Thursday, March 13, 2008

Taking Care of Things

I got very upset with my three- and four-year-old daughters today, because they broke several toys. It's not the first time it's happened, and not the second or third time that I've tried to explain to them the value of things and why it's important to take care of their toys. And of course, it's a conversation that's totally lost on children so young. Or is it?

The toys were pieces of doll house furniture that their grandmother gave to them for Christmas. The pieces are not inexpensive, and they're delicate. Probably, in retrospect, way too delicate for children so young. Yet, when I saw their room, torn apart in general with things everywhere, and then the contents of the dollhouse strewn in a messy pile, heads were going to roll!

Taking are of things is a sticking point for me. I don't recall being destructive when I was little and prior to having children, my husband and I insisted we would teach our future kids to value things. We did not intend to end up with a house full of broken toys and knick knacks (like many of our friends and family members) We simply could not understand why you wouldn't teach your kids to take care of toys and possessions that cost money.

On top of that, is the pressure of my own parents who, like most people from an older generation, have a tendency to judge and to forget the reality of what life was like when they were raising kids of their own.

The problem is, in reality, at what age do children really get it? As my husband pointed out this evening when I rehashed the days events and my guilt over the matter and the punishment I handed down (more on that later), they can't always even recount what they did an hour ago. They have no sense of time, certainly no sense of money or the value of things.

That's what makes it so frustrating for me. HOW do I get through to them, in even some little way, that what they did was wrong? Shouldn't they feel at least a little remorseful, even if they don't exactly understand the issue, since I'm obviously upset by it?

Initially, I put them both kids in time out, and then planned to remove all of the toys from their room with the understanding that they would get their things back eventually.

Harsh? Yes. Knee jerk reaction? Yes, yes. Effective? I just don't know. My oldest would understand why I took the things away, but my youngest would not.

I wonder if they just have too much given to them and don't appreciate their things as a result. While we have far fewer things than some people I know, we certainly have more than I did when I was growing up.

At the same time, I think I ought to give them a lot more slack because of the age that they are. They're good girls, and our oldest is, after all, beginning to understand. She's so much better now about picking up her toys, as I mentioned before, than she was just six months ago. So I should know that eventually they'll both get it. And the things is, they didn't really even realize what they were doing. They were pretending the dollhouse was on fire and the fireman had moved all the things out to save them. I'm quite sure the last thing on their minds was being careful about the furniture.

Which leads me to the "duh" moment of the whole thing, the utter lack of common sense that finally makes itself obvious to me, which is "Gee, maybe I ought to just put the dollhouse away for a few years until they're both old enough to play with the delicate pieces."

And that is exactly what I plan to do. The other toys will probably go back in a day or two -- long enough so they know I'm not a pushover because, overreaction or not, now I have to stick to my guns or risk losing my street cred.

And I will try harder to think things through the next time, and make sure the punishment fits not only the crime, but the age as well.

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