. What they like to do in their leisure time. How they like to interact with their friends.

RON: And then, what are the toys they like to use when they have those experiences?

CHRIS: Well, then it comes down to parents having to make some really crucial decisions so that they aren't dealing with an upset kid during the holidays. A lot of parents aren't going to be able to buy everything on the list, so how do you sort of prioritize and decide if given a choice between this one or this one that my child's going to be happier with this toy than the other. You know, it's great to manage expectations. One of the things my mom did was she would say to us, “Well, Santa's sleigh is really big, but he has to carry toys for all the boys and girls in the world. So, you know, you got to really pick the ones you want the most.” And it's good to sort of sit down with your kids, talk about what's on their list. If you can, look at the TV commercials with them, and really begin to talk about what the kids want, so they begin to refine for themselves, what it is they most want to find under the tree. You might be surprised to find that in some cases your child likes the same toys that you liked. Everything old is new again. Sometimes a classic is the best way to go.

RON: And the newer stuff is sort of played with for a few days and then ignored?

CHRIS: Absolutely. I mean classic toys are classic because they've engaged kids. They engage their imagination. I like to say it's not complete without the child. You really need that child's imagination to bring the toy to life.

RON: Chris Byrne, thank you. Good information here. Chris is the editor-at-large for Toys & Family Entertainment, Royalties, and also a contributing editor of Toy Wishes. And I'm Ron Corning for Howdini.com.

meet theexpert
  • Chris Byrne

    Chris Byrne Editor-At-Large, Toys & Family Entertainment Chris Byrne, “The Toy Guy,” is the editor-at-large for Toys & Family Entertainment and Royaltie$ and a contributing editor for Toy Wishes. He's appeared on The Today Show, and written for many different trade magazines, including Toy & Hobby World. more about this expert »

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