Christmas was crowded with activities and far less difficult than I thought it would be. So I haven’t posted in a while. But now that all the wrapping paper has settled, I am wondering what to do about the excessive consumerism that feels like it’s enveloping my child.
Sophie absolutely loved the ballerina-puppet she received from her cousin for Christmas, which happened to be the puppet she’s been begging for for months. She loved it and wouldn’t let it go, played with it incessantly, until two days later when she opened the Madeline doll from her grandmother. Then that Madeline doll became her new love, embraced & coddled for a whole three days, until she accompanied me on a trip to the drugstore and decided that she absolutely has to have a Strawberry Shortcake doll. Meanwhile, ten other dolls languish on the top shelf of her bookcase.
Her huge basket of stuffed animals is overflowing, even after I moved the largest animals to the closet. The same problem of over-supply exists with blocks, balls, her over-crowded doll-house, and even bicycles, books, possibly legos, and (until some of them get used up) art-supplies in Sophie’s room. Sophie has so many toys, it’s hard for her to enjoy any one. And she keeps begging for more. I guess I should hide some toys for a while, cycling them out of view, so that she has a manage-able amount to play with and then will feel like she’s getting new toys when the old ones re-appear. That’s almost happened naturally, with the wooden train-set she hasn’t played with in at least 6 months.
But what should I do about the begging? How do I teach a toddler to resist consumerism?
For the last few months, I had been managing the begging with: “We’ll put it on your Christmas list.” Her Christmas list grew long. When she sat on Santa’s lap this year, she started expertly reciting her whole memorized list — “I want a Tiana costume and a mermaid costume and a Snow White doll and a princess purse and a doctor kit….” — until finally Santa chuckled and said, “I don’t know if my sleigh can hold all of that!”
Now that Christmas is over, “We’ll put it on your birthday list,” doesn’t fend her off quite so well, because she’s getting old enough to understand that five months is a long time to wait.
So I have started giving my three-year-old an allowance. It feels way too early, to me, but it also feels like the only way to let her start to make decisions about whether to buy the plastic rings or the plastic doll that she craves. She now gets a dime every morning, plus four quarters every weekend. She gets to put it in her piggy-bank, which makes a satisfying bell every time a coin is slipped through its slot, and also has a conveniently open-able bottom so that she can take all the coins out to count her money whenever she wants (about once a day), and then get lots of bell-ringing when she re-inserts each coin. Thanks to finding spare change in the house, she already has $6.15, which is halfway to the cost of the little plastic Strawberry Shortcake doll that she is pining for.
She has started charming every adult she meets by explaining to them that she is saving up coins in her piggy-bank for a doll. Our dear friends all think she’s cute and responsible. They tell me how impressive it is that she clearly understands the whole piggy-bank idea. I agree that she’s super-smart, but I also think she’s too young to be this consumeristic.
Maybe I can start talking to her about environmentalism? Maybe I can tell her Buddha’s insights about the bottomlessness of craving? Maybe I should stop worrying so much and accept that every three-year-old is an over-consumer. Maybe I shouldn’t tarnish the joys of childhood with my own puritan-like nature…. but then I think the joys have already been tarnished whenever I look at Sophie’s array of neglected dolls, languishing on her bookcase while she craves and craves and craves for another one.