HOW TO PREVENT TOYS FROM TAKING OVER YOUR HOUSE…AND YOUR SANITY

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of toys in your house?  Do you struggle to find places to put them and to get your kids to help keep them tidy?

Someone asked me the other day what my thoughts were on managing and tidying toys and so I had a quick brainstorm.

Some of these things are pretty obvious and, in fact, when reviewing the list, I nearly deleted them.  But then I realised that ‘knowing’ something is not always enough to action it.  As Eban Pagan says, many things are common sense but not common practice.  There’s a world of difference.

And I know for me, keeping a handle on managing my kid’s toys is an ongoing effort.  It’s so easy for them to build up or to let good intentions slip.  I need these reminders as much as, and possibly more so, than anyone else.

So here goes…

 

TOY MANAGEMENT:

 

1.

Cut Down

If you are finding it’s taking you too long to tidy up the toys every day, or you feel you never get to the point where the toys are tidy, it is possibly a sign there is simply too much.  

Research in this area is convincing – and somewhat alarming; too many toys can actually block children’s creativity and concentration, as well as contribute to a sense of stress and overload.  Particularly plastic ones with lights and noise that they initially appear to love but often only play with for five minutes at a time.

This finding is quite the opposite then from the common assumption that children need toys to keep them entertained and engaged, and that giving them ‘stuff’ makes them happy.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that there are no developmental or brain-enhancing advantages to most toys, whatever toy companies would have us believe.  The pattern the sun makes shining through the sides of the curtains will capture baby’s interest just as intently and for just as long as a huge, brightly-coloured plastic cot mobile.  And a stick or a cardboard box…well, you know the rest already.

I’m not by any means advocating no toys, but the fewer and simpler the better.  This is hard – for very many reasons that are beyond the scope of this post.  But if you need more convincing on this one, I highly recommend Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne.

2.

Put Some Away (Out of View)

This can be helpful if you’ve ruthlessly been through all the toys and removed all the ones that are rarely played with, or are over-sized, or leave little scope for truly imaginative play, and still feel there are too many to easily keep tidy.  (See here by the way for one way of deciding whether a toy is worth keeping).

You can swap or cycle them every couple of months, so that it’s a bit like having your own toy library.  This can be a good solution as well if you find it too hard initially to decide which toys to pass on or are worried your child will be upset to find their toys missing.  If you find they forget about them very quickly or barely notice they are gone, you can then move them out of the house completely.

 3. 

Re-Think Your Storage

Segregate into themes/types of toys that, if possible, are easily accessible for your child. This is fairly obvious and you’ve probably already done this.  But the smaller and more manageable the box or container the better.

You want even quite young children to be able to go and get their car box or pens or things they play with the most.  If everything has a specific, agreed place, it’s much easier for them to decide what to play with and help tidy up.

4.

One-In-One-Out Rule

Once you are at maximum toy capacity, make a one-in-one-out rule of thumb. Explain that it’s lovely to have new things but that in order to do so they have to make room for them by passing on or selling old toys.

For older children, explaining that these things can go to children who don’t have many toys or who are unwell in hospital, or to raise money for some other good cause can make them much more willing to do this.

This is harder for young children and natural hoarders, so you may have to make the decisions for them and quietly remove the toys they have grown out of or no longer play with.

TOY TIDYING:

1.

Use a Blanket

For toys with lots of bits like Duplo, Lego, animals etc. put a blanket on the floor before tipping them out. This is a trick I’ve modelled from my mother-in-law and it’s simple but time-saving genius.  Putting away merely involves picking up the blanket by all four corners and sliding the toys back into the box.

2.

One Toy Out at a Time

If you are not up for a total house wreck and would like to have walk-able access to at least some areas of your floor, tell your kids it’s a one type of toy out at a time day.   To make this as painless as possible, physically help them to do this, and explain “Yes, you can get the train track out but we need to put the Lego away first to make room”.

This doesn’t have to be a consistent rule, but for days when you know you are going to be short of time or energy, it’s definitely worth enforcing.  Other times, you can be more flexible and allow them a much deeper and involved level of play; you can resign yourself to embracing the chaos as pillows and blankets and play food and everything they own end up in their ‘dens’, which are connected by train track to the farm and ‘Legoland’ and ‘nursery’ etc. etc.

 3. 

Make Tidying Fun

Make tidy-up time fun and a family ‘event’. Put on a tidy-up song (there are loads on You Tube), turn it into a game (e.g. who can get the most marbles into the pot from a specified distance, or ‘rescue’ the dinosaurs and help them hide back in their ‘cave’), or family beat the clock where you all try and get the toys away as fast as possible before the alarm goes off or beat the previous days’ time.

Some days you will likely have more enthusiastic helpers than others and some days not everyone will be up for helping.  And that’s okay.  Often I just don’t have the energy to be this motivating at the end of the day and I’d actually rather do it myself in peace and quiet after they’ve gone to bed.

