Healthful gifts for children
Holiday shopping tips for parents and caregivers
December 4, 2007
(Boston, Mass.) -- With the holiday shopping season now at its peak, parents, family members and friends are faced with the daunting task of finding the right gifts to create a special and memorable experience for the children in their lives. Media have become increasingly central to the holiday season, not only in driving consumer purchasing through print and broadcast advertising, but also as some of the most popular gifts given. From video games and DVDs to MP3 players and cell phones, the Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH) at Children's Hospital Boston is concerned that the well-being of children remains first and foremost in our gifting decisions.
"Media powerfully influence all of us, young and old, to want the latest innovation or fad toy," says Michael Rich, MD, CMCH director and founder. "It's important for both parents and children to recognize how we're all being led to think and behave. The greatest gift we can give our children is the freedom to be themselves, rather than simply joining the herd of kids who must have a toy that everyone else has and will be bored by it in two weeks."
To help parents and their children make the holiday season their own, Rich and CMCH researchers have developed a gift-giving strategy for parents and caregivers. "Think of your own childhood and what remains with you," suggests Rich. "This is about taking back the holidays and providing your kids with a healthy alternative to the commercial frenzy."
This season, focus on the CHILD:
Creative: Think creatively about who the child is and what makes him or her truly happy.
Homework: Study the nature, content, and age-appropriateness of gifts, especially media products, before buying.
Imagination: Provide a child's growing mind with gifts to stimulate their imagination, creative growth and development.
Learning: Look for gifts that encourage problem-solving, creativity and positive social interaction.
Donate: Give the gift of giving.
Creative: Match presents to the child's specific likes and abilities. Some ideas include:
- Make them their own coloring book with pictures of things related to their interests or hobbies.
- Make a photo album or scrapbook of their activities over the past year.
- Make T-shirts that reflect their style.
- Edit the year's home movies into a video or DVD.
- Make a music mix of their favorite songs or songs you liked when you were their age.
- Write a story that stars your child.
- Arrange a scavenger hunt or treasure hunt just for them.
Homework: While you are thinking about gifts for your child, consider what is appropriate for their age. You can check out screen shots from games and lyrics from songs before you make purchases. You can also read reviews of products (www.cmch.tv/gifts) to see what others have said about them. Parents should use their judgment to consider what will be best for their own child's development.
Imagination: Often the simplest gifts are the ones that get kids to use their imaginations. See the list below for some ideas.
For younger children:
- Start a dress-up bin with old costumes and vintage clothes.
- Build or arrange a puppet theater.
- Create kits designed around occupations for kids to pretend with, for example:
- A doctor's kit with ace bandages, band-aids, printouts of a health checklist they can use, cereal for "medicine," and a bag to carry it all in. Add a few stuffed animals and this could be a veterinarian kit instead.
- High-quality art supplies or art kits, blank canvases and scrap booking materials will provide valuable creative outlets.
- Music, dance, or art lessons will introduce teens to new ways of expressing themselves.
- A digital camera will encourage them to exercise their creativity and to see their environment in new ways.
- Music or video editing software for the computer will allow teens to create their own media.
Learning: Research shows that children learn from what they play, so think about what it is that you'd like them to learn (and what you don't want them to learn) and choose related gifts. Gifts that encourage social interaction and relationship building are always good choices.
Board games are especially important for children's learning, as they create opportunities to learn about rules, turn-taking and strategy. Here are some examples of gifts that encourage learning:
- Puzzles and board games
- Science kits, such as ant farms or aquariums
- Bicycle, tricycle, or unicycle
- Travel or a family day trip
- Sports equipment
- Educational software
- Remote control kits
Donate: This holiday season, involve children on the giving end, as well as the receiving end. Help them choose toys to donate to children in need, give them an opportunity to choose a charity you'll give money to in their honor, or have your family volunteer your time together.
The Website MarkMakers.org offers a way for kids to choose the causes they're interested in supporting, including ways to help animals, other children or the environment. The Web sites CharityNavigator.org and JustGive.org offer a way to match charities to each person's interests.
For additional information, visit www.cmch.tv/gifts.
The Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH) is an interdisciplinary center of excellence in research, clinical intervention, and education on the effects of media on the physical, mental, and social health of children. CMCH makes research and tips for parents and teachers available at: www.cmch.tv.
Children's Hospital Boston is home to the world's largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center, where its discoveries have benefited both children and adults since 1869. More than 500 scientists, including eight members of the National Academy of Sciences, nine members of the Institute of Medicine and 11 members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute comprise Children's research community. Founded as a 20-bed hospital for children, Children's Hospital Boston today is a 347-bed comprehensive center for pediatric and adolescent health care grounded in the values of excellence in patient care and sensitivity to the complex needs and diversity of children and families. Children's also is the primary pediatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. For more information about the hospital and its research visit: www.childrenshospital.org/newsroom.
Michael Rich, MD, MPH
Center on Media and Child Health