A room full of toys and yet your child seems bored – does this sound familiar? I know it sounds counter intuitive, but the more we give to our children the less they know how to entertain themselves. These days, a successful toy is one that provides all the entertainment itself and therefore leaves very little room for kids to explore and, well, play! Such a toy gets discarded after two or three uses, next to the array of other one-trick toys, and we feel compelled to replace it with another- even shinier and bigger!
But this is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing - kids are getting use to the fact that they are passive recipients and someone or something must provide the entertainment to them. Think about what your child’s primarily entertainment activities consist of: highly-structured activities, screen time, and commercial playthings that do the entertaining for them. Of course, this often results in frustration not only for children but also for parents, as they don’t know how to generate their own entertainment.
Toy overload doesn’t just interfere with a child’s ability to express their creativity (play pretend, making up their own stories, playing in nature, drawing, reading, etc.), it can also negatively impact their concentration span and focus. Basically, your child will pick up the toy and spend a few seconds on it before dropping it to move on to the next toy, simply because they are there.
Another very important side-effect to bear in mind, is that by overspending on hundreds of toys for our kids, we are setting a precedent for how they should behave as consumers. This reinforce a materialistic, throwaway-culture mindset where children will not learn to take care of their possessions. Why should I care about my toys? If they break, I have others.
Last but not least, think about your budget and the environment. How much money are you spending on those one-hit-wonder toys? And when you dispose of them, what are you doing with them? I recently encountered this statistic: “Britons spend more than £3 billion each year on toys and surveys have shown that a typical child owns 238 toys in total, but parents think they play with just 12 'favourites' on a daily basis making up just five per cent of their toys” (ref) . I was shocked by this finding - How much waste is that?
So how do I do to avoid this? Well here few tips that can help you to avoid toy overload:
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Keep toys out of sight and bring out just a few at the time: This allow you to re-use the same toy repeatedly. You will notice that when you bring out a specific toy after it has been packed away for a while, your child will take a renewed interest in them and will use them in a different manner.
- Experience over expense. What about birthday presents? Ask your friends to offer experiences rather than a physical toy! For example, tickets to the Jump Park, the Animal Farm, or a show. This not only helps to reduce the clutter in your child’s bedroom but is also a social activity that you can share with your kid.
- Avoid one-trick ponies. Avoid buying toys that have only a single use or application. Rather buy versatile toys that are durable and can be used in many scenarios. By having fewer but more engaging toys your kid will benefit, and it will not only save you money in the long run but is also a much more sustainable and environmentally-conscious way to buy
- Let it go. This is not just the hit song from Frozen, but also a useful principle for toys that your kids have outgrown. If your kids are old enough, explain to them that there are other kids that have less and that it would be a generous to give some of their old toys away. This is also a great way to teach them about empathy, and how to practice it.
- Space and time. Distribute some toys across the homes of your family members. Have a toy box at the grandparents or some other frequently visited relative’s home. This also save you packing extra stuff when you visit!
There you go. Rather than consuming just for the sake of it or because you are comparing yourself with what others do or have, focus on the outcome. Are these items really improving your kids experience? Are they adding any value? By applying some of these simple ideas you are not only helping you kid to become more independent, but also decluttering a space that will be used in a creative way.