Toddlers are at the age where they are really starting to understand the holidays. They also begin to understand that they are about to receive gifts. We spoke with an expert, Children’s National’s Penny Glass, PhD, director of the Child Development Program, to find out the most age-appropriate gifts for toddlers.

Dr. Glass said that toddlers need items that will engage them in pretend play.

Gift suggestions for toddlers

  • Dolls: This is a great toy for boys and girls. A doll helps a child better understand themselves because they see the doll as a pretend person. Having a doll and a petite spoon and dish set can help the toddler learn to feed the doll and then him or herself.
  • Basket or tote: This is a simple gift, but toddlers love to tote their toys around from room to room.
  • Rolling toys: Toddlers enjoy rolling and pushing cars and trucks. This is a great toy to play with your child to teach them the sounds of cars and trucks, as well as vocabulary associated with these toys.
  • Pull and push toys: A cart to push or a wagon to pull a doll are great toys for toddlers and help them learn to develop the skills of pushing and pulling.

Toys for toddlers should engage a child’s physical activity in a productive way. 

Gifts not recommended for toddlers

There are also several types of toys that Dr. Glass does not recommend:

  • Noisy toys: It’s important for families to buy quiet toys. A child will have better language development if they are able to make their own car and truck sounds.
  • iPads and LeapFrogs: Dr. Glass feels strongly that electronic games and tablets aren’t appropriate for toddlers because they do not engage the child in sharing, social interaction or language development.
  • Puzzles: This toy is too structured for a toddler and the adult will end up doing all the playing for the child.
  • Picture books: Picture books are good toys for playing together with a parent, but not as beneficial for a child to look at a book of pictures by themselves without a person there to talk about it with them and get to know what they know and expand their ideas about the world


Penny Glass, PhD, was director of the Child Development Program at Children's National.

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