Every evening, before Sweetpea’s bath, she helps me pick up and put her toys away. If I give her a bit of direction, asking her to put the puzzle away, or pick up the Legos, she is usually quite happy to help. Of course, she’s almost 3 years old, so sometimes she isn’t so helpful.
Occasionally, I’ll ask her to put something away, and she’ll refuse. Or, worse, she’ll say, “No, Mommy, YOU put it away!” When she gets like this, I usually reply, “Okay, but if I put it away, I’m TAKING it away and you won’t be able to play with it for a week.” If she calls my bluff, I take the toy in question and put it on top of our bookshelf. But usually she capitulates and puts her toy away, so as not to risk losing it.
One evening, a few weeks ago, she didn’t capitulate. In fact, she got even snarkier. And our bookshelf was already cluttered with a dozen confiscated toys. Here’s how it went down:
Me: Sweetpea, can you help me put all these toys away?
Sweetpea: No, Mommy, YOU put them away!
Me: Okay, but if I put them away, I’m taking them away.
Sweetpea: Fine. Take them away.
Me: Oooookayyyy. Then I’m going to take ALL of them away. You’ll have no toys.
Sweetpea: You take them away Mommy.
I didn’t think she would call my bluff on such a big thing. But I wanted her to know that when I say something, I mean it. So. I took them away. I went through the house, picked up every toy, and put them all in a high cupboard. Even though I hadn’t planned to actually take all her toys away, I thought it would be a good lesson for her. I thought after a couple of days of being bored with no toys, we’d have a talk about it, and about how she needs to help tidy up, and I’d give her the toys back. Again, things didn’t turn out how I expected…
Over the next few days, Sweetpea hardly seemed to notice that the toys were gone. The corner where her toy baskets usually live was EMPTY. But she didn’t mention it. She never said, “Mommy, where are my toys?” Instead, she found other things to play with. She would draw with a pencil and paper. She would sit and pretend to read books. She would find a broom in the closet and pretend to sweep. She played outside.
It was like the toys never existed.
So, while I never really planned to take Sweetpea’s toys away, I found myself really happy that things had gone that way. Sweetpea was content, using her imagination more, and misbehaving less. My house was looking rather tidy, without a corner full of overflowing toy baskets. And I had less to do at the end of each day, with no toys to tidy up. I’d call that a big win.
It’s been a few weeks now, and occasionally Sweetpea will ask what happened to a certain toy, and I remind her that she chose to have them taken away instead of tidying up. She says, “Oh, right!” and moves on. Jesse thinks I might have gone too far, but I have yet to see Sweetpea be upset about the new state of affairs, so I’m running with it.
Then a funny thing happened the other day. A friend of mine shared this article about another woman who had done the very same thing – in an unplanned scenario that went a bit haywire, a mom had taken all of her kids’ toys away too. She, too, noticed that the kids were more content post-toy expulsion. My first thought was, “Hey, I just did the same thing!” My second thought was, “Dang, I wanted to blog about this, and it turns out it wasn’t even an original idea.” But it’s so interesting, I’m posting about it anyway.
Have you ever had a life lesson for your kids go different than you had planned? Have you ever taken your kids’ toys away? How did it work for you?