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What Do Toys Have to Do With Inner Validation?

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When practising self-observation, I notice that I frequently look outside of myself for validation. This is not a happy or healthy habit. It is a habit I don't want my children to have so I wonder how it happened and how can I avoid passing it on.  Is it because when a child has a need or painful feelings and the adult can not meet that need or doesn't know how to explain that life is, in part, painful, they try to make the child feel better by distracting them with toys or food? Does this teach children to look outside of themselves for comfort? Is this the basis of our rampant consumer society?

In my wish to get clarity about the issue, I asked the Conscious Parenting team a vague, un-clear question about whether toys contributed to looking outside of ourselves for validation. I got a variety of responses that did not necessarily address what I was trying to ask. My fault. But the responses came with a lot of value, nevertheless, and deserved to be shared. This first piece comes from a mom in California.

Hello.  Yes I think our society in general is set up to satiate our inner longings with material things.... However children's play is metaphoric and as they play they are healing and resolving conflicts within themselves.  Carl Jung during his later years retreated from society to heal himself. He did this by reverting back to that which he did as a child to pass time.  He built things out of mud and dirt in his yard.  This is quite different than playing with stuffties....maybe.  We mustn't underestimate the power of the child's imagination.  Playing with store bought things can be useful. 

The question for me as a mother when R and M were little was: "Does the toy they are "dying to have" encourage their imagination or does it pacify there boredom?"  Toys like Legos and art supplies were their favorites.  They also loved action figures and would act out scenarios with them much like I did with my dolls as a little girl.  And then came Gameboy.  That was a line I wish I hadn't crossed when I did. Looking back I would have liked to respond to their desperate pleas for this new electronic toy with: "When you are 10, if you still want one you can save your money and buy yourself one."  And inspite of my giving in when they were 7 & 8, they turned out nicely as young adults.   I used to tell them they had to go in there rooms or find a quiet project and play quietly or read by themselves for an hour, when it seemed they needed down time.  This was so valuable.  They learned how to be with their boredom and entertain themselves.  They could not play with electronic games or watch a video during that time.  Often they did not want to stop at the end of the hour because they were so involved with entertaining themselves. And other times they fell asleep for a much needed nap.  R was given a laptop for his 16th birthday and I wish I had never done that.  In hindsight I can see it would have been best to keep the computer community property and in a place in the house where everyone could take turns using it.

Recently R, age 24 now, lost his cell phone and decided not to replace it for quite some time.  He said it was really nice not having it always go off and signal him when someone wanted to contact him.  That lasted a few months.

I was fairly sheltered from being able to follow the latest trends when I was growing up.  The only down side to that for me is that it has taken me years to drop my judgements around such impulses. These were my parents' judgements. And for me it even developed into a fear of following my desires and dreams.  So as parents we have to be real about our judgements and not make arbitrary rules for our children based on them.  I think it is completely reasonable for a parent to say; "I can see that you really want a cell phone, computer (fill in the blank) and I'm not willing to spend my money on that.  But if you want to save your money for that or take on some work so you can buy yourself that, I support you."  We want the children to be happy.  Maybe the real question is: "What will really allow them to live a happy life in the long run?"

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Juanita lives in the Canadian Rockies and has been a mother for nearly forty years. She has three children with a 22 year age spread between the oldest and the youngest. During this time Juanita has also worked with youth in a variety of capacities including as a rehabilitation worker in the public school system and as program director and facilitator for a local youth group centre.


Magic and mysteries have been a life-long pre-occupation of Juanita's and she has published one book Almanac of the Infamous on the unexplained and unsolved. She also is known for her mystery entertainment parties (mysteryfactory.com) for children and grown-ups. Staying in touch with a playful spirit and miraculous possibility is something that she feels is vital to passing on to our children and retaining as adults.

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Guest Monday, 11 December 2017