I Ask: How Do I Teach My Children The Value Of All My Beautiful Things That They Are Hellbent On Destroying?

We aren’t materialistic. Okay, we’re a little materialistic. I adore shoes. And I enjoy buying toys and clothing for my cute kids! But I really try not to emphasize STUFF.

We didn’t get them everything on their Christmas list (that’s right! NO KITTEN). But when someone asked E what Santa got him for Christmas, he replied: Everything I wanted. (unprompted. and yes, I may or may not have high-fived myself.)

But E is big enough to cause some serious damage to THINGS. Perhaps a snow globe music box that I’ve had since I was ten as part of my tchotchkes kitty collection. (shut-up)

It's getting a little sparse on these kitty cat shelves.

He was just trying to get the bird out while the music box played “OH PRETTY BABY! AND IF IT’S QUITE ALRIGHT I NEED YOU BABY.”

My son cried REAL tears and lamented the loss by running to the other side of the room and collapsing in a heap of confusion and disappointment.

And EVERY TIME I feel torn. On the one hand I want to comfort him and say: It’s okay, baby. It’s just stuff.

On the other hand, I want to say: You broke something of mama’s that she loved. (shut up)

But when I say the latter, he gets more upset. And he’s already so honestly sad.

If I really love it, it’s SO HARD for me to let it go. Mostly because he also likes to say: It’s OKAY, Mama. We can buy another one.


I’ve alternatively responded: It’s not replaceable. {insert sad face}

Or: Well, we need money to do that. {insert evil look}

Because he’s four. Money doesn’t really make sense to him. And it definitely doesn’t influence him when I YELL IT AS HE’S ABOUT TO BREAK SOMETHING.

So I put it in preschooler-terms: We’ll have to sell some of your toys to make enough money to replace it.


And whole scenario repeats itself with his own toys. And with random stuff, like printer paper, or the PRINTER. He walks the fine line between mistake and suspicious lack of self-control.

And sometimes he’s not as upset as I’d like. And I don’t like that. In me. Or him.

Last but not least, I don’t ever want him to mistake my anger, annoyance, frustration as placing things above him.

So I ask: How do you walk the line between materialism and value?

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

28 thoughts to “I Ask: How Do I Teach My Children The Value Of All My Beautiful Things That They Are Hellbent On Destroying?”

  1. Ugh. I walk this line with my son ALL THE TIME. He’ll be seven in Feb. (if that doens’t kill your hopes of it getting better, I don’t know what will). My daughter just listens when I ask her not to touch things and tell her that they’re off limits. It’s REALLY weird to me, because my son never has. So, just to recap: two year old, listens fine and respects other people’s things. Seven year old, completely doesn’t give a fuck. Good luck, let me know if you figure it out. My empathy is with you.

  2. Maybe it’s just boys…

    Mine are 14 and 16 and they’re still destroying things. Daily. Oh, and now it’s not just a mistake or a suspicious lack of self control. It’s “let’s see what will happen when we try to set fire to our old game cube.” It melts. Genius! Who knew?

    And according to my guy friends, a teenage boy pyro phase is not only normal; it’s a necessary part of adolescence that bridges the gap between accidentally destroying stuff and sex with teenage girls.

    So now I’m trying to decide whether I’d rather be a grandmother at 42 or have my house go up in flames.

    In the meantime I purchased a fire pit. And we’re making a lot of smores.

    Good luck! And remember to add fire extinguishers to your zombie apocalypse stash!

  3. When my youngest daughter was about four she knocked all of my rings into the toilet as she was flushing it. Wedding, engagement, anniversary, and a ring that was my grandmothers. Even though we tried everything they were never recovered. I had to hide to suck up my hysteria but I did it. She kept saying “I’m sorry mommy” over and over and it broke my heart even more than the rings. I told her I left them out and it wasn’t really her fault.

    Strangely, now she is the child who is the most careful with her things. Once she was a teenager, I did venture to tease her a little bit and told her that her part of my inheritance was in the septic tank somewhere and if she wanted it she could dig up the back yard after I died. She got the same look on her face and said ” I’m sorry, it was an accident” and looked like she was going to cry again. I told her she was more important than any of it and that subject is closed for good. I just hide in the bathroom and cry about it sometimes ; )

  4. After years of destruction, there is nothing left to destroy in our house. No pictures on the wall and no ornaments of any kind. (No offense,but I can´t stand ornaments anyway and I believe they are just dust collectors.)
    Instead, the kids are now destroying their own stuff, which is fine with me. I get everything second hand and when something gets broken it is recycled or goes back to the thrift shop.
    My house plants have all been eaten or ripped to pieces, first by my son and then by my daughter. Result: No more green in the house. Instead I have a massive herb garden outside and they don´t seem to like chewing twigs of rosemary or lavender.
    They have stopped destroying remote controls, DVD´s, and other technical equipment because that meant no more watching TV or looking at cool stuff on the computer.
    Now, if they feel the need of destroying things and the energy level gets to high they get sent outdoors to break whatever they can find in the fields or the forest, which they don´t, but at least they get fresh air:-)))

    I know we get attached to things easily and they often have some kind of sentimental value to us. I want my kids to respect others and that includes other people´s properties. I find kids destroy things when they are bored and want attention.
    Finally, I´d rather have a cheeky little bugger who on the odd occasion behaves like Genghis Khan then a little Gandhi who comes running to tell on others.
    Hang in there, everything can be replaced…your children can´t:-))))

  5. Selling his toys to pay for it? I LOVE that. Though possibly because I’m gonna be a terrible mother. ‘Cause then I’d probably make him tell me which toys he loved the most, then take those. Only it might not be as funny in reality. Hard to tell.

