What Does It Mean When Toys Seem Angry?
Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson
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Angry faced toys are nothing new. You might remember The Incredible Hulk action figure and other grim-faced heroes and villains from your childhood toy box.
But angry-faced Lego figures are new, according to a study from the University of Canterbury (England). Researchers there catalogued 628 different mini-figure heads manufactured by Lego between 1975 and 2010. They then asked 264 adult volunteers to rate the emotions each face represented, including the intensity of emotion expressed.
The study found that the variety of emotions these tiny heads displayed increased starting in the 1990s. Before that time, all Lego faces could be characterized as “happy.” Since the 1990s, however, faces displaying anger, sadness, disgust, surprise and fear were added to the mix, so that happy faces account for only about half of the minifigures Lego creates today.
The question, of course, is does this matter?
Lego playsets are made to be assembled, of course, but they also are intended to be played with in pretend scenarios. Pretend play is considered an essential part of child development, for working through real life situations in a safely imaginative context and for development of problem solving skills. Most pretend play revolves around some sort of conflict for just these reasons.
So having the option of angry faces added to the Lego play might actually be helpful. It might support pretend play in ways that happy-only faces cannot. In fact, some Lego heads actually sport two faces, with two different expressions, so a child can rotate the appropriate face into view as needed.
But, if you are concerned, if it seems that your child’s pretend play (with Lego or other toys) seems morbid or cruel, here are some suggestions to consider.
1. Monitor the content of television viewing, video game play, and reading materials. A child will reenact in play scenes she witnesses that are disturbing or confusing. In addition, a child without other play scenarios to draw on will naturally draw on whatever she remembers most vividly.
2. Pay attention to your child’s social relationships. The child who is being treated badly by peers or adults may act out this treatment in pretend play. In addition, a playmate who has been exposed to programs or games that are too mature for him may use these as the basis of pretend scenarios he plays with your own child.
3. If you object to a particular toy for any reason, do not buy it for your child or permit her to buy it with her allowance. Objectionable toys received as gifts can be returned for something more suitable or put away until your child is older.
Variety in Lego faces may be a good thing but even at worst it’s probably not a bad thing. It seems to reflect our growing willingness to be more honest with our children and to accept that being a child isn’t always sweetness and sunshine.
© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.