Honestly, most days I feel like I can’t run a glance, let alone take a step in my house, without coming across some toy or stuffed animal or plastic junk of my 6-year-old’s that I would like to get rid of (like yesterday!) Don’t ask me where it comes from or who gets it – but she has way too much. More than she needs, and even scarier to me, more than she wants. Though if I think about it, I do know where it comes from – gifts, gifts and more gifts. She has been given more toys and things at birthday parties, family gatherings and other such occasions than we, as her parents, have ever bought her! But that’s not where it stops, A birthday, a festival, a milestone, or something as small as starting a new class at school is not complete without getting a child something to celebrate with – and that something usually ends up being a new favourite character toy, or a game or a noisy electronic device! If I were to pile up all her toys and measure the total volume it would most definitely be at least 5 times her size. Scary. But true. 

Partially, I blame the media. And the countless ways in which kids today are in touch with the media all day every day – parent’s phones, YouTube, even school! If a 35 year old adult can drool at an ad for the new Dairy Milk and make a mental note to buy it, how can you expect a 5 yr old not to want a shiny pink Hello Kitty toy shown to them at the beginning of a YouTube video? But that said, I also do hold responsible the adults around a child – parents, grandparents, guardians, babysitters, everyone. Your 2 yr old is fussing over their meal; show them their favourite singing-dancing teddy. A 4 yr old won’t let you work; rip open the plastic off a new toy to buy yourself peace for the next 30 mins. Feel guilty about leaving an 8 yr old and travelling; come home with an armful of duty-free presents. This is all of us. Or at least most of us. 

We’ve grown up with a healthy dose of movies and storybooks that have fed us with the vision of happy children opening presents under a Christmas tree or playrooms bursting with toys where the tots spend every free minute but these stories are exactly that – stories. No child ever spent all day playing happily with their toys regardless of how many they have. Many, in a child’s world, is never enough. 

And as a parent that breaks my heart. It breaks my heart to see that my 6 yr old asks for the one new toy she sees in the cupboard instead of saying thank you for the 20 others in her room. It breaks my heart that she still has moments when she stands baffled in front of her cupboard saying “I have nothing to play with!”. And it breaks my heart when I hear her say “Oh I need new sketch pens”. No child, you can’t have the new toy till I see you play with the others first, and you don’t need new sketch pens till you finish the five that still works beautifully. Now, while she is not yet an independent consumer, someday, very soon she will be. Someday she will be able to make her own decisions about what to watch and what to buy and it will be an extremely tempting world. And that’s what I want to prepare her for. To be a thoughtful consumer, to not want at sight and most importantly, to understand the difference between need and want. 

Ideally, I’d be living on a beach or the countryside in a cottage filled with sunshine and send my child to pick berries or play with sticks until it was dinner time, but that is not to be. I have to deal with this, right here, living bang in the middle of a crowded city, filled with consumerism and yet not let it wrap my child in its shiny grasp.

I have a few different ways that I attempt to deal with this. 

Every time she says “Pleeeeeeease Mamma I really really really want that” we sit down and have a 10-minute talk about everything she has. I point out all the various toys sitting on her shelves and specifically talk about the ones that have been played with under 5 times. Then I say she can have the new toy when she’s done playing with them like a million times. So far this has worked. But I think there’s also another way we can come at this as parents. Gratitude. If we’re half successful in bringing up grateful adolescents and adults we can feel like we’ve done something right. But gratitude doesn’t come easy. It requires constant practice. Maybe you can start a small journal with your child where you each write three things that you’re grateful for each night. Or if your child can’t write yet, you can just tell each other whatever you’re grateful for. And it doesn’t have to stop at three! I’m always amazed by the things my daughter tells me during our gratitude time. It’s incredible to see, how once you start, your child will be able to find a million things to be thankful for. Eventually, gratitude becomes a habit and a way of life. 

But that’s not where the magic of gratitude stops. Not only does your child grow up feeling like they’re so lucky to have everything they do, but slowly they will also realise that there are other people and children who don’t. And how we can do our little something to help them. My journey with my child down this road started when she asked me why orphaned children can’t just buy another mamma and papa. It was many afternoons of conversations about poor children who didn’t have even a single crayon set or a ball, let alone parents to hug them when they cried or a home to call their own. And when it came down to it, I didn’t have to push her – the wish to help them came from her. Whether it was packing old toys and books in boxes to take to a charity on her birthday or asking her friends not to get her presents but to give the money to poor children instead. And that to me is all I ask for from her. Be kind, be generous and play your small part in making the world a better place. 

 

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We believe that every child deserves to be celebrated. And that special days become even more special by spreading the joy. Let’s double, triple and quadruple the joy – the more we give, the more we receive!

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