Cary Farrell

"Mommy, are we done with the Barbies?"

by Cary Farrell
April 29, 2012
I helped an almost nine year old clean her room this week and she was doing a great job of making the decisions about what she was attached to and what she was ready to let go of until we came to the Barbie Dolls. She knew that she was done with them but she also knew that she and mom played with these together and she didn’t want to mess up play time with mommy. She looked at her mom and asked, “Mommy are we done with the Barbies?” Mom did a great job of releasing her daughter from keeping the Barbies and gave her permission to pass them on to another little girl that would enjoy them.
This provided a great opportunity for mom and me to have a discussion later about the “burden” we place on our kids to handle all that we give them.  Our responsibility as parents is to work ourselves out of a job which means we are always teaching and training our kids to do more independently. That starts with asking them to take personal responsibility for their possessions. However we as parents are unduly stressing our kids by expecting them to be able to manage a “mini Toys R Us!” Kids don’t know how to organize, purge and manage that much and when we get frustrated that they can’t, we are not being fair to the kids. Kids are not out buying more than they can handle, parents are!
 We need to make sure that we are giving them the amount that they can handle. That amount is different for each child but I encourage parents to start with the kid’s age as a guide for how many toys are out at once.  At age one, give them one toy and help them put it away before handing them another. If a kid can take the toy out of a basket, then they can put it back in.  You might have to help for awhile but they will eventually get it.  At two years old allow them two toys at a time and at three years old, three toys etc.  This seems extreme in our current culture of "mini Toys R Us" but it will take out all the frustration of toy clean up and that overwhelming feeling that you and the kids feel when they see the huge mess they have to clean up.  If your child shows the ability to clean up his designated number of toys consistently, then you can reward him/her with another toy but don't let the toy number exceed their ability to clean up quickly.
We have five children of our own and we struggled with the temptation to over buy for our kids giving them more than they could handle which led to the frustration that there always seemed to be toys everywhere and whining about picking them up. I realized that my kids did not need or want as many toys as we had given them nor did they know how to manage that many. I learned to rotate their toys and reduce how much they had access to at a time. I would put a basket in the middle of their rooms and tell them to put anything in the basket that they were tired of playing with or picking up. That gave them the ability to say when they were “done” with a toy and we weren’t burdening them to manage something they really didn’t want to play with. I would then decide what to rotate out, save for the next child or donate. Limiting their toys took the whine out of “clean-up time” and greatly reduced the clutter in the house. 
Some parents are afraid that if they limit their kids toys that they will be limiting their creativity. Kids don’t need “things” to be creative. They do better when they imagine boxes as trains or planes and sticks as any number of things. Kids would rather interact with their parents all day learning how to do grownup things like cook, clean, work in the yard or on the car. Yes it takes a little longer to get things done but you will soon have trained a great helper. My kids were running the house as teens, leaving me time to work. They knew that they were valuable team members and they are confident adults managing their own homes today. They weren’t board and looking for trouble to get into because they were needed to keep the home running smoothly.
The nine year old was thrilled with her “clean and organized” room. Our goal was to give her the ability to clean her room in under ten minutes. I popped in a few days later to see that she was managing great! We left her nine stuffed animals and one shelf of current books to read as well as a small box of current toys that she was enjoying. We have some books, toys and stuffed animals packed away to rotate in later. My kids loved it when I pulled “new toys” out of the attic that they had forgotten about. It was like a “mini Christmas” all year long. 
If you find yourself frustrated over toys or your kid’s room, take the time to analyze the source of the frustration. Don’t blame the kids if you have given them too much. Take responsibility for your part, apologize to the kids for expecting too much from them and give them a fresh start with just enough to maintain. The month before a birthday or gift giving holiday is a great time to purge the kids’ toys. This teaches the kids charity and sharing and will give them room for the new incoming toys.