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Overwhelmed With New Stuff

Dear Dr. Debbie,

After about an hour of opening a pile of gifts, mostly toys, with lots of cheers and happy dances, my two boys, ages 3 and 6, became overwhelmed with new stuff and super grumpy. Well, there may have been a sugar load on top of the overstimulation by new stuff.

There were gifts from out-of-town friends and relatives as well as my husband and me. I’m regretting buying so much because by the end of all the gift openings, the children were emotionally drained. The six-year-old actually fell asleep way before bedtime.

Should we re-think this tradition for next year?

Overwhelmed With New Stuff 

Dear Overwhelmed With New Stuff (OWNS),

A whole pile of new possessions is a lot for a child to take in. For a three-year-old, a toy is an extension of his body. He has gained more and more control of his hands which makes him adept at pushing a toy car in and out of a garage, undressing and dressing a doll, and deftly turning the pages of a book (hopefully there were a couple of books in the gift pile!). He has to incorporate being able to operate all of his new assets into his existing repertoire of how he plays.

Imagine getting x-ray vision, Edward Scissorhands fingers, and the ability to hover six inches above the ground when you walk, or any other heretofore impossible competences, all at the same time. Think of the possibilities of what you can now do! What will you try out first?!? Better to receive and try out your new abilities one-at-a-time.

By age six, a child has added social awareness to his evaluation of his things. How do his gifts compare to his brother’s? (Do his parents value one son more than the other?) Is this something he might share with his brother? (Maybe after a few days.) How would his bounty be judged by his peers (Did he get the “cool” toys? Did he get enough toys? Did he get any toys or games that a friend would enjoy playing with him?)

As an adult with a network of friends, colleagues, and relatives, you might contemplate the social value of a new possession of your own. (Siblings often compare “scores” over a lifetime.) Having objects in common could amplify a bond. (That new golf club or air fryer becomes a topic of conversation about techniques to try and a possible reason to spend time together.) It’s also possible that you’d keep mum about a fabulous gift because a friendship might risk some damage if a potentially jealous friend were to know about it. (Not everyone gets to live among the Māori in New Zealand for a week.)

So, yes, a pile of gifts can be a burden. Here are tactics to lighten your little ones’ load.

Gift Management

Help organize the new stuff. One or two items will go into immediate everyday use, so these need to be accessibly placed in your home. Some items may be better used in spring or summer, so find the best place for them to wait for their season. Other things require adult supervision (more about this below), so put them out of sight, or at least out of reach until the appropriate time.

If you have trouble finding room among all the items your children already have, it may be time to re-assess their value. Things that are only used occasionally, a butterfly net or an in-home karaoke machine, for example, could be stored in out-of-the way places in your home.

Help your children sort out the things they no longer have an interest in http://www.chesapeakefamily.com/letting-go-of-old-toys-good-parenting/ – some to pass on to younger friends and relatives, some to donate or consign. This might be too difficult for your three-year-old, so create a “take-a-break” box or bin that is still kept, but reviewed again at a later rotation of playthings. There’s only so much room for his always-ready-to-play-with toys.

 The Gift of YOUR Time

As you incorporate the new things among the old, consider increasing the value of certain items by resolving to enjoy them with the children. For example, a microscope or planisphere might be something a child grows into, after learning how to use it by your side for a while. Otherwise, it sits on the shelf or gets broken from improper use. Note which toys the children say they can’t part with but never seem to use. Maybe the missing component is you.

You could have a system for this as part of the physical organization of the children’s playthings. Designate one shelf or bin for parent-child time. Also designate time each day, or at least each week, to peruse this collection with each child for something fun to do together. (Note, some activities may be perfect for the whole family to do together.) After you complete the floor puzzle it could either go back here or move on to another category (“take a break” box, or giveaway box). Other items can only used once, such as a kit to assemble a model boat. Now you have to find a place to exhibit the boat. Take pictures while the assembly is in progress so you can savor the memory of enjoying this gift long after the exhibition has ended.

Here’s another option to the onslaught of presents. Space it out. When gifts come in the mail, open them. Spend some time helping your child enjoy this moment – either use the present on the spot or decide where it will go and when it will be used. Then help the receiver compose and mail a thank you card. Or at least, if it’s a suitable time of day for the giver, make a “Thank You” phone call or, better yet, video call.

Gratitude for a gift is bigger in small doses.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist www.drdebbiewood.com and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum www.theccm.org.  She will be presenting Zoom workshops for parents https://www.theccm.org/event-details/parenting-childcare-educator-workshops-2, on Mondays 7-9 pm, January 9: Good-for-You Food Fun; January 30: Temperament Differences.

The museum is open with online reservations https://www.theccm.org/event-details/plan-your-visit-today-2 or call: 410-990-1993.

Special events coming up include: Celebrate Kwanzaa, Friday, Dec. 30, 10:30 am. Noon Year’s Eve Count Down, Sat. Dec. 31, 11:30 am. CCM will be at Annapolis City Dock for the early New Year’s Eve Celebration which starts at 4 pm and concludes with fireworks at 5:30 pm.

Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.


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