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I have two boys ages 8 and 9. I cannot seem to get them to take care of their stuff. They break their toys, they leave things outside in the rain, they even broke my PlayStation remote. They are never sorry for what they do, and they don’t even seem to care. I have tried threatening to throw their toys away, but it does not seem to faze them. They are banned from the PlayStation already. What can I do to get them to care about their stuff?
You’re dealing with two different problems here.
First, you can’t make empty threats, or your sons won’t take you seriously. A verbal threat is quite literally worth the paper it’s printed on. Unless your children really believe you will throw away the toys, you might as well be threatening to send the kids off to boarding school in Siberia. Make reasonable threats, ones they know you are capable of carrying out.
Kids aren’t stupid, and they can smell weakness. So don’t issue a threat unless you are willing to make good on it. This issue will affect far more important things than how well your sons take care of their possessions, so it’s important that you lock it down. Your sons have gotten used to you crying wolf. Perhaps their outlook will change if you show them the wolf has teeth.
Second, your sons have absolutely no incentive to take care of their stuff unless the cost of their carelessness is high enough to cause them discomfort. At this point, you need to get creative. Make a plan, then follow it. Here are a few suggestions – feel free to modify them to fit your situation:
- Start by talking to your sons at a time when they have not damaged anything. Let them know that you’re serious about their conduct and will take action if they don’t take care of their possessions. They probably won’t believe you, but you’re laying the groundwork.
- Next time they neglect their responsibility, take away the offending item – and two other items of equal value to them. Tell the boys they can earn the items back with good conduct, or lose them permanently for bad conduct.
- If they once again fail to care for their things within a set time period, perhaps two weeks, donate the confiscated items to a charity.
- Every time they fail to take care of their toys, confiscate the toys plus a couple others. Every week or two they go without messing up, give them one of the confiscated items back. Eventually, they will change their conduct, or they will have no more toys. Either way, the problem goes away.
- This may be the toughest part of the plan, but you have to stop buying them things, and you have to stop replacing items they destroy. By not taking care of their possessions, your sons are telling you that they do not need any more possessions.
The plan I outline deals with the conduct, but not the underlying cause. Perhaps your children have too much stuff. Kids who get a lot of toys, more than they can comfortably enjoy, tend to devalue those items. Boys with a roomful of toys often don’t worry when those toys break. Boys with just one baseball glove, a dump truck, and a scooter will generally keep those items remain in good condition.
Perhaps your children just play too rough. If they simply don’t know how to take care of things, teach them. If they refuse to learn, only allow them to play with things they can’t break.
Also realize that children draw many of their cues from their parents. Do you take care of your own possessions? Is your house in good shape? I’m not assuming the problem lies with you. But neither can you afford to assume it does not. Make an honest assessment of your own lifestyle, then consider whether your children are simply emulating their parents.
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