The holidays have a way of encouraging us to turn our thoughts to kinder, gentler, more comforting things. But those things that bring us peace and calm and joy are not just needed at holiday time. From our early childhood and throughout our lives, we crave tangibles that provide comfort and security. Our favorite toys play an important role in meeting this emotional and physical need. A familiar toy to hold or cuddle when scared, lonely, or uncertain, can provide reassurance through even the darkest moments.
Toys have been used to console individuals during the toughest emotional and physical situations: when traumatized by natural disasters, frightened, distressed or sad, for a sense of security, to alleviate separation anxiety, during sickness and transitional situations. Toys have also been helpful in reducing agitation or distress and improving communication problems in the elderly suffering with Alzheimer’s. Autistic children benefit immensely from interaction with toys. A couple of years ago, my team developed a toy with a sound-activated, interactive light-up feature. Shortly after the toy was released, we received a letter from an autistic child’s physician. He wrote that the child had just spoken his first full sentence as a result of playing with our toy.
An article posted on Chopsy Baby Parenting News, September 26, 2011, says “studies have shown that over 70% of children in the western world become attached to a particular toy or blanket. It is believed that this is more prevalent in the western world because western children tend to sleep separately from their parents from a much earlier age. The toy can carry the smell of their mother and their familiar texture offers almost immediate comfort.”
The article continues, “according to a nationwide research of 5,000 adults, 43 per cent of women and 21 per cent of men still keep their favourite comfort toy from childhood fairly close by. Though 4 out of 5 adults remember that special toy they turned to during the sad times, only 1 in 3 children today are allowed one.”
Animals also experience comfort and security from toys. From dog pillows with the rhythm of a heart beat or the warmth of a mother, to familiar sounds in playthings for cats, our furry friends benefit emotionally and physically from special toys. Earlier this year, a study was conducted at the Melbourne Zoo on a baby spider monkey that had been rejected by her mother. The baby monkey was given stuffed toys to create a sense of warmth and support as she adjusted to the rejection of her mother.
This season as the kids happily rip into their packages and pull out cuddly playthings, or soon-to-be-favorite dolls, think about the positive influence toys provide in their lives. Take some time to think back on your own favorite toy and how it cheered you. The toy may be long gone, but the comfort and joy it provided will never be erased. That’s a gift worth giving!