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Baby Ignoring Toys - 7 Methods To Get Them Playing - w/ Dr. Christopher Willard

Baby Ignoring Their Toys?

Baby Won't Play With Their Toys, Should I Be Worried?

You hear parents grumble about it all the time.

The heaps and heaps of toys that you bought for your little one are to no avail. They just won't play with them!

We've recruited the esteemed Dr. Christopher Willard to shed some light on this topic.

DontPlayWithThat.com (DPWT): So, should I be worried if my child isn't playing with their toys?

Dr. Willard: [The type of play] really depends on the child - most kids engage with toys and imaginary play with non-toys, even at young ages. 

If the child is really avoiding engaging with toys even after age one, I'd say it's not an emergency but run it by your pediatrician who can make more recommendations.

DPWT: There can be many reasons for a toddler's cold shoulder toward toys. But, this article will not be focusing on why they aren't playing with toys, rather we will discuss what you can do about it.

Below are 7 tactics to let the games begin!

1. Fewer Toys, More Play

Fewer toys, more play

DPWT: In correspondence with you, you made mention of the now famous research paper which proves that a baby will play more when they have access to less toys.

Why would this help them engage more with toys?

Dr. Willard: Yes, ironically, the more toys a kid has, the more easily overwhelmed they get with the choices. Frustration and boredom ensues.

DPWT: Roughly, how many toys should a child have access to at once? 

Dr. Willard: Little kids need no more than a dozen or so kinds of toys to experiment with.

2. Toy Experimentation Brings Discovery

DPWT: You mentioned kids experimenting with toys. Any suggestions on types of toys to begin the experimentation process with?

Dr. Willard: Shovels and buckets to play in the sand, some bath toys, building blocks and art/coloring items, maybe some stuffed animals or dolls. [Wait] and see what they are drawn to.

The best toys are kind of multifunctional, and can be used in a few different ways with the imagination.

3. We Need To Talk About Screens

DPWT: In conversation with us, you brought up the elephant in the room - screens.

When you advocate for diminishing of screen-time, is this in general or only when it comes to playtime?

Dr. WillardI'd suggest having rooms where there are screens, and then rooms where there are toys. 

Kids can be sent to the "play" room to encourage more toy-play.

DPWT: I assume parents should also be off of their phones in that room?

Dr. Willard: It always helps for parents to model the time off of their phones. For sure.

4. Parents Modeling Play

DPWT: A major concept you've elaborated on is parents joining in on the playing; serving as models.

When joining the child in play, should the parent lead or allow the kid to take charge and simply follow along?

Dr. WillardParents can and should let kids take the lead in imaginary play. 

They can join along to play "ice cream store" or whatever kids are wanting to play-act or create.

DPWT: A big reason why parents want their children to learn to play is so they can have a well-deserved break. How long would you advise for this joint parent-child play to last?

Dr. WillardKids need at least a half hour of this kind of time with caregivers daily.

Also, some time [is necessary] to learn to play and entertain themselves.

5. Destructive Play

The Perks Of Destructive Play

DPWT: I know this idea is controversial, and quite honestly I am reluctant to deploy it just for the post-wreck cleanup.

What is your opinion of destructive play?

Dr. Willard: I think destructive play, within limits, is really just exploration and is wonderful for little kids especially.

DPWT: For an analysis of what specific acts of destruction teach, read this article.

6. The Attraction Of Toy Mastery

DPWT: You've mentioned how limiting the amount of toys would be helpful for encouraging play.

If we took that even further, and encouraged a child to engage with just one toy and eventually master it, would that increase the likelihood of toy engagement?

Dr. WillardI do think mastery is important, and kids will really go deep on mastering a toy. 

But again a few, not too many choices, is [more] important.

7. Toys Outside Of Child's Comfort Zone

DPWT: Everyone loves a good challenge, especially babies.

Would choosing toys that are slightly beyond a child's current ability, encourage them to problem-solve through play?

Dr. Willard: The best toys are always slightly challenging developmentally, giving space for long term exploration and "mastery."

DPWT: Thank you, Doctor, for giving from your time to educate us on these topics. We are wishing you only success as you continue on your prolific career!

About Dr. Christopher Willard

Dr. Christopher Willard PsyD

Christopher Willard, PsyD, is a psychologist and educational consultant based in Boston, specializing in mindfulness for adolescents and young adults. He has been practicing meditation for over fifteen years. He currently serves on the board of directors at the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy and the Mindfulness in Education Network. Dr. Willard has published five books on contemplative practice and is the coauthor of The Breathing Book with Olivia Weisser. He teaches at Harvard Medical School. He can be found on Instagram @drchriswillard.

1 comment

  • My son just received 2 of these toys (the myPhone and faux Rx) as a gift and he won’t put them down!! He’s 7 months old and always tries to grab my cell so I’m very excited to find a toy phone that he’ll actually take in place of mine (I’ve tried so many other toy phones).

    My 3 year old is very jealous so I’ll likely have to get him his own!


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