  6. Like Ingrid, I have nothing left of any value in my home. Well, that’s what I thought! Turns out that I value silly things like the crank on the window that opens/closes the window. Actually, every window in my home. I used to love the remote control for the TV…but that has been smashed and now I feel like I live in 1980 because I have to get up every time I want to change a channel or adjust the volume. But unlike 1980, it’s a fancy large screen flat TV that my husband had coveted for YEARS! We don’t watch TV much anymore, not because of the broken remote, but because one child coloured the TV with orange crayon! I used to like the doors on my pantry, but the children used them as swings. Now I see how very materialistic I have been. Thank goodness I live with three “angels” who have taught me not to get too emotionally attached to anything…including my sanity. I just sit and drink and dream about a day when the children have homes of their own, and I will go over there and colour on THEIR walls, pee on THEIR carpets, throw THEIR food on the floor (and then walk through it), and then smash all of THEIR belongings…and reassure them that they can “buy another one”. It helps get me through the days…

  7. I think you have to put intention into the mix. Yes, I got angry when my daughter threw a ball onto our breakable’s shelf and knocked down a bear from Greece ( my daddy gave it to me and shut up). But, it was not what she meant to do. So, I took it as a moment to freak out and then talk to her about how we’re gentle with stuff. A little less forcefully then I do when she accidentally drops her sister. People before things and all.

    I think taking care of what you have isn’t about materialism. But that’s just me.

  8. Robby is way better at this than I am (shall we remember the tantrum about the superheros?). We try to first enforce that we love R no matter what he does; Accidents happen and people make mistakes – even mommy and daddy. But then say, “until you can show that you are mature/old enough or have self control to touch without breaking Mommy’s figurines (or Daddy’s printer – had that one too) then you don’t have the freedom to touch them.” We’re big believers of the funnel and when we think R is not old enough to understand that something is precious because of the memories attached and that it can break without being fixed or replaced, it’s removed until a later date. We had to do this a few months ago with a painting we had in his room of Wrigley Field that Robby’s Grama painted for Robby as a teen. He is also not allowed in the office anymore without our supervision because he’s three. And sometimes it’s more important not to set R up for failure than to roll the dice. :o)

  9. We started the “things on these shelves are NOT for you” really, really early. Like at crawling stage.

    These cupboards are for you! (Pots, pans, tupperware. We were pretty sure those hydroflorocarbons wouldn’t leak out.)

    And by the time he was two, we didn’t really have to think about it anymore.

    Teaching respect for other people’s property ISN’T teaching materialism. And just because it’s YOUR property doesn’t make it any less valuable. When you teach him that some things are not his to play with with YOUR belongings, the rule makes perfect sense when you’re in someone else’s house.

    But hey, I’m offering lessons on selling your progeny to the Romanians for fun and profit so I may not be the best person to ask.

  10. I have to agree with Lori, “teaching respect for other people’s property ISN’T teaching materialism.” You want respect for items you have and enjoy, just as he would be disappointed if someone broke his toys.

  11. Going through the same thing here right now. Tater has the negative Midas touch or something…he breaks everything. If you figure out the answer, I wanna know!

  12. I agree with Lori. I set up boundaries early with my son…mostly because I couldn’t fully “baby proof” my crappy little apartment. I have a real hang up about treating property well (I think it comes from being uber-poor as a kid & not having much stuff…), so I’m kind of hard core on teaching them to respect their things, as well as other people’s things. I don’t really see it as being materialistic, just teaching the kids to respect that their actions have consequences.

    Also? It’s not necessarily a boy thing. My son is FAR more careful with pretty much everything than my stepdaughter. My stepdaughter is a freaking oblivious bulldozer. And she’s older.

      1. LoL No worries! I know it’s not…I just think it’s funny in my family how careful and reserved my boy is and the girl is the crazed destructo machine. Which makes me slightly insane…but I’m all old & curmudgeony about that kind of thing….LoL

  13. Stop trying. If you fall off the boat the first thing you think of is NOT draining the ocean. Kids won’t understand death until their little brains knit together when they’re 15 right? Same thing about respecting property. I used to build models and spent big bucks on them. Both boys “flew” my precious jets. We bought a curio cabinets and put precious stuff in there. The wife’s very expensive doll collection in one and my stuff in another. WE CLOSED THE DOORS and the kids couldn’t get at them. Later, when they became adults it tickled my heart to see that they had cabinets (or book shelves) themselves.

