This New Study Found That Parents Influence Their Kids to Play With Specific Toys

A study published in the September edition of Sex Roles suggests parents may have more of a say over which toys their children play with. According to the research, moms and dads can impact their kids' preferences by exposing them to playing with specific toys.

Rebecca J. Woods, the study's author and a researcher at North Dakota State University, analyzed 51 infants and 60 toddlers, as well as their moms and dads, to see if parents could influence their child's choices during playtime.

During an initial test, Woods discovered that 5-month-old babies didn't have a specific preference between dolls and trucks. However, when the subjects were tested again at 12 months, boys opted for trucks, while girls still had no clear preference.

"There is a good deal of debate about how differences in behavior between men and women come to be," Woods told PsyPost. "On the one hand, there are physiological differences that can influence behavior, and on the other hand, we can be socialized to behave in a particular way."

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Rebecca's team had a pretty concrete goal: figure out if male and female preferences were genetically hardwired based on sex.

Researchers had parents sit at a table with their child that had a doll and a truck on it. Moms and dads were then instructed to play with their kiddos using one of the toys, while discouraging the use of another one.

"Infants' preferences for the toys used in the study were not altered by a few minutes of their parents encouraging them to play with a certain toy," said Woods. "These short-term encouragements did not affect their preferences."

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But you know what did change their children's toy preference? The amount of trucks or dolls they have at home.

"The toys that they played with in the home (like the toys that they had been exposed to for some time) predicted their preferences," explained Woods. "Since parents choose the toys in the home, parents may be able to influence infants' toy preferences over time through simple exposure to toys."

This means that parents may be affecting what their children play with simply by what they bring into the home.

"Right from the time a parent finds out the sex of their infant, they begin treating the child differently depending on the sex," said Woods. "Because playing with dolls promotes nurturing behaviors, I wanted to know if females' preferences for dolls and males' preference for other toys is driven primarily by biological predispositions or by parents."

Unsplash user Jelleke Vanooteghem

Although these findings may not seem straightforward at first, Woods said the results could open up a larger discussion about how we parent our children.

"This is the 'nature or nurture' debate as it relates to sex differences," she said. "The crux of the nature/nurture debate is, 'How much of behavior can be altered and how much is just the way it is and can't be changed without somehow changing our physical makeup?' Can we decrease behaviors that put us at a disadvantage and increase behaviors that are good for us?"