“And I want that one, and that one… and that one. Oooh, and that one!”
Just a few weeks after the Christmas avalanche of toys, I found my three-year-old son, Harry, gleefully ticking off the Hot Wheels sets he wants next.
The unspeakable manufacturers had sneakily printed the box with pictures of 10 more sets that could easily fix onto the starter track we’d just bought him, so he was understandably excited about expanding his set.
“Well Harry, Father Christmas has only just been. You’ll have to wait for your birthday if you want more cars and stunts,” I explained, carefully ignoring his wobbling lip.
He asked when his birthday was and I said in five months, trying to ignore the fact that was around a sixth of his entire life so far.
Understandably, Harry wanted a new toy sooner than that and so we ended up entering into a ridiculous verbal contract whereby undefined, unmeasured ‘good behaviour’ would result in a new Hot Wheels stunt set in the undefined, unmeasured nearish future.
No, Harry, not that one with the barrel because that is £50.
“But it’s a STUNT barrel!” enthused my eldest. “Look, the car rolls inside it. IT ACTUALLY ROLLS WITH THE CAR IN IT!”
Toys, Toys And (Yes, You Guessed It) More Toys
Later on, once the boys were tucked up in bed, I crept into their rooms to give them a quick tidy. There were toys spilling out of the toy box, toys filling their beds, toys in the wardrobes and toys on the shelves.
I started to worry that my children have too many toys to actually value them, and that I might be *whisper it* spoiling them.
The trouble is that it is very easy to overload your home with toys without even spending that much money. I buy plenty of bargains second hand, I always succumb to the lure of ‘educational toys’ and ‘developmental toys’, and I carefully restore and keep old toys to pass down to one-year-old Olly.
But of course, the boys don’t know a toy was cheap or second hand, they just know that they have another toy. And if there is one thing my children have plenty of, it’s toys. And what toys…
Land Of The Giants
Never underestimate the power of grandparents to fill your house with giant toys. You know all those amazing toys that your parents were too stingy or strict or space-conscious to buy you when you were a child? Well, it turns out that they simply save them for your children.
Harry and Olly’s grandparents have so far collectively bought them a 1920s pedal car, a ride-on digger, a ride-on dumper truck, a ride-on tractor, a crane that is taller than Olly and a quad bike that actually drives.
It’s wonderful having such amazing toys from their devoted grandparents, but I have to police these vehicles more strictly than the British Transport Police. After all, the boys’ favourite ride-on game is ‘wall crash’. If you’re wondering how to play that game, the instructions, rules and aim are all in the name.
But do a lot of toys from loving family members make a child spoiled? I started to wonder what exactly counts as a spoiled child.
How To Spoil Your Child
When Harry and Olly were babies, they went everywhere with me. I had a sling, I co-slept, I barely put them down unless it was to hand them to their father for a cuddle. And a lot of people warned me that I was “spoiling that baby” as a result, even though I was only doing what felt natural for us.
I felt under pressure to leave them to cry occasionally, even though they hardly cried at all as long as they were snuggly attached to me.
Now that they are older, I am stricter. I do sometimes see them cry from anger or frustration and I don’t immediately cave in. We insist on manners and the boys know how to wait their turn and are getting better at sharing. I don’t think they are spoiled, I don’t think they are bratty.
So it’s really just the question of stuff. They own far, far more stuff than I did as a child and they haven’t even started school. Is that enough to spoil them? I don’t know.
What's The Answer?
I’m no parenting expert, I don’t have an answer. Ideally I’d like to ditch some of the flotsam and jetsam toys floating around the bottom half of the toy box, but I’m unwilling to do that as long as the boys occasionally play with them.
I don’t think that my children are being horribly damaged or spoiled by having so many toys – but I don’t want them to be materialistic or to assume that they have a right to more stuff than they can play with.
However I don’t feel right giving away toys that came as gifts, or toys that future babies (ahem) might play with.
One night I collected up some toys that hadn’t been played with in months and hid them in the garage. When no one noticed, I then moved them into a charity bag – but Harry found them and was outraged that I was trying to get rid of his stuff.
I have to admit that if someone filled a bin bag with my stuff and didn’t ask me first then I’d be pretty annoyed, even if it was those skirts I haven’t worn since I quit my job four years ago. I sympathise with Harry’s outrage.
Reading around online I can find plenty of other parents also complaining of ‘stuffocating’ – suffocating in stuff. Some operate a one-in, one-out rule at Christmas and birthdays, which sounds potentially traumatic.
Other families get their children to collect up old toys and give them to children who don’t have many toys, which has the benefit of prompting a social conscience as well as emptying the house a bit.
Many admit simply gradually extracting forgotten toys and smuggling them to charity bags, school fetes and friends with younger children.
Maybe that’s the answer – I have to get better at stealth toy extraction and disposal, and occasionally ‘tidy up’ with a sack.
[Best New Children's Toys 2015 - Revealed]
What do you do? Do you worry about spoiling your kids? Share your tips using the comments below.