“My daughter has a cupboard full of toys, but doesn’t value them at all!” laments Preetha Rajan, the mother of a seven-year-old. Preetha herself grew up with two or three toys, with a new one added every birthday.
Today, privileged children grow up with full baskets of toys from day one, and it’s hard to get them to understand how precious or valuable they are for the majority of India’s 480 million children.
“I don’t care if my toy breaks. I’ll get a new one,” says six-year-old Rahul Verma. He has no idea why his parents don’t like such statements. Like Rahul, many middle class kids couldn’t care less if they lose or break toys, since they have so many others to replace them.
Here are some ways to help children learn to value their toys and possessions.
Give away stuff
Draw attention to the vast majority of the country’s underprivileged children. Explain how they manage — with few clothes, less food, and often no toys at all.
Get your children to make packages of food, clothes and toys which they have out-grown. Their choices are likely to be different from yours, but be willing to accommodate them.
Identify a suitable family to give the packages to. It could be the family of a construction worker living in a tent, or your house helper.
However, it’s important to warn children not to display pity, disgust or condescension when they interact with people from other sections of society.
Go together and present the packages to them. Learning to practice charity will help your child realise how valuable every toy and dress is for the less privileged, and will help them experience the joy of giving.
Examine new things
A flood of birthday gifts can make some presents less appealing than others. Get your child to examine each new gift before using it. If it is a toy/game/stationery she already has or does not want, she should place it in a box for reuse.
Such gifts could be given away to needy children, reused as a gift, or used later.
Sifting will discourage your child from taking a new toy, playing with it for a few minutes, and then forgetting all about it.
Old toys can be recycled by selling them in a ‘garage sale’ or a secondhand goods website. This way children will become aware that they are doing something sensible by gifting or selling stuff, instead of letting it lie unused at home. They could be allowed to use the money realised to buy what they need.
Before gifting your child a new toy, generate some interest by talking about it, or showing Internet content related to it. Once her curiosity is kindled, she will value it.
If you find your child handling a toy carelessly, throwing it around, or shoving it under the bed, take it back. Keep it with you until you think she will use it well, or give it away.
Losing a toy usually makes it a ‘wanted’ object, so keep it for a while, until your child asks for it again.