Toys within the family unit

Within the family unit toys create intimacy and a sense of belonging between the giver and the recipient.




Toys as:

gifts                                        ties

exchange                               consolation

on special occasions             community

loneliness                              adoration

obligation                               separation

debt of gratitude                    isolation



Toys create intimacy and a sense of belonging

between giver and recipient


Play ideologies used:

- childishness

- human connection


According to Sutton-Smith, the function of the toy as a gift given on a special occasion is beneficial and is a means by which to achieve different effects:

- to strengthen the bond between child and parents

- to get the child accustomed to solitary play, isolation and separation

- to bind the family via the toy’s values 

Expressed in a paradoxical way, we can state that:

“We are giving you this toy to tie you to us, be thankful and go away and play on your own - so we can enjoy a bit of peace and quiet!”

In line with, amongst others, Turner (1969) and Abrahams (1986), the theory is based on social anthropological attitudes to conflict within the family unit.

On the one hand, parents want to bind their children to them and, on the other hand, they are irritated by the pivotal position of the child within the family as representative of the youngest (privileged, spoiled) generation which is in focus or adopts the central role at family gatherings and on special occasions. The toy (gift) plays an important role as it deflects attention from two pressures in a situation in which a conflict solution needs to be found with (where possible!) creative participation of child (children), parents and sometimes also grandparents.

Sutton-Smith employs irony to distance himself from all this gift-giving but the ideology behind the custom of giving gifts is nevertheless clear:

The child may continue to be a child (preferably for years to come), to develop through the toy on his parents’ conditions and to feel that he belongs to the family unit.



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