Kids Psych Korner

Through the Eyes of a Child – Part II

Last month, Kid Psych Korner columnist Dan Acuff imagined what would happen if three boys attended the American International Toy Fair held Feb. 11- 15 in New York City. This month, Dan returns to the land of make-believe and describes three little girls’ trip to the toy industry trade show.

It all seemed like a dream. Although they had flown in to the Big Apple with their parents from Chicago, they felt like three little girls from Kansas, swept away by a tornado of emotion.

The girls fidgeted excitedly in their seats on the plane, each with magic in their little fingers – complimentary passes to the American International Toy Fair in New York.

As they approached the convention center, Misty, 11, and Rebecca, 7, trailed behind with their mother as Dad held 5-year-old Tiffany’s hand tightly.

“What do you want to go and see?” Dad asked Tiffany.

“I want to see the dollies,” she replied, her green eyes sparkling.

With plans to meet for lunch, Dad and little Tiffany went off looking for dolls wherever they could find them. Tiffany loved all kinds of dolls. She had Barbie dolls, baby dolls, miniature dolls and a special collection of fairy dolls. Well, it actually was her mother’s collection, but Tiffany liked to look at it up on the ledge in her room.

Along the way, she was sidetracked by a large dollhouse. It was electronic! You could push buttons and make all kinds of fun things happen -the lights could go on and off and the doorbell could ring. And if you put the doll people in certain spots, they would speak.

At age 5, Tiffany is squarely in the fantasy stage of development. Interaction with dolls, for example, and the role-playing and nurturing play patterns that are so rich are very attractive and involving for this stage – and for her gender.

Baby dolls with electronic features will also attract, however there will in most cases be a trade-off. The heartwarming aspects of nurturing, cuddling and enjoying the doll’s softness will in many cases be diminished.

Three floors up, 11-year-old Misty was dragging her sister and Mom from one showroom to another looking at all the game displays – both traditional board games and electronic games. Misty had transitioned through Nintendo and Sega game systems and was like a heat-seeking missile in her quest for anything and everything that was PlayStation. She insisted on being left alone there for “a couple of hours” to try the games out.

Traditional toys are, for the most part, fond memories for today’s 11- year-olds. Except for perhaps a Barbie collection that is dusted off from time to time and reminisced over, what excites girls at this age is something more complex, more challenging, often something that involves social interaction with her friends – like some traditional board games.

Electronic games have both complexity and challenge. The themes, however, that girls are most likely to select are indeed softer than boys.

Girls consistently turn away from many of the gory and violent themes that boys prefer. Research is clear on this point. Boys are more into competition and winning and girls are into relationships, friendships and beauty. Barbie for President!

When electronic games first came out, soft themes such as Mario Brothers and Zelda were girls’ choices. Today, girlish game desires are captured by new titles, such as Purple Moon’s “Rockett Movado – The New Girl at Whistling Pines” and “Secret Paths,” a girls-only tree house in a magical forest.

Back at Toy Fair, 7-year-old Rebecca was bored. She knew exactly what she wanted to find – horses! “Mom,” she whined. “Where are the horses?” All she found were some generic preschool horses. She had a whole Barbie ranch set up at home complete with a stable of horses, and she wanted to see more that looked like those.

Rebecca did stop for a while at the Barbie computer display. She loved the pink Barbie-themed designs on the monitor and keyboard. She started in on some of the Barbie fashion software, but lost interest when it got a little complicated.

Girls at 7 generally are on the cusp of transitioning from the right- brain dominated fantasy stage of development into the left-brain dominated reality stage. It would be natural, therefore, for Rebecca to be still involved in some fantasy concepts such as Barbie and role playing with horses. Because of Barbie’s reality themes, Rebecca may also be able to hang in there for a year or two more with her Barbie interests.

Some software, depending on the cognitive processes it demands, would be just right for this age. Madeline – European Adventures from Creative Wonders, for example. For ages 5 and up, it’s content focuses on some Spanish and French vocabulary, European geography, and story plot elements.

Others, like the Barbie fashion software mentioned above, may require too many planning and thinking skills for the average girl of this age.

Lunchtime came and went. Toy Fair came and went. But our three girls from Chicago by way of Kansas and New York had a great time exploring Toy Fair 2001.

Dan Acuff is president of YMS consulting ( and the Character Lab. He can be reached at or 818/783-5551.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Phillips Publishing International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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