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From Furbies, Hatchimals, and Tickle-Me Elmo to Tamagotchi digital pets, Cabbage Patch Kids, Baby Alive and even pet rocks, generations of kids have been drawn to toys that feed their need to “nurture” something the way they are nurtured by the adults in their lives.

Even before kids can walk or talk, they are developing empathy. As early childhood specialist Ayuko Uezu Boomer tells The Atlantic, “This often begins with them showing an interest in a caregiver or a household pet.” And for some kids, she says, their early-childhood interest in caretaking also manifests itself in their relationships with things like houseplants that require easy daily maintenance.

Why do kids like to pretend to be grown-ups?

In addition to playing in a nurturing way, kids tend to mimic in play what they see and experience in real life. Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, who chairs the school of education at the University of Delaware, tells The Atlantic that kids simply like to pretend to be grown-ups. And they do that by modeling what they see adults doing around them:

“You can’t expect them to do ‘make-believe physicist,’” she adds, “or ‘make-believe refrigerator repairman,’ because most kids just don’t see those things enough.” Kids play ‘make-believe parent’ or ‘make-believe babysitter,’ though, because “they are experts on caregiving. They’re always on the receiving end of it.”


Toys that let kids ”play” like grown-ups


The American Academy of Pediatrics weighed in on the subject of play, too, with a statement that encourages parents to opt for high-quality traditional toys rather than digital media-based virtual “toys”:

Toys are important in early child development in relation to their facilitation of cognitive development, language interactions, symbolic and pretend play, problem-solving, social interactions, and physical activity, with increasing importance as children move from infancy into toddlerhood. Pretending through toy characters (eg, dolls, animals, and figures) and associated toy objects (eg, food, utensils, cars, planes, and buildings) can promote the use of words and narratives to imitate, describe, and cope with actual circumstances and feelings. Such imaginative play ultimately facilitates language development, self-regulation, symbolic thinking, and social-emotional development.

So if you’re ever struggling with what to buy a kid for their birthday or a holiday, consider a toy that lets them practice nurturing or otherwise acting like mini-grown-ups out in the world.



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