Headstart for Life

Are electronic toys better than traditional toys?

Hi there! Welcome back to this on going series of Myths vs Facts!

Play is very important for children as it is linked to many aspects of a child’s development. These include cognition, language, social skills, emotional development and physical development (Frost, 1998). There are many ways to play, such as playing peek-a-boo by using our hands, with household items, or with actual toys.

As technology advances, so do the types of toys that are available to our children. Electronic toys produce a variety of enticing sounds, lights, and movement. Children are therefore easily drawn towards electronic toys such as animated stuffed animals, baby laptops and of course your smart phone. And parents may find electronic toys keep their child easily occupied and quiet. However, are electronic toys better than traditional toys such as blocks and cooking sets?

Myth #3: Electronic toys are better than traditional toys

Fact #3: Electronic toys are not necessarily better than traditional toys


Let us look specifically at the link between electronic toys and language development. A recent study by Sosa (2016) found that when parents are engaged in play with their babies using electronic toys, there was a reduced quantity and quality of language provided by adults. Results showed that parents spoke less and had less conversational turns with their children when playing with electronic toys. Also, children vocalised less when playing with electronic toys, compared to playing with books. Considering the fact that the amount of language input that a child receives is important for language development, playing with electronic toys is likely to have an impact on a child’s language development.


Why do electronic toys have such an impact?

1. Reduced quality of parent-child interaction

With the amount of interesting sounds and effects generated by electronic toys, parents may think that they do not need to participate much in the play as the child is already engaged. They may just be watching their child play instead of being part of the play.

2. Electronic toys are pre-programmed

When playing with electronic toys, children only need to respond in a certain way that is required by the toy. The language that is used may be very simple and will likely lack variety compared to the words and sentences used during interactions with other people. Also, children do not need to be as creative in the ways they can play with the electronic toy.

3. Social interactions are not required

Play with electronic toys can be carried out as a solo activity. There is little need for the inclusion of other partners in the play. Hence, there is also less use of social skills such as turn-taking and sharing.


Oh no! Should we get rid of all our electronic toys?

Traditional toys (and books!) are definitely encouraged for children to play with as there are more opportunities for communication, social interactions, use of cognitive skills such as creativity and problem-solving, and physical movements to help develop gross and fine motor skills.

But we also understand that we live in a modern world and your child would be exposed and yearn for electronic toys and gadgets. As parents, you may sometimes just need some reprieve and rest that you get when electronic toys captivate your child. I suppose the old adage “Everything in moderation” would apply.

If your child is playing with an electronic toy, you can try to add value to the play with the following suggestions. Factors to consider include how the toy had been designed and how parents use the toy to interact with their child during play.

  • Sit together with your child so that you can play with the same toy together
  • Comment on what you are playing with (e.g. Mummy press ___)
  • Add on to what the toy ‘says’ (e.g. ‘woof woof’, ‘the dog says woof woof! it’s walking to the chair!’)
  • Try to create chances for turn-taking
  • Ask questions to encourage more communication (e.g. ‘who are you calling?’ if the child is using a ‘handphone’)


Above all, remember to have fun together!



Frost, J. L. (1998). Neuroscience, Play, and Child Development.

Sosa, A. V. (2016). Association of the type of toy used during play with the quantity and quality of parent-infant communication. JAMA pediatrics, 170(2), 132-137.

Wooldridge, M. B., & Shapka, J. (2012). Playing with technology: Mother–toddler interaction scores lower during play with electronic toys. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 33(5), 211-218.

"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Jia Yue

Jia Yue has a keen interest in working with children with special needs, particularly autism spectrum disorders, whose difficulties may include the areas of speech, language, and social skills. She has been working with children with special needs for the past few years and loves to browse through toy stores for new therapy ideas in her free time.

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