Ask an expert: Why is my toddler more interested in the Christmas packaging?

A child playing in a cardboard box with crayons
A child playing in a cardboard box with crayons

A psychologist tells Lisa Salmon why children often like the box more than the toy.

My two-year-old son plays with the Christmas boxes and wrapping paper more than his presents. Why does he love the packaging so much?

Those presents cost a fortune

Those presents cost a fortune

Dr Shona Goodall, a clinical psychologist at Sheffield Children's Hospital who has appeared on Channel 4's Secret Life of 4 Year Olds, says: "Many of us have spent a small fortune on Christmas presents only for our toddlers to seemingly push them aside in favour of the cardboard boxes or wrapping. But Christmas packaging has more benefits for children than you might realise.

"Children of this age tend to take a great deal of interest in packaging at Christmas because removing it is often the first thing we encourage them to do. The sensory sound of the ripping noise is a quick win for them to master - it improves their hand-eye coordination and strengthens their finger pincer grip.

"Free (but safely supervised) play with packaging therefore offers a blank canvas to explore what they can do with the paper and boxes at their developmental stage and get creative and learn, without fear of getting it wrong.

"Playing with packaging can have other beneficial effects on their development too - it can help your son instigate positive behaviours like recycling.

"Young children love to copy at this age - you might have noticed your son will often look at you right before he's about to do something. Caregivers attune to their child's responses and assist them to make sense of the world, and research has shown praise will positively reinforce them to do it again.

"By encouraging the behaviour you want to see more of, such as putting something in the bin or recycling, you can lay a fantastic foundation upon which to teach him about sustainability. That's your chance to chat through some of the materials being played with to educate him about where they come from and where they could go next.

"So, playing with packaging will not only aid your son's development, but also sow the seeds for him to learn all about recycling and sustainability for both your children and future generations"

For more on cardboard packaging, visit Beyond the Box