Trains, blocks, puzzles, oh my. Take a moment to stop and take a deep breath with an important stress-reducing tip from Emory Luce Baldwin. Many families find that, once their children are big enough to be up and about their business, it starts to look like a toy-bomb went off in their house. Big toys/little toys, hand-crafted wooden toys/junky plastic toys, prehistoric animals/farm animals, educational toys/cheesy, ‘whatcha-get-in-your-GoodyBag?’ toys. They get scattered colorfully across the floor, under the furniture, on top of the furniture; and, if your children were taller, toys would probably be dangling from the walls and ceiling too.
One day, maybe after noticing that your child certainly seems to have the fine motor control to grasp and empty a new box of tissues in under 10 minutes, you think to yourself, “if he can do that, he can certainly pick up one toy at a time and drop it in the toy box. “ And now, you have a new parenting goal: “How can I get this child to pick up his toys?”
And so you begin, in a friendly fashion, to try to make Picking Up seem like a Really Fun Game! “Let’s pick up now, okay,” you suggest with the brightest of smiles and your happiest voice. But, your child sees through your charade quickly. You cannot convince them that Picking Up is a Really Fun Game.
Then you may try bossiness, “C’mon, let’s get to work here and get this stuff picked up!” And things often deteriorate to, “How many times do I have to tell you to pick up…?” or even, sadly defeat. “I can’t get them to help, and it’s just easier and quicker to do it myself.”
Rather than looking for more creative or tougher ways to get your child to pick up, though, I would like to propose a question to ask yourself: “When I was my child’s age, how many toys did I have?” Thinking back to your own childhood bedroom and closet, did you have anywhere near the sheer number of things that your child now has? Or does your child have twice as much, three times as much, or more?
Somehow, we have gradually become accustomed to all but drowning our kids in a sea of stuff—and it often begins before they can even lift their heads or roll over. And I’m not casting all the blame on parents here. We all know that grandparents are among the worst culprits out there at giving our kids too much stuff! Maybe we have all been deluded into thinking that more stuff means more fun means more love for our kids. But, I would argue that, especially for young children, the opposite is true. We aren’t just overwhelming our kids with too many nice toys to play with, we are often giving them too many toys to even care about.
Picking up one’s own toys, in a very fundamental way, is taking care of one’s own important stuff. When children have only as many toys as they can care about, and no more they have the opportunity to develop a real relationship of caring for their favorite toys.
Imagine how different it might be to suggest that a child pick up the toys that they care about, as opposed to asking them to pick up a multitude of toys that they could care less about.
Young children typically do best with small numbers of things at any one time. One teddy bear. Two dolls. Three toy cars. Etc. Practically speaking, this can be accomplished by rotating a few toys out to play with every week, while putting the bulk of the toys into storage. Choosing the number of toys to bring out is directly connected to how much time you think your child might be able to reliably spend on picking up. For example, consider bringing out only as many toys as a three year old can pick up in about five minutes, a four year old can pick up and put away in about eight minutes, and a five year old can pick up and put away in ten minutes or so.
When the week is up, favorite toys can still stay out. Less favored toys can be put away to be replaced by other toys for a change of pace. Parents may want to choose the toys to come out when their kids are young, and invite older children to choose the toys, “that you would like to play with and are willing to take care of.” You’ll find your children will like the novelty of different toys rotating through each week. And what a difference from seeing a child surrounded by 1,001 toys saying, “I’m bored!”
The bottom line is, toys are really supposed to be about fun. Reducing the “stress of the mess” in the home, with all of the accompanying nagging, irritation, and frustration can go a long way towards making playtime fun and keeping cleanup time easy.