If I know that seeing them not helping will trigger irritation, or I don’t have the energy to be playful or engaging, or one of them is exhausted and melting down and needs connection, I don’t find insisting on tidying up is a battle worth choosing.

The key is to motivate them to want to help and not shame or get cross with them for not doing so.  Children quite naturally want to help and please us, but if they don’t it is usually because they are feeling disconnected, or because they are holding onto some heavy, big feelings, or they are just plain hungry or tired.   In which case, they are signalling that they need our help, empathy and understanding, and the sooner we can give them this the better, however messy and untidy the house is.

So, what have I missed? Any other tips?  Please do share with me!

 

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I suspect that one of the problems for the old woman who lived in a shoe (and perhaps one of many reasons why her children were so unhappy and unruly), was that once she’d found a couple of approaches that worked with the first few of her children, she assumed it would work for all of them.

Forgetting, of course, (or probably more like not having a single second to think straight) that each child comes to us with a unique temperament and so needs to be parented equally uniquely.  The more she tried to impose her one-sized-fits-all parenting on all her children, the more misunderstood and disconnected these children became.  As the children’s behaviour became increasingly defiant and off-track, the poor woman was so overwhelmed and fed-up that she felt her only resort was to whip them.

And so it has been with potty training my children.  Well no, of course not exactly like this, and not the whipping bit, I promise!  But in the sense that with my third I felt confident that I knew the score, knew what worked, and having ‘done it’ twice before felt very relaxed about it.  I trusted that once he was displaying the much discussed ‘signs’ or readiness it would be a smooth ride from there on in.

Forgetting though that he is a very different character from his siblings.

Forgetting that he can be super, super sensitive – and particularly so in terms of interpreting the nuances of emotional expression.

So, when one day at around the age of two and a half he started to show an interest and willingness to sit on the potty I just assumed we were away and that within a week or so we’d be a nappy-free household.

There he solemnly sat on the ever-so-slightly grimy, third-hand potty with excited spectators all around, eagerly anticipating what would be produced.

Finally, up he jumped, potty hanging off his backside, saying “Did it mummy!”  I prised the plastic from his red-ringed bottom and we all peered in.

And there inside was the teeniest, tiniest wee, about the size of a 50 pence piece – but the cue, nonetheless, for us all to go ever-so-slightly-over-the-top-excited!  Well, particularly me, I guess, and his brother and sister were just following my lead.  Exaggerated praise, kisses, high-fives – and his sister was soon rushing downstairs to find some stickers for him!

Unsurprisingly, the poor boy was quickly overwhelmed and his smiles very soon turned to bewilderment.  By the time his sister was back upstairs again with her ‘rewards’ he’d scooted out of the bathroom and into his room to play by himself.  He wanted nothing to do with the stickers and nothing to do with emptying the potty out or flushing it away.

And who can blame him??  He knew perfectly well that none of these shenanigans happen for anyone else in the household.  There he was merely modelling a perfectly ordinary daily occurrence and suddenly everyone went straight-up, cracker-jack barmy.  He was most bemused by our bizarre behaviour, and unsurprisingly given his nature, it also made him feel overwhelmed and anxious.

Unfortunately, the next evening, I managed to inadvertently add to his anxiety.  He was happily playing in the bath, and then looked up and said, “Mummy I’m doing a poo poo”.  Instead of calmly asking if he’d like to get out of the bath and do it in the potty, without saying a word I whipped him out and unceremoniously dumped him on it.  With practically the same urgency as if he’d told me there was a crocodile in the bath.  I know, I know, jeez, what on earth was I thinking, why the irrational switch to crisis mode??

In hindsight, it is very easy to see why these were his first and last attempts at potty training for a good six months more!   He adamantly refused to go near the potty or toilet and it was very evident that he needed some space and time to process and heal the anxiety I had stirred up.

After this realisation, I was careful to rarely mention the potty again to him, apart from occasionally breezily saying things like, “Yes, Tommy is using the potty isn’t he? When you’re ready, I know that you’ll do that too”.  And sure enough, one day when he was nearly 37 months he didn’t want to put his nappy on.  He willingly put on pants and took himself to sit on the big toilet.

I can’t tell you how heedful I was to act nonchalant and there was definitely no clapping or stickers!   A week later we went on a very long car-trip and there wasn’t a nappy or plastic bag to sit on in sight.  No constant asking/reminding, obsessive checking for wet patches, insistence he went before getting in the car.  He’d made the decision himself, completely ‘got it’ and as a result it ended up being a very simple and stress-free transition.

It obviously wasn’t a period of parenting where I covered myself in much glory.  But as is often the case, on reflection, it taught me a lot.  In particular, it reinforced the importance of being respectful towards my kids, treating them as unique individuals and adapting my parenting accordingly.  Something I thought I was aware of and doing, but actually in this case most definitely wasn’t!

