Presents. It can be a touchy topic among family and friends when you are making an effort to reduce your impact on our environment yet family want to buy all the latest gadgets for your child. There are so many factors to consider when buying toys this Christmas, whether it is eco-friendly, fair-trade, recycled, upcycled, handmade, non-licenced, sustainable, wooden, non-gender stereotype and provides open ended play.
Toys were not as toxic a generation or so ago, and they were pretty simple and often hand made. You were able to buy a toothbrush for a child without a licenced character on it pretty easily and noisy battery operated toys were just not available.
For most families toys are not something that is controversial. Their child likes a toy and a birthday or Christmas comes up and child receives the toy. Easy! Grandparents, friends and extended family can just pop down to their local department store and pick out something that looks fun and buy it.
Then that leaves the rest of us. We might have concerns about chemicals in the toys, or the conditions of the workers who made the toys. We might not want our kids to be boxed into the whole “princesses for girls and guns for boys” stereotype. We might be trying to teach our children about sustainability or living simply and are trying to use toys that compliment that ideal. We might just like to have a house that is not full of flashing lights and loud noise and never ending batteries! Or we might not want to have hundreds of toys around that will overwhelm the kids.
I am a Mama of 3 daughters ages 5, 3 and 1 and I try my best to live and in a sustainable way so here are some of my tips to address these issues around other people buying for your children.
- Talk about it with your family. If you are concerned about conflict you can email or use facebook messages to have these conversations.
- Walk the walk! If you ask family not to go overboard or buy sustainably then you need to do so as well. I’m sure many relatives have felt annoyed at making an effort only to watch the child open the latest plastic, battery operated doo-dad from their parents.
- Buy for other children what you would buy for your own. You can find plenty of awesome eco-friendly gifts for even the most mainstream of families.
- Try to remember that (mostly!) friends and family are buying your child a gift because they love your child and genuinely think that they will enjoy they toy. Rarely is it a direct attempt to annoy you.
- Realize that this whole concept of eco-friendly toys is new to a lot of people. Mainstream culture pushes the “stuff=happiness” message pretty strongly and your idea of simple eco living will seem strange to some people, but it can be a great opportunity to educate.
- Be very clear if there are certain toys that are unacceptable. It has been made very clear to my family that pornified fashion dolls ( I won’t mention the brand but I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about) are not allowed in my house. For other families it might be DVD’s or guns. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground on what you feel strongly about.
- On the other hand know when to let go. If your child has a couple of plastic toys that they enjoy or that were given by someone very special leave them be. Look at the bigger picture.
Here are some alternative suggestions you can suggest:
- Suggest that they do something special with your child rather than buy something
- Offer them to pay for activities/classes your child enjoys
- Passes or memberships to local attractions such as the zoo, museum, aquarium etc
- One big toy for multiple children rather than multiple toys
- Ask that people bring a plate of food to share rather than a present to a birthday party (I personally love this as it is much less preparation and stress for me on the day of the party!)
- Give suggestions to second hand places to buy like op-shops, garage sales and eBay
- Send links (like to Eco Toys!) of websites with great eco-friendly toys. Use their wish list, often family are unsure of what buy so a wishlist is a great idea.
- Ask for presents that make a set bigger. Like more wooden blocks, craft, musical instruments, dress-ups, play food or books.
- Ask for clothes that your children need. Like winter coats or shoes or special outfits for activities (swimmers for lessons or ballet outfit)
- Money. Some people are more than OK with giving money as a present.
- Sponsorship a child, animal or donate to an eco-cause.
- Older children might like a voucher to buy music with.
Lastly remember that birthdays and Christmas are times of celebration so have fun!