Written by: Cally Worden
Perhaps the run-up to Christmas is the wrong time to answer this question. Or maybe it’s the perfect time. As I tentatively open my latest bank statement and fight to suppress the ‘I’ve spent How Much?!’ shock, I begin to wonder if all this festive acquisition madness has gone too far. I’m going to have to clear out the kids’ rooms before Santa puts in an appearance or he’ll hover on the threshold, stocking in hand, with nowhere to place his carefully chosen gifts.
Do our Kids Have too Many Toys?
My Mum is fond of telling me how she was lucky to get a satsuma in her stocking and one toy under the tree. She was a war baby. And now she is the worst (or best?!) culprit for showering her grandkids with gifts. I love her for it, and so do they. But as I add to their expanding pile of toys with my own ideas of things they’d love I wonder – do they have too much?
Sifting through the piles of toys I’m actually quite relieved. I realise much of it is tat, little annoying bits of plastic from the front of magazines and slot machines in supermarkets. Get rid of that, and the solid, traditional toys endure and are regularly played with. For the most part. They doubtless wouldn’t miss what they’d never had. Okay, I admit it, my kids could live with less. But I maintain that they derive fun or educational benefit from most of the gifts they receive, so how can that be a bad thing?
The Art of Appreciation
I think as much as anything it’s about teaching kids to appreciate the value of the things they have, and the thought and consideration that lies that behind them. No one wants a grabby, greedy child, who snatches at gifts before discarding them dismissively if they don’t come up to scratch. I encourage my kids to respect their toys and demonstrate appreciation towards those who have bestowed these gifts upon them. I also remove a selection of them periodically, and rotate the available selection. This helps to keep them interested. As my kids get older I’m also teaching them the value of money – they have pocket money and must save for the things they want. A difficult lesson for an impulsive child, but an essential life skill to obtain.
This got me thinking about the behaviour of children in general. And I think the amount of stuff we throw our kids’ way is only part of the story. It is perfectly possible to spoil kids through mis-management too. All children exhibit temper tantrums and sulky behaviours from time to time. What matters is how we manage those, and parents who consistently give in are, IMHO in danger of spoiling their child. We all have the occasional wobble, but for the most part the well behaved kids on the block are those whose parents sent boundaries and limits for their children, and enforce them most of the time.
Demands of everyday life
There are so many demands on parents today. A work:life balance is often hard to find, and many parents feel guilty, wishing they had more time to devote to their children. This guilt can drive a general lack of discipline, as parents struggle to be firm when all they want to do is play with and love their child after a hard day at work. ‘I’d much rather be their friend’ is a common refrain. But that idyllic state not a parent’s role. Not yet, anyway. This can hopefully evolve over time, but when they are young kids need loving guidance, careful teaching, and gentle discipline if they are to grow into well-rounded respectful adults. I personally don’t believe there is any avoiding it.
I feel horrible after telling my children off, or holding firmly and calmly on the unacceptability of a point of behaviour that leaves them feeling sad. But I know it’s what I signed up for when I chose to bring my children into the world. No one said it was going to be easy. But you know what? After a difficult time with my children they are generally more loving and affectionate. Partly because they need to see that I do actually still love them, but also because at a subconscious level they appreciate my insistence on boundaries that help to make them feel secure. Even if they don’t always like it.
A smack in the face
So when my three year old son (who is still learning impulse control) smacks me in the face in a rush of little-boy energy that has to go somewhere, I don’t giggle and make a joke. I stop what we’re doing and tell him ‘That’s not okay’. The game ends, and if he persists because he doesn’t know what else to do we maybe have a short time out. Teaching him about acceptable behaviours is my responsibility. Not his to learn alone, or the school’s job. Mine. Because I love my boy. Offering too many toys may be a weakness I have. But where it really counts I resist spoiling him with love. I simply offer it unconditionally alongside the teaching and the guidance. Like most parents I’m winging it. I’ll let you know how I got on when he’s an adult.