|My own little toy-loving boys in 2000.|
Though I've tried to avoid stores for this entire season (thank you, Internet), I did have to go to one in person on Saturday to pick up a few things. When I got there I realized that I was in a potential nightmare scenario: an aisle in Super Target a couple weeks before Christmas. Since I happened to be looking at board games, I was very near the toy aisle (in which I shopped not that many years ago). In the process of scanning the shelves, I heard no less than three mothers have almost identical conversations with tiny snowsuit-clad boys. Each mother said "Get away from that! Stop touching that!" and one mother said under her breath to the friend who was shopping with her, "I'm going to kill him."
While I understand that little boys can be frustrating, I would ask parents to be realistic about what they are doing to those little boys. To take a small child, at Christmastime, to a huge department store, maneuver him to the TOY AISLE, and then tell him not to touch anything? That is tantamount to torture.
The boys in those same dialogues had predictable responses to their mothers' demands: they grew deaf. This is a built-in defense mechanism that every child possesses so that he or she won't have to acknowledge a mandate with which they do not agree. So the first little boy, after being told not to look, touch, or even move by his mother, continued to look, his mouth open, at the wealth of toys in front of him.
His mother finally learned her lesson and changed tactics, saying, "Come and hold your brother's hand." Then the little boy snapped out of it, because apparently he liked the idea of holding hands with his older brother. He toddled over and curled his little fingers around his brother's palm.
The second two mothers that I heard did not think of this, but continued to tell their children to "Stop it! Get away from there!" for as long as I was there. With a burst of sympathy for little children in stores everywhere, I made my way to the register. My own former little boys were doing their own shopping in another part of the store, and the preferred department these days is electronics and media.
What I would say to parents who probably don't see the irony of what they're doing is this: "YOU stop it!" If your child is too little to handle going to a toy store, then don't take him or her to one and put him through the agony of shopping. Or if, like me, you sometimes have no choice but to bring your child along, then choose an aisle where it's okay for your child to touch things. Let them explore the floor model of the musical piano or the LEGO castle, and discuss the interesting features of the toy with them.
I know that if someone took me to a bookstore but told me not to touch one of the books or show any interest in them, I would think that person was being ridiculous. Even as adults, we all have our toys of choice, and we should consider how much more passionately children love toys than do we.
Finally, parents, when you get home from shopping and put away all your wares, read your child a book. Neither of you will ever regret that decision, and just as the toys at the store stimulate your child's wonder, the book will stimulate his or her imagination. I once blogged here about my favorite Christmas books for children, and the link is here.
May all parents of little children have a wonderful holiday, and may you all appreciate the beautiful and temporary gift which is that little child.
And whoever you are, whatever age you may be, may you always take great pleasure in your toys.