At least once a week, my husband and I will look at one another after watching a child play with a cardboard box, and say:
“Kids don’t need toys.”
There are many, many other occasions that elicit this observation.
Recently, I bagged up all of the toys of one of my children after a particularly long, drawn-out, recurring discipline problem that wasn’t responding to the usual tricks. Namely, this child would scream at younger siblings when they entered their room, even though one of those siblings shared that bedroom with him or her.
Which is bad enough by itself. The other problem was that said child commandeered all items in the room for his or herself even when they belonged to the roommate.
What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine sort of thing. It had gone on so long that I no longer remembered what actually DID belong to the younger child.
ALL THE THINGS ARE MINE!
Mommy had had enough, so all the things became the attic’s.
A funny thing happened that day, and the next and the next.
There was peace.
No more screaming at the two hapless younger siblings. No more fights and mom intervening over the crappy plastic junk du jour.
The child didn’t miss the stuff.
To reinforce the point, I told the offending child that every time there was an argument over a THING, that thing would be thrown away.
I had to discard four items that morning until it was clear that mom meant what she said.
(Because most discipline issues are merely the child asking, “Do you mean it? Do you mean it?“)
The result of all the meanness on the part of mom was a whole lot more peace in the household, and I was even presented with this lovely bouquet:
Clearly, s/he’s scarred for life and hates me.
Kids don’t need toys.
The proof of this gets stronger for me as a parent the more kids I have and the longer I do this gig.
Without a room full of toys, that child went outside a little more. S/he picked bouquets of real flowers from the yard to decorate with. S/he used found objects and created new things.
S/he got creative, in other words.
The problem with some toys is that they’re actually not toys, they’re lifestyle choices.
I would never, ever present another person’s child with a handheld video game, iPad, cell phone or other electronic device designed by the Devil himself to become a disruption of the family unit and to undermine the authority of the parents.
You know what I’m talking about with that.
These things become The Enemy, competition for mom and dad’s time and attention.
Parenting becomes a game of “how to get the kids to turn off the screens and pay attention to us/their chores/schoolwork/hobbies/each other/anything else than the device”.
One of the things I have tried to teach my children is that People matter more than Things.
If a Thing is causing a conflict between two people who have an otherwise amiable relationship, the thing has to go.
The fewer things, the more peace.
Well-meaning people try to give children things to make them happy, not realizing how that really works out in real life. Here’s an example.
I just wrote another 500 words with a scenario from today, but then decided this post was getting too wordy. I’ll save it for another time.
Some may say I’m over-dramatizing things, but again – when you’ve seen this dynamic play out thousands of times over your parenting lifetime, you start to believe that all those experts who go on and on about simplicity parenting… well they know something.
I don’t think all toys are bad. But too many are worse than none.
Too many toys means too much to fight over, too much time wasted in clean up, parents scanning the floor for little things so the baby doesn’t choke, sneezing and allergies from too many stuffed animals, too much cheap crap that inevitably breaks (or is not valued in the first place – sometimes I think my 3 year old “equalizes” by destroying things on purpose when she has too much).
I’ve also noticed that some children can handle more things than others.
A couple of years ago, my now 10-year-old daughter had her own bedroom. I pared her belongings down to the bare essentials because she couldn’t handle any more, and she LOVED it. She kept her room spotless.
Turns out she wasn’t messy (a source of constant fighting with her big sister, which prompted the move in the first place), she just had too much stuff. Her big sister, on the other hand, can handle more “abundance” without becoming overwhelmed.
When we go camping, we don’t take any toys, and my kids have a blast. Last weekend when we went to a state park for the weekend, my 5-year-old brought a few toys, but never played with them.
When we go to a playground, there’s no fighting. Everyone’s too busy having fun, and sharing the equipment is implied. Last night my family saw a children’s production of Mary Poppins. Again, there was no fighting, because experiences trump things, every time.
Too many clothes are also a problem. Too much to wear = too much laundry, clothes not fitting into dressers = broken dressers.
My little girls have a closet and dresser full of clothes, but wear the same two dresses (and for the 3-year-old, a pink leotard), over and over.
It’s all just too much.
What have been your observations with regard to toys?
Really, really love this book for all the science-y reasons why less is more when it comes to kids: Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids – I’ve read this book three times. Mostly to help me reinforce that which I already know to be true. (How much parenting energy is spent trying to overcome the culture that contradicts our intuition?)