    As for furniture. This will be destroyed when they become teenagers. Plan a huge shopping trip the day N drives off to college.

    PS: Destroyed mementos CAN be recovered. Ebay is a wonderful place.

  14. I got nothin’. I was reading this, nodding my head, because I’ve been there (minus the kitty snow globe, but with equally valuable items). I’m not sure what the answer is. You raise really good questions. H is always SAD when stuff like that happens, but it’s clear he doesn’t grasp the value… Maybe they’re not quite old enough yet?

  15. This is such a great post for me considering my 15 month old son got his first real spanking a week before Christmas. I put out my favorite Christmas decoration at Thanksgiving and told myself the second he showed interest in it, I’d put it up so it wouldn’t get broken. Well, of course, weeks went by and my son never even acted like he saw it. Then as I was letting the dogs in the back door one morning a few days before Christmas, I heard it being scooted across the entertainment stand. I quickly turned around while saying “No!” very sternly to find a mischievous grin across my son’s face and him going for the decoration. Of course I start yelling “No! Momma says No!” and he swiped it as hard as he could right off the entertainment stand. Broken.

    I, without thinking, grabbed my son popped him twice on the behind and shook my finger in his face saying, “When Momma says no, she means no! No sir!” I sat in the floor gathering up the pieces to see if I could glue it back together and my son frantically was hugging me from behind and trying to sit in my lap in an effort to, I believe, apologize and receive comfort.

    Since then I’ve done a lot of thinking and talking with other moms about whether or not the action deserved the punishment and I come to the conclusion that, yes, I did the right thing. It was less about him breaking the decoration and more about listening and setting boundaries. I told him no and he continued to do what he wanted to do. When Momma says no, there is a reason for it. Whether it’s to keep from breaking something, to keep him safe, or just to have good manners.

    Oh, and the good news…the decoration was able to be glued back together and (from afar) you can barely tell! 🙂

    1. Oh, and I’m sure there will be moms on here who don’t believe in spanking and/or think 15 months is too early. That’s fine and I don’t judge you for not doing it. I know there are several other ways to discipline your child and I am a firm believer in using other means as well as a spanking now and again.

  16. hell if I know. my mom always placed way more value on her crap than me. everything was effing sentimental. so I fear I will probably be the opposite as a mom. there’s gotta be a fine line.

  17. I think you are alread doing it. When you work hard for the things you have and you are not constantly purchasing new things and taking care of things you have had for a long time,then you are showing that you value what you have. You value you him and you do not want to see him get injured and you are just as upset as when something you really care about or worked hard for breaks. They know it because they can see it from you. Now if he was breaking things and you were replacing them that same day with shinier and better things, that would be different. 🙂

  18. I felt really bad when, a few weeks ago, we were playing a game and Jack pointed to something and said, “No, you can’t have that one. It’s too expensive.”
    I mean, we almost never go shopping. And we like to present alternatives. And surely I am not such a consumer that my toddler is already taking about the prices of things?
    Nope, surely not. The next day he said it was “too offensive.”
    I still have no idea what he’s trying to say.

  19. Which is more important? Tschotchkes or your kid’s feelings?

    Rule #1: Anything too important to break needs to be put up really really high.

    Rule #2: If they still break it, you cuddle them and tell them it’s okay. Because that’s what moms do.

  20. OMG, the comments on this post have cracked me up, susan and gwen especially.

    in our house, each child has been worse than the last; cleo hardly ever broke stuff, owen occasionally, and joseph is a G-D tornado. i used to babysit kids who would tear through my house, emptying drawers and dumping out bins, and wonder, “what the hell is wrong with these kids?” now i have one. stupid karma.

    kids feel bad when one of their siblings breaks something that belongs to them, so why shouldn’t you be allowed to feel bad (and to express that feeling) as well? obviously you can’t freak out on them, but look: everyone cares about something, whether it’s a kitty figurine or an engagement ring, and when another person destroys that thing, it hurts. and actions do have consequences: cleo once broke a snow globe–and she was at least 6 when this happened–playing with it in her bedroom closet. she didn’t want me to know she’d had it (it was off limits), so she left the broken snowglobe–and the glass–in her closet, in the bedroom where owen spent his unsupervised quiet time every afternoon. only by the grace of god did little barefoot owen come and tell me what he’d found instead of walking into the closet to investigate.

    my kids hit me all the time with “we can buy another one.” i know they’ve heard this from me, because in the past i have said this, in part to help mitigate hysteria over a broken thing. but i hate to hear that from them because i don’t want them to hold that attitude–money is not unlimited, consumption is not the answer to everything, and objects should be valued. i don’t think it’s materialism to teach your children that when you’ve spent money to obtain an object, you should take care of that object.

    all of which is a long way of saying, yeah, i don’t know either. 🙂

  21. My husband doesn’t care about things or stuff, and he has basically taught our children not to care as well. I just found all my miniatures that my mom left to me on her death bed broken. I blame him :/

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