Stevanne Auerbach loves toys. But she’s not a baby, a toddler, or even a preschooler. Auerbach, who calls herself “Dr. Toy,” is a Ph.D. who has spent more than 30 years studying and advising parents about the role of toys and play in their children’s lives. Parent & Child talked with her about those two vital elements for babies and asked her to recommend toys for the age group.
P&C: How can toys positively influence a child?
Dr. Toy: I’ve observed more than 50,000 children playing at the San Francisco International Toy Museum, and it has never ceased to amaze me how a toy can bring children together. Brothers and sisters who might otherwise be fighting got down on the floor and played together.
P&C: What surprises you most about the toys parents choose for their children?
Dr. Toy: How often they make a choice based on advertising or because a neighbor has it. I try to help parents think about why they want their child to have a certain product. But I don’t encourage parents to buy a lot of toys. Instead, I want parents to sing songs, read stories, and just play with their children. I like to say that a parent is his or her child’s first “Big Toy.”
P&C: Do parents tend to buy more toys than their baby needs?
Dr. Toy: Many of us, in the thrill of brand-new parenthood, tend to overdo the number, suitability, and even the size of things we buy.
P&C: What should parents keep in mind when selecting a toy for their new baby?
Dr. Toy: Timing is important. Giving something to your infant before she’s ready for it will only lead to frustration, disappointment, or boredom. Rather than buying a shelf full of dolls, for example, it’s more sensible to buy a soft, washable, baby-proof stuffed animal instead. Also, try to buy toys a baby will like, not necessarily ones you will like.
P&C: Your latest book, Smart Play, Smart Toys, is about raising a child with a high “play quotient.” What is that?
Dr. Toy: We’ve all heard of IQ, or Intelligence Quotient. It’s a predictor of your child’s mental ability. I devised PQ, or “Play Quotient,” to describe the extent to which a child plays. The more a child plays, the higher his PQ will be. Through play, children gain the basic skills they’ll need to succeed in the classroom, and in life. I believe that a child’s PQ is similar to IQ in that it is an important factor in determining how well the child will attain his physical, creative, and intellectual potentials.
P&C: How can parents enhance their child’s PQ, especially during infancy?
Dr. Toy: By stimulating play, being spontaneous, and doing new activities with her. For babies, it’s all about creating a positive relationship. Sing, talk, and play peek-a-boo. It will make your child feel secure and will develop a positive bond between the two of you right from the start.
P&C: Is it OK to replace a child’s well-used toy?
Dr. Toy: Always respect your child’s commitment to a toy. That doll or stuffed animal may look dirty and raggedy to you, but it is your child’s comfort object.