Today one of my favorite long-time customers was in the store, a friend of mine who has two daughters.
We were chatting about Christmas gifts, and what the girls might like to have this year. I mentioned to my friend that we have been selling a lot of wooden ukuleles from Zither Heaven, and I showed her how sturdy they are, how good they sound, how easy they are to play, and how kids can learn how to play from other kids on YouTube. She said that last year, she and her husband got the girls some battery-powered Barbie guitars they had been wishing for. I asked if the girls played with them a lot, and she said … not really.
Then she said that, actually, most of the toys her daughters ask for by name, they don’t end up playing with that much. She was going to have a big pile to take to one of the popular kids’ consignment sales here in the area. But then she said, they DO play with the toys that come from Pufferbellies, even if they’re ones they don’t specifically have on their wish lists. Weird, huh?
Actually … not that weird. Here’s why. At the holidays (actually all year), children are absolutely bombarded with toy advertisements. Kids are exceptionally vulnerable to advertising (much more so than adults are, and adults are vulnerable, too), and these ads are crafted by really smart people for one purpose: to make kids want things. What kind of things? Things that are of real value for children’s emotional, intellectual and physical development? Things that are built to last? Probably not. More likely, it’s things that will make the most profit for toy companies and big-box retailers.
On the other hand, with a few exceptions, the toys we carry at Pufferbellies are not advertised on television. That’s why you might not hear your kids begging over and over for a marble run, or a set of wooden blocks, or a rocking horse, or a puzzle, or a set of play food, or a book, or a crystal-growing kit. They haven’t been inundated with advertisements designed specifically to make them want those things. But that doesn’t mean they won’t love them. In fact, you’ll likely find that those are the very toys that get played with over and over and over again, and the ones that your children ultimately get the most out of.
Here’s what I said to my friend: Do some of both. As a parent, you want to give your children what they ask for. You want to see their eyes light up when they unwrap the Barbie guitar. That’s good! But also give them things you know they will love, and play with, and learn from, and grow with … even if they don’t ask for them by name. That’s good, too.