I Actually Took Her Toys
My oldest is 3.5, and that’s enough for any mother that’s been there to sigh and begin nodding sympathetically at this point.
This means that she’s caught in that interesting point of childhood between gaining responsibilities and testing every possible boundary. She is expressing herself, and finding how she fits in this great big world that gets bigger and bigger every day.
And sometimes, it’s freaking obnoxious. And you find yourself, as a parent, arguing with a tiny version of yourself about something ridiculous as you each attempt to assert authority and independence- one party arguing for each option.
Today’s struggle occurred over a puzzle. A 26-piece alphabet puzzle that both girls enjoy playing with, and which big sister does NOT enjoy sharing with little sister. Mostly because little sister usually runs off with a piece or two, but that didn’t happen today. Today, miss 3.5 decided she’d dump the puzzle on the couch and throw the pieces everywhere of her own accord. Ok, fine. It happens- she’s playing, after all, and it wasn’t going to hurt anyone.
But then she wanted another puzzle. And I said no- because we have the rule of one puzzle per child out at a time, and each of them already had one out. I reminded her that, if she wanted another puzzle, she’d have to put away the one she had out already. She says ok, and this scene unfolds:
S grabs ABC puzzle with no pieces in it and attempts to replace it in the rack.
Mom: No, you need to put the pieces back in it first, or it’s not really putting it away.
S: No, how about you put the pieces back?
M: No, I wasn’t the one playing with it. You were, and you need to put the pieces back.
S: No, I don’t want to. I want you to put it back.
M: I can help you, if you ask nicely, but I will not do it for you.
S: No- you do it for me. I want another puzzle.
M: Not going to happen. If you want another puzzle, you need to find all the pieces and put the one you have away, with all the pieces in it.
Selenia whines and stuffs ABC puzzle with no pieces in it in Mom’s face.
M (takes puzzle and puts it on the table): That’s not going to get you a new puzzle, either. Find your pieces- if I find them for you, you will not be playing with any more puzzles today. I will take this one away and you will not get another one.
S: Um, how about you take it away.
M:…Really, kid? Just find your pieces.
S: No, I want you to take my puzzle away.
This continues in a varying theme including a few stints of time out to think about where her pieces might be (because when she “looks” for things, she sees them about as well as Stevie Wonder would) for a good 20 minutes or so. At which point, we both switch tactics, because I have had it with this crap.
S: I can’t find any of them (as she seriously steps right on the Q)
M: Then you must not care very much about your toys if you don’t want to take care of them. This is your very last warning before I take ALL your toys- the puzzle, the ponies, the train- all of them, and you won’t have any toys to play with today.
S: Ok, take all my toys. Please take all my toys.
M: If you say so, kid.
So I did. I picked up the remaining puzzle pieces and put it away. Then I took all her toys and put them in her downstairs toybox, and put that on the stairs, behind the baby gate. Because I still wanted her to see what she was missing.
And, for the next 4 hours until naptime, she didn’t even care.
I’m not sure if she’s got the tenacity as a 3.5-year-old to purposely play that one out, or if she really doesn’t care that she doesn’t have toys. She sat on the couch and “read” contentedly until nap.
After nap, we struggled a bit with her trying to play with her sister’s toys (I didn’t want to punish the innocent)- but she quickly went back to the books, and watching birds out the window. Her “trying to play” with her sister’s toys mostly involved picking them up to see if I’d let her get away with it. No dice, kid. You called, I answered- and I will stand firm, because you need to know mama don’t play. As bedtime approached, she did less grabbing of toys and more reading, more engaging with her sister- more singing and dancing and playing without toys.
She also watched no TV- no tech or screens were involved in this day whatsoever. I did leave her a couple empty boxes they’d both been playing with- a 12-pack case from some pop and the box from their Costco-sized case of applesauce pouches -because those weren’t technically “toys,” and, again; didn’t want to punish the innocent here.
Really, given the results, I may wait and see if she notices tomorrow, and not give anything back until she asks. I think she’s a bit young for the earning back of specifically-requested items still that I’ve seen other parents employ, but it’s a thought for if this happens again.
It’s semi-fortuitous (or perhaps subconsciously inspired by?) having this occur as I’m seriously re-evaluating my children’s possessions, particularly the toys. I want to do my best to engage their imaginations and ability to play quietly when necessary or when they feel like it- because everyone needs some quiet in their lives. But I also see the world they are growing into, and as much as tech is a part of our lives, it will be even more a part of theirs. I cannot, in good conscience, completely remove them from that- nor would I want to -but I can minimize their reliance on flashing lights and digitally-produced sounds for entertainment. This, of course, is a much broader topic and another blog post entirely -but seeing her operate for 11 hours now without toys has been enlightening.
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