My beautiful son is four now, and over the last six months or so we’ve noticed a little change in his behaviour. He’s always had a regular supply of new toys. He’s my only child and his half brother and sisters on his Dad’s side are pretty much grown up, we both work, he has a big extended family – it was probably unavoidable that he was going to get a little bit spoiled with toys, especially if you add to this the fact that both parents have an interest in toys anyway (my partner is a big Batman fan and has a collection of memorabilia). But just recently, it seems that my darling has become rather obsessed.
The object of his desire? Stuffed animals. It used to be small plastic animals and at least that was controllable as they don’t take up much room, but some of the stuffed animal crew are HUGE and I’m running out of space in his bedroom. Thankfully, stuffed animals are ten a penny. He has a few expensive stuffed toys (a beautiful three-foot-long polar bear that I would have murdered somebody for when I was a child, a Harrods bear in a jumper who was a Christmas present, several Winnie The Poohs) but most of them were picked up for a pound or two from charity shops, hauled out of the attic or given to us by friends and relatives who’d had a clearout. Apart from the space issue, I can’t say I have been overly concerned. Yes, I know its not good to spoil your child, but honestly, he’s well behaved, he gets on with other children and with grownups, he looks after his things and he has lovely manners.
What has particularly concerned me is this: recently it seems that GETTING these toys, rather than playing with the toys, has become my son’s aim. Time and again, the minute my son has got out of bed, he has announced “I want to go to the shops to get a new teddy!” Of course, I respond by pointing out all the lovely toys he has already, maybe dragging something he hasn’t played with for a while from a shelf or cupboard, or having the “why we can’t have new teddies every day” talk. This last one has always made me kind of uneasy. I suppose you can imagine why, but strangely, I hadn’t thought this through to its logical conclusions until recently.
Sometime earlier this week, for no particular reason, I found myself thinking about the following. Years ago, I worked in an office with a woman who happened to be obese. She had a six year old daughter, who she had a difficult relationship with. One day in the office, she started talking about the fact that after every row they had, her daughter would get up in the night and raid the fridge. She was really angry about this. She saw no link between her daughter’s behaviour and what her daughter must have been seeing every day – Mum eating compulsively when she was sad, angry or tired. Maybe she didn’t want to see it.
I live with a four year old who regularly observes new toys arriving at the house for Mum, and at the moment he seems to believe that the point of toys is to get as many of them as possible. Maybe I didn’t want to see the link between these two factors.
Now, I’m not saying its just my influence – show me a four-year-old who DOESN’T want a lot of toys. The last time I gave in to the requests to go to the shops and buy a new teddy, I was talking to the shop assistant about the teddy issue and she rolled her eyes and said “tell me about it! My daughter’s room is floor-to-ceiling with monkeys – monkeys everywhere! They drive me crazy!” Kids are obsessive. My son is just at an age where he has started to pay more attention to his peers, and I get the impression that a big part of his motivation is wanting to be able to take a new stuffed toy to nursery every day to impress his friends with. But I still believe that to some extent, my boy must be modelling my behaviour.
Should I feel guilty about this? I don’t know – of course, I don’t want my son to grow up compulsively wanting things that he doesn’t enjoy when he’s got them, but then again (and obviously, I would say this) I think that there are far, far worse things to inherit from a parent than a tendency to collect stuff. Also, I think that if I go about it the right way, my collecting experience is going to help me to help him deal with this issue. Collecting anything that you are passionate about is not just an exercise in indulgence. For most of us, it is also an exercise in restraint. I ALWAYS want far more than I end up getting, and I think this is as much of a part of collecting as the actual collection. That’s kind of hard to explain to a four year old, but today I tried it this way:
Son: “Mama, do you know what I would like?”
Me: “What would you like?”
Son: “To go to the shops and buy ALL THE TEDDIES IN THE WORLD!!!”
Me: “You know what?”
Me: “I’d like to go to the shops and buy all the dolls in the world too!”
Son: “Oh!” (smiling)
Me: ” But I can’t do that. I wouldn’t have enough pennies, and I wouldn’t know where to put them. Even grown-ups can’t get everything they want, you know. That’s just the way it is.”
Son: (pause and stare) “Can you do this?” (Does a dance).
I know my boy and the change of subject is a good indication – usually, the “lets go to the shop” conversation goes on for a least half an hour, and a bit later he made a request to go out, “but not to the teddy shop, I don’t want to buy any teddies”. I don’t think that its going to cut the mustard long-term, though, so I have some other ideas. My main one is a reward chart (ten good behaviour stars for a new teddy) as I think he’s a bit too young to grasp the concept of budgeting for your purchases. I also thought I could help him do some form of cataloguing of his collection. We could buy a book and draw pictures of his collection in it, give them names and stuff. I might try and get him involved in general care – like washing them (some of the ones from the loft are on the grubby side). Maybe we could photograph them, as he’s shown some interest in taking pictures. He might take to some of these ideas, he might not, but I think its worth a go. If anybody has any other suggestions, I’d like to hear them.
(above: some of my boy’s “collection” with some of mine)