You would be hard-pressed to find a parenting board on Pinterest that doesn’t reference “calming toys” these days. And with the holidays right around the corner, many parents may be considering purchasing one for their kids this year. But are toys designed to calm children really effective at doing that? We talked to two experts to get their opinions.
What Are Calming Toys?
The phrase “calming toys” can cover everything from low-tech DIY models made with empty jars filled with a mix of water, food coloring, glue and glitter, to high-tech toys with screens that light up, soothing sounds and colors. All are designed with one thing in mind: providing your child with a calming sensory experience.
Natialie Lopez, an associate clinical mental health counselor with Freedom Counseling, explains just how varied these toys, and their effects, can be.
“Whether it’s a super soft plushie, vibrant coloring book, moldable play dough, floral-scented doll, fidget spinner, or any other kind of sensory toy; your child’s interactions with a sensory experience supports early childhood development and can develop and improve memory,” she tells Parentology.
Additionally, for some children, the use of these toys can encourage mindful awareness, help them build their attention span and reduce feelings of anxiety.
Lopez says that the best time to use these toys is when your child seems agitated, or in preparation for sleep.
Who Should Use Calming Toys
Jephtha Tausig, PhD, a clinical psychologist, believes calming toys can help a range of children with self-soothing.
That being said, Tausig doesn’t want parents to think these toys are the only method for settling their children. She recommends coupling calming toys with other options, depending on what your child’s needs are at the time. A soothing bath, punching bag or even a fidget spinner can all also help children in mild a state of emotional turmoil.
While both Lopez and Tausig believe calming toys can benefit children suffering from various sensory processing disorders, Tausig wants parents to know not every child will experience the same level of relief.
“Calming toys are certainly a viable option, however, it’s important to realize they can’t promise or deliver equal efficacy for every single child as no two children are identical as to what may cause them to tantrum or become agitated, and what may help them calm down.”
How Old Is Too Old?
When trying to figure out what type of toy to use for your child, Tausig wants parents to focus less on their child’s chronological ages and instead focus more on their developmental age.
“This depends upon the individual child and what they find interesting, enjoyable, soothing.” For example, some parents may discover their older kids actually benefit more from toys geared towards younger children.
While it may involve some trial and error, finding a “calming toy” to soothe your child is something worth pursuing.