When Kids Stop Playing With Toys and What You Can Do Next

when do kids stop playing with toys

Play is the essential form of learning for kids. They use it as a tool to socialize, explore the world around them and figure things out for themselves.

As they get older, this form of learning becomes stigmatized by pre-teen social groups who want to try to appear more mature. In the process, parents of children this age may wonder when their child should stop playing with toys. 

At what age should kids stop playing with toys? Kids should stop playing with toys sometime during their pre-teen or early teenage years. It’s important to remember that a child’s overall emotional maturity develops unevenly. Play allows them to connect with their imagination while they figure out how to deal with a world around them that appears more complex each day. 

Play gets stigmatized by their peers who seek to appear older than they are.

Many of them who still play with toys try to hide it from their friends so they don’t seem to be childlike.

However, kids are typically unable to resist as their desire to play is deeply rooted in how their brains developed.

Play is the tool kids use to learn, and it is their deepest and most direct connection to their imaginations.

Parents who think their kids are hanging on to toys a little bit too long should slowly help them find new ways to engage their creativity and imagination.

Why Do Kids Like Playing with Toys?

As the child gets older it is normal for both parents and children to feel that they are growing out of playing with toys, and they are probably right.

But that does not mean that the child is ready to give it up completely. They are gradually transitioning away from playing as a tool to learn and express themselves.

They may hang on to their desire to play with toys a little longer than others, or they may come back to it sometimes to fill a need that they don’t really understand.

Whatever the reason, it is completely normal and healthy for a child who may be in their pre-teen or early teenage years to continue to want to play.

The importance of play is well documented. Play engages the child’s brain and is their primary method for learning about the world around them.

It is positive when the child has a strong connection to play.

Unstructured play (letting the child determine what to do without lessons or direction) enables the child to figure out their desires and express themselves so they learn how to listen to their inner voice.

It promotes physical activity, builds confidence and helps them figure out who they are becoming.

Further, when children are playing they are learning too. It is indeed how they learn.

If we can understand this, then it becomes much easier to understand why kids are often so reluctant to put playing with toys behind them as they grow older.

They developed their social skills, coping mechanisms and conflict management skills through play.

Toys were probably a big part of that. They learned how to figure out what they want and how to get it through play.

They learned all about their strengths, weaknesses and how they want to interact with the world through play.

When children start to get older and begin to realize that they will soon have to leave play behind it is not a joyous event.

The child senses they will have to acquire new tools to learn, interact and express themselves.

They will have to figure out new ways to engage with the world around them and receive joy from the experience.

Typically, this is already a time of great change in their lives in many other areas. It can all seem confusing and overwhelming. As a parent, you can help by being patient and understanding.

It may take some time to figure out how to transition away from playing with toys.

You have the power to help them train their minds as they find new ways to play. You know your child best.

If you can help them gradually identify other activities that they enjoy doing, you can help make the switch feel more natural.

What Parents Should Do When Their Children Stop Playing With Toys

Kids don’t have to put away their toys forever. They just have to move to more age-appropriate toys.

If your child loves Lego’s, all you may need to do is move away from the Minecraft set and onto the Lego Architecture set.

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If they like playing with remote control cars, perhaps it’s time to get buy a kit with a real gas engine.

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There are many ways you can help them pursue their interests in a way that continues to engage their imagination.

Your focus should be on growth and skill development. According to the research, play is how children work.

Through play, they engage their brains with the world around them to develop skills necessary to succeed.

Think about what you can do to get your child to the next step. Ask yourself how playtime can transition into a hobby that helps them grow in a more mature manner.

Everyone needs time to pursue their own interests, kids are not different. In today’s world, almost everything is structured and planned out for them.

Think about what your child can spend their free time on that won’t feel like homework or practice.

Ask yourself what their unstructured time should look like without toys.

Let’s focus on the race car example for a minute. It is common for students to be learning about combustion engines in a middle school shop class.

Those who want to can learn more can start using race cars with real gas engines.

This is a good first step in getting them to think about how the car is engineered to move in certain ways.

If you think they are really interested, there is a natural path from playing with race cars to building race cars.

That’s the idea that you should be aiming for with whatever new interests they decide to pursue.

What can your child be spending their time on that will engage their imagination and help them learn more while still feeling like play?

