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Christmas Shopping for Children With Depression

Eight tips to help choose helpful and meaningful toys.

Key points

  • Toys offer meaningful experiences for children who struggle with depression.
  • Toys that encourage identification and expression of feelings are helpful.
  • For children, toys are their words and play is their conversation.
Source: xusenru/Pixabay
Source: xusenru/Pixabay

Shopping for toys during the holiday season always takes a bit of resourcefulness.

You need to learn what’s new, what’s out, and what’s flying off the shelves–and then carefully consider whether your purchase will add to your child’s entertainment stockpile.

But if you have a child with special needs, especially one who is struggling with depression, finding the right toy can feel even more daunting.

Though there are many different kinds of games and toys, these are a few I recommend to parents and teachers for holiday shopping.

Toy Categories

  1. Seek out toys that teach about feelings. Though most children find it a challenge to label feelings, depressed children struggle even more in identifying and expressing them. Toys like Eggspressions, Kimochis, and Moody Monsters Memory Game invite depressed kids to see the subtle differences between and among emotions. They also teach how actual expressions look on others’ faces as well as their own. Playing with these toys will help your child learn how mad is different from frustrated and how sad is different than lonely. Once children learn these subtle differences, they can better label what they’re feeling and talk about it.
  2. Get artsy. Research shows that expressive arts, like drawing, painting, and creating music, not only lift mood, they help children express and manage feeling states. Old-school toys that encourage artistic expression, like crayons, paints, and clay, are great items. So is getting your child a musical instrument. Or involving them in dance. And don’t forget the new-school digital ways of getting art and music into your child’s life with downloadable apps and computer software like Toca Band, Kids Paint, Garage Band, or Crayola products, for example.
  3. Choose problem-solving toys. Depression can cause distractibility, lower reasoning, and interrupt the flow of thinking–parts of the brain area called “executive functioning.” Toys and games that challenge your child to find solutions, tap judgment or use logic will help sharpen these important cognitive skills. Classic games like Chess, Othello, Battleship, and Trimonos are terrific board games. Digital ones like Star Wars Pit Droids, Angry Birds, and Bubble Ball are fun and educational too.
  4. Pick games that build resiliency. Games that teach depressed children how to be resilient under pressure can improve self-esteem and reduce hopelessness. Consider classic games like Jenga, Don’t Break the Ice, Don’t Spill the Beans, Topple, Kerplunk, Crocodile Dentist, Flinch, and Hot Potato. Shop for educational and gaming apps and techy things too. And do old-school games by searching online at stores like Amazon or other game websites.
  5. Toys that relax. Toys and games that incorporate color and lights increase feel-good endorphins and are instant mood lifters. Classic toys like Lite Brite, Melissa and Doug’s Light Box, Rain Tubes, Sand Windows, Water Volcanoes, Sand Play, and Lava Lamps are home-run toys. Even a simple jar of bubbles can teach children how to deep breathe, offering a space for fun and relaxation skill building. Night Lights like Ocean Wave, Cloud B Tranquil Turtle, Rainbow Bulbs, or Moon Lamps are soothing, as are Aromatherapy stuffed animals like Sonoma Lavender Bear or other cozy, plush, microwavable animals.
  6. Don’t forget the cape. Any toys or games that encourage pretend play are wonderful ways to encourage imagination for emotional and physical release. Research shows that pretend play reduces anxiety and depression, reduces pain, improves coping, and regulates feelings states. Be it Disney princesses or Marvel Avengers, girly dolls or action figures, playing house or walking on the moon, pretend play is great, healing fun.
  7. Go for silly over serious. Laughter is great medicine, and scientific studies show that having silly experiences raises the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin. Some of my favorites are Duck Duck Bruce, Pass the Pigs, Yeti in My Spaghetti, Gooey Louie, Go Away Monster, Shoot the Poop, and What’s in Ned’s Head. And never underestimate the giggle power of miniature hats and stick-on mustaches. They rank top of the list for children I work with.
  8. Games that spark storytelling. Getting depressed children to talk about their struggles isn’t always easy. But the built-in rules of certain games allow children to safely share. For your depressed child, games like Tell Tale Disney Story Cards, eeBoo Tell A Story Cards, Ravensburger’s Tell-A Story Games, IlluStory’s Make Your Own Story, and Rory’s Story Cubes can be a springboard for emotional expression. A blank piece of paper and crayons can be a simple way to ask your child to draw and tell a story as well.

These special categories of toys and games give depressed children a healthy way of working through sadness and symptoms of depression. Further, when you sit and play with your depressed child, your time and attention helps with their healing as well.

Remember, for children, toys are their words, and play is their conversation.

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