To parent today in these modern times requires a shield of armor. A shield of armor that is made up of our convictions, our opinions, and what we value. We are bombarded by the multi-billion dollar marketing campaigns that are committed to swaying us into buying more stuff. Our children are direct targets of this industry. Without a strong shield, we allow the media and the marketers to tell us what we value and what we think is healthy for our kids.
I think it’s a very personal decision for a parent to decide what they will and will not buy for their children. It’s a good reminder for all of us to recognize that what we bring into our home for our kids communicates to them what we believe is appropriate.
Are the toys and the books your children have bringing out the best creative play? We know how powerful visual images are for young children. If you allow your children to watch television, how is it affecting their sleep and/or their play? Are they really engaged with their toys or are they merely moving from one toy to the next without much connection? Does the play environment bring out their quality of peacefulness or does it bring out aggression and destruction?
In setting up a calmer home life, being intentional about what we consume for our kids certainly plays a part. For me, I know that I want to decide what is okay for my child; I do not want to hand that job over to Disney or Nick Jr. Since eliminating media from our children’s lives back in November 2009, there are a lot less demands for toys as they are less likely to see commercials.
It is rare that my children will possess a toy or piece of clothing, or a poster, bedspread, cup, toothbrush, or towel with a media character on it. Try finding a back pack or a pair of shoes without advertising Disney! It can be done, but with great determination. I am not a purist, by any means, and I had to bite my tongue when my own husband came home this week with new Tigger and Pooh electric toothbrushes and a Cars short and t-shirt set for our son! (I forgive you, sweetie). Intuitively, I just feel like the less I surround my children with images and characters, the less they will feel the need to consume and buy more. Pooh used to bring up feelings of nostalgia for me from my own childhood, now I think any item with a character on it just makes me feel like I’ve been swindled into buying yet another product from an industry that does not have the best interest for my children.
- Developmentally inappropriate
- Fixed (meaning there’s no room for imagination)
- Too complicated, break easily, batteries involved, plastic
- High stimulus
- Annoying or offensive
- Pressured to buy, commercial
- Corrosive play
- Multiples (too many of each)
- Environmentally unhealthy/toxic
Here are some qualities of “keeper” toys…
- Visible (toys that can be immediately accessible)
- Healthy for humans and planet
- Can be put away in 5 minutes
It’s so easy to believe that the more toys our children have, the more they will play independently, relieving us for a bit of their demands. Not so. Often families have such elaborate playrooms filled with dazzling toys only to find that their children are still bored or worse, become destructive. Do you spend more time cleaning your children’s toys or watching your children play with their toys? This is a perfect gauge for you to identify if there’s just too much. When young kids have too many choices they aren’t able to focus and the overstimulation can lead to aggressive or destructive play.
I remember when my son turned two years old. For his birthday I bought him an adorable pretend plastic tool set. It came with it’s own box and tools “just like daddy’s.” He looked at it briefly upon opening and never once played with it. Inevitably he would find the real screwdriver and “fix” things with it. It would have been more exciting for him to get a set of real tools just his size that would have allowed him to really use and even master tool skills with our supervision.
I love wooden toys. I especially adore wooden vegetables and fruit, but it’s almost like these toys are too “fixed” for my children. They were much more interested in making a soup out of pine needles and rocks than out of the can of wooden soup mix (those round wooden carrots are so adorable!). It appears that baskets of pinecones, stones, and shells can become a variety of different things, but alas, a wooden carrot is always just a wooden carrot.
Children need play experiences more than they need more toys. The more time and space you build in your day for play, the better. The fewer toys and books, the more deeply our children engage in meaningful play. I hear my children tell me that they’re bored at least two times each day. Hearing those words used to cause me anxiety. I felt I had to fix their boredom. It made me feel guilty and responsible for entertaining them. Certainly I strive to curl up and read or tell a story with them, kick the soccer ball around with them, or lie in the hammock watching the cloud shapes as much as I can. But I’ve come to accept their bouts of boredom. It means they’re just minutes away from becoming more creative, more deeply connected to themselves and to each other.
Consumption is not a path toward calmness. I hope you will accept my gentle invitation to help your child find more connection with you and with their play by providing them with less.