Something amazing happened last night – something so subtle that I didn’t even notice it till hours later. I told my kids, after bathing them and putting them into their PJ’s, that they had five minutes till bedtime. My 2-year old daughter asked my 4-year old son if he wanted to play blocks and he responded with these words: “No, let’s read books instead because I don’t want to have to clean them up before bed.”
What’s the big deal, you wonder? Simply this: he’s actually internalizing that he’s responsible for cleaning up his own messes. He gets it – at least he got it in that moment. Taking ownership for his actions and his items. My husband’s and my efforts to teach him to take responsibility for his things is beginning to work. Thank you Jesus.
My household is like virtually every household in America in which little people reside: we spend a lot of time dealing with toys and clutter and squabbling over putting things away. It takes a lot of time and emotional energy for all of us to deal with a) the stuff and b) the effort to involve kids in caring for the stuff. Some basic observations:
-The average American kid has exponentially more toys than kids have ever had before. My mother commented once on how many toys we have in comparison to the number we had in the house when she was raising us. She’s right, my family does have a fair amount – but we actually have many fewer toys than the majority of families we know. Toys are comparatively inexpensive, and our child-centered materialistic culture has generated a new norm for today’s kids: tons of stuff to play with for every phase of childhood. Remember (hearing of) the days when a new doll at Christmas time was a big deal to a little girl?
-Many toys causes – or at least tempts – children to become both greedy and ungrateful . Greedy because they grow to expect more toys all the time and ungrateful because – how thankful can you feel about stuff you have so much of? An abundance of toys contributes to the entitlement mindset in kids that is so prevalent throughout society. Materialism rots the heart.
-Many toys makes parents’ job of teaching children how to take responsibility for their things more difficult. Having a lot of toys means caring for and cleaning up for the toys is time-consuming and laborious. It means kids have a hard time finding things they really do want when they’re looking for them. But if you have one toy that you care about and love, you are apt to appreciate it, take care of it, and know where it is. Less really is more.
Solutions? One thing is to limit the number of toys we keep in our houses; my husband and I have begun to do this. Wanting our children to appreciate their things and see them as blessings from God, we’re working to elevate the ‘specialness’ of each individual toy. Turns out this is harder to pull off than you’d think: we realized that few of the toys that we have in our house have actually been purchased by us. They’re hand-me-downs from neighbors and friends with older kids; they’re gifts from family and friends; they just show up. Limiting the number of toys in the house for us has required intentionality, ruthlessness in assessing what stays and what goes, and humble honesty with generous gift-givers in the family.
Secondly, we started get serious about showing kids that irresponsibility with toys bears consequences. I was venting my frustration to my neighbor about my son’s consistent inability to locate his bike helmet when he was ready to ride. He said, “That doesn’t happen in our house; if the kids can’t find something they’re looking for they know that I will take it away from them if I find it before they do.” Sound harsh? It’s not. His kids know where they’re stuff is and understand that it’s their job to care for their things. At clean-up time this same neighbor tells his kids: “OK, it’s time for you to clean up your toys. Make sure you do a good job, because I’m taking away anything that’s left out when you’re finished.” We started doing this with our kids with instant results; the endless nagging to clean up toys improved overnight.
Other thoughts to add to this list…?