Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Organized Chaos: My Parenting Experience with Toys

It happens about four or five times a year. The kids inexplicably and absolutely lose control and start screaming and hammer fisting each other in the head. They won’t help clean house either no matter how extravagant the reward or terrible the punishment. Yep, it’s time to do a toy purge again.

In the last six years of working with preschoolers, toddlers, and my own little children, I have found that young children appreciate variety in toys, but almost always are overwhelmed by too much abundance. The result is chaos.

One of the most ironic things I’ve ever born witness too was in a nursery room with the floor littered with a myriad of toys and the shelves still well stocked, three boys fighting over one dinosaur. There was a pile of dinosaurs right under their noses, but they were too overwhelmed to notice. That was the week of the first and largest toy purge I’ve ever committed.

Without even consulting to see whose permission I would need, I threw out everything low quality or ugly; re-homed all licensed characters, and over accessorized, or battery dependent toys; washed and donated everything food related (six to eight children sucking on the same plastic strawberry every week… yuck!), and the dinosaur no one could share went to “visit his cousins” indefinitely. I kept dolls and building blocks, books and musical instruments, plenty of cars, dinosaurs, figurines, puzzles, and few other things.

The following week you would never have known these were the same children by their attitudes. It was sunshine and rainbows, cooperation and sharing, and rarely a lost temper whilst waiting turns. As a bonus, everyone was much more helpful at clean up time.

Colin and Karyn are much the same way and need to lose or rotate toys from time to time. Last night as I was going through their toys and reflecting on what we do and do not have, I was surprised at how few toys I disposed of this time around. They have enough to fill a mid-sized closet, but they are productive toys the kids keep coming back to. Most of them are classic toys like dolls, cars, balls, and various kinds of building blocks. Of electronic toys, there are very few and what we have are mostly new things that are basically grandparents’ revenge toys (they usually last about three to five months before needing disposal or re-homing). There are not many licensed characters, although one has managed to flourish and that’s Anakin Skywalker. We have three of him and he’s well loved and cared for.

There are no toy guns, in spite of Colin’s persistent requests for such. Reason being is safety. I don’t want the kids forming bad habits before handling real firearms, and I definitely don’t want them making the mistake in attitude that guns are toys. I heard a story once about a police officer who nearly shot a boy because the child aimed what appeared to be a berretta at him. What gave the officer pause was seeing a white plug in the business end of the gun. It was a black painted water pistol which he immediately confiscated. Thankfully both parties survived, but I’m left with an indelible impression that toy guns can be very dangerous. I don’t mind transparent water pistols in the summer, but we have rules about them in our family.

I think the only thing we don’t have that I feel a little bit guilty about, is that we have no wood puzzles. Colin and Karyn both enjoy puzzles, but I keep forgetting to look for them. I also don’t have any “dress-up” type clothes for Karyn, who likes to wear my clothes and musses the clean laundry while looking for the perfect outfit.

I don’t spend much time feeling guilty or inadequate when it comes to toys. The kids have plenty to play with and more than they need. This morning, after a late night evaluating toys, I woke up to a relative peace, a fairly clean living room, and two happy children who thought it was Christmas all over again (no hammer fisting required).

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