What Parents Can Do When Their Child is Unsure of Their Interests

It is not at all uncommon for kids to be unsure of what they are interested in pursuing.

As your child moves away from toys you should help them fill their newfound time with something engaging.

If they are not sure what they want to spend their time on, help them and work to figure it out together so they don’t choose to sit in front of a screen.

This may take some time, but your patience has the potential to pay off by ensuring they learn how to make good choices with their time.

I like to break it down into what I call structured and unstructured interests.

Try to find a balance of both to make sure they aren’t overscheduled and rigidly structured.

Structured Interests

Structured interests are interests that children will pursue while taking lessons or preparing for competition.

They include sports, music, robotics, or programming. If you think your child can benefit from more structured interests then now may be the time to try.

Very often, structured interests overlap with unstructured interests if they really like spending their time on it.

Let your child try new things to figure out what they like.

I usually make my child stick with something new for at least a month so I know she has had enough time to give it a fair chance.

Unstructured Interests

Unstructured interests are interests that children pursue without lessons. You will notice there can be some crossover between the groups.

They are not perfectly separated, nor should they be. If your child likes to swim for fun after the swimming season is over, that is excellent!

Unstructured interests include things like playing board games, doing puzzles, reading, going to the gym, playing an instrument, swimming in the pool and just going outside and figuring it out.

I also reluctantly include gaming on this list, but with strict regulation.

In my home, there is no screen time at all during the week.

We watch a movie or two on the weekends and play Xbox Kinect games together sometimes for family night.

It’s a really fun way to get the whole family to do something in the house.

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Outside of that time, our children must find something to do that does not involve a screen.

When Do Children Stop Playing?

Even if your kids stop playing with toys, that does not mean they are ready to stop playing. In fact, the lack of play is becoming a real problem for both kids and parents.

Let Grow does great work in this area. It’s an organization that helps parents figure out how to let their kids play outside again.

It was founded by top businesspeople, researchers, and journalists who seek to empower children to explore their interests in the way that nature intended.

Kids never really stop playing.

They just grow into young adults who pursue interests and hobbies instead.

As the parent, you want enough sports, instruments, games, and activities (including unstructured play outside) to ensure that their hobby of choice does not become social media or other forms of screen time.

Final Thoughts

The modern world has brought wonderful innovations and conveniences for all of us to enjoy.

It has also brought its fair share of challenges. Children today are less likely to go figure things out on their own than ever before.

As parents, it is our responsibility to ensure that they have the opportunities to develop the critical skills of independence that empower them to take charge of their world.

As they get older it can be hard to keep an eye on them and get everything done that life requires of us.

Toys help us manage that gap. If you can replace toys with the structured or unstructured time that continues to engage their imagination, you are on the right path to making sure they learn to figure things out for themselves.

Related Questions

Why Do We Stop Playing With Toys?

During the early teenage years, peer interactions become more important than they were before.

Toys are no longer the primary interest and don’t give kids the fulfillment that hanging out with their friends does.

Although playing with toys ends around this age, play never truly ends. The interests of the child simply become more complex as they grow into young adulthood.

How Do I Get Rid of My Child’s Toys?

Growing out of toys can be a great learning experience in giving for a child. When a toy in our home has had its time, we encourage our kids to give them to another kid who needs them.

We have a favorite charity that we like to donate to, and we involve them in each step of the donation process.

First, we gather up the toys that they are not playing with anymore (except the ones we think are keepsakes) and explain to them that another child would benefit a lot if they were willing to share them.

Then, we all go down to the charity’s local storefront and let our kids be the one who brings the toys to the counter and turn them over.

We spend the ride home talking about the mission of the charity and why it’s so important to give.

It’s a great shared experience for the family and helps the kids learn the importance of charity.

Dr. Patrick Capriola

Dr. Patrick Capriola is the founder of strategiesforparents.com. He is an expert in parenting, social-emotional development, academic growth, dropout prevention, educator professional development, and navigating the school system. He earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Florida in 2014. His professional experience includes serving as a classroom teacher, a student behavior specialist, a school administrator, and an educational trainer - providing professional development to school administrators and teachers, helping them learn to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of students. He is focused on growing strategiesforparents.com into a leading source for high-quality research-based content to help parents work through the challenges of raising a family and progressing through the school system.

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