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The other day my 7-year-old was engrossed in ‘den’ making and called for me to come and help tie a rope.  I was mid making pancakes and knew that’d I’d be liable to char the lot if I allowed myself to be distracted.  So I said, “Yes I will, in a minute, I’ve nearly finished”.   He puffed in exasperation and sighed, “Oh, Muuuummmmy”.

Something about the way he said it caught my attention.   I queried what it was that he found so annoying – was it the fact I couldn’t come straight away maybe, or the way I said it, or something else??

His reply was awesome: “No Mummy, it’s because you always say ‘in a second’, ‘in a minute’ and it never actually means that!”

And he’s spot on!  When I think about it, I sometimes spend practically the whole day saying things like, ‘hang on a minute’, ‘wait a second’, ‘okay give me five minutes to finish this’, ‘right, we’ve got to leave in a minute.’

And he’s absolutely right that sometimes, often in fact, it means very little; I habitually say ‘in a minute’ to buy some time, then get distracted by something or someone, and it doesn’t actually happen until a lot later than one minute!

So I said, “You are so right J, when I say ‘a minute’ it doesn’t always mean ‘a minute’ does it, that’s so helpful to hear.”  He looked at me in mild surprise and said, “Is it Mummy, shall I write it down for you then?”  I wasn’t quite sure what he meant but he seemed very engaged and eager and, plus, I was grateful for the extra pancake making time.  This is what he wrote:

I laughed, particularly about the ‘later’, and suggested that maybe I’m not very good at estimating!  I explained that I probably say phrases like this out of habit and without thinking, and requested that he pull me up on this in the future.

I could have been annoyed by his tone, or just ignored it (both frequent occurrences 😉 ).  But being curious on this occasion gave me so much insight into how he feels, as well as genuinely helpful changes that I can make. 

It empowered him too in that it reinforced some important messages; that I respect his opinion as valuable and significant, that I was truly listening, that he has a right to pick me up on things, and that we are all continuously growing and open to making changes.

And now when I pat out my auto-respond ‘yes, in a minute’, I usually catch myself and we both laugh.  And then I do a rewind and try to give him a much more accurate and helpful approximation!

So how does being curious help parenting?

Curiosity takes us out of self-absorption and moves the focus to striving to understand others; it’s the starting point for exploring the motivations, intentions, thinking and rationale that lie behind outward behaviour.

Rather than just unthinkingly reacting to something our child says or does, adopting an attitude of curiosity reminds us to pause, ask questions and come up with a considered response based on their world view.  It helps put ourselves in their shoes and be in a better position to truly empathise and acknowledge their feelings.

Remembering to be curious requires consistent conscious effort at first.  We often get so caught up in the daily grind and habitual ways of doing things that it can be easy to forget to ask questions, particularly of our children.  And sometimes I think we mistakenly assume that we know more than them, that we know exactly what they need and even what they’re thinking.

What are the best sorts of questions to ask?

The first step to becoming more curious is simply to make a conscious decision to be more curious, to actively want to explore and delve deeper.

And from there, it’s all about eliciting information by asking questions in the right way; that is, open-ended statements that naturally draw forth information from the speaker without being polluted or influenced by any of your own ‘stuff’ (e.g. opinions, assumptions, beliefs etc.)  To do this:

  1. Check that your tone of voice is genuinely, warm, kind and interested. If you (or your child) are feeling annoyed or stressed or rushed, it’s probably not the right time for curiosity questions.
  1. It’s best to avoid ‘why’ questions as they can often sound a little critical or harsh.   ‘How…’ or ‘What…’ questions tend to be the most illuminating.  Try ‘What was X like?’, ‘How do you feel about what happened?’What can you learn from this?’ or for problem solving/prompting action ‘What’s your plan for getting homework done/dressed/making up with your sister?
  1. Ask a single question and then pause and listen without trying to solve, fix, jump in or direct to the answer you would like to hear/think they should give. This is surprisingly hard!
  1. Keep curious by asking follow up questions e.g. Is there anything else about…? Could you tell me more?  Can you give me an example?

UNDERSTANDING FEELINGS: PART 2

Seeing feelings as guides and exploring why this is helpful

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Because actually, we don’t need to be scared of any of our feelings or struggle against the flow of them…

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I was very struck by my 5-year old’s use of the word ‘dreams’ to describe the scary thoughts he was having about monsters before he went to sleep the other night. At first, when he said he was “scared of his dreams” I thought he meant he was scared to go to sleep...

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I suspect that one of the problems for the old woman who lived in a shoe (and perhaps one of many reasons why her children were so unhappy and unruly), was that once she’d found a couple of approaches that worked with the first few of her children, she assumed it...

ARE YOU A CURIOUS PARENT? How To Ask Questions To Deepen Connection With Your Child

The other day my 7-year-old was engrossed in ‘den’ making and called for me to come and help tie a rope. I was mid making pancakes and knew that’d I’d be liable to char the lot if I allowed myself to be distracted. So I said, “Yes I will, in a minute, I’ve nearly finished”. He puffed in exasperation…

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