Why I give my children beautiful and breakable things. Barbara O'Reilly

“Why do you spend money on stuff your kids will just lose or trash?” This is a question I hear a lot. I hear it about the cute little table and chair set they do craft on, about their super-cool beach toys and about the plates they eat off.

My answer to this question is simple. Because I want them to learn to treat things with respect and I believe that kids are capable of using care (provided no one is on the verge of a lack-of-sleep breakdown, of course.)

So yes, they have a nice table and yes it’s white and they aren’t allowed draw all over it. But accidents happen and when it gets dirty we wipe it down. Life lesson.

Sometimes some scissors, or a pen that we can’t wipe off, damages it and it can’t be helped. Life lesson.

They drink out of glasses because they are heavy and harder to knock over than plastic; it’s easier for them to negotiate. They can also see the drink through it so that’s kind of cool. If they drop one it breaks, then we clean it up and it’s not the end of the world. Life lesson.

Their fancy beach toys inspire creative play, something that humans only really enjoy for a short period of their lifespan. And something a lot of studies suggest is the most valuable form of learning for children. When we leave we make sure we have have all the pieces and if we don’t they’re lost. Life lesson.

Yeah, obviously sometimes things don’t go to plan, kids break stuff… but I break stuff too, quite often, and no one makes me use plastic plates. And if they did I think that it would really bum me out. You know, because… harsh.

I often hear, “kids aren’t discerning, they can’t tell the difference if something is nice or not so who cares.” Well, yes and no. I remember the feeling of getting a brand new set of pencils or a Tweety Bird glass as a kid. It felt good. I could tell it was nice.

But in some ways it’s true, kids are super capable of lots of things but being discerning isn’t a strong point. Understanding that at home you can draw on the table but other tables have other rules is a pretty complex concept. Different spaces requiring different behaviour is something that a lot of adults still struggle with and as much as I want them to learn this skill at some point, right now blanket rules are much easier for them to get. So no, don’t draw on the table, or the walls or the floor either. Draw on the paper, ok?

Now I don’t want you guys to think; poor kids, they don’t get any fun. We do craft all the time, we paint and make a mess and my kids are absolutely allowed to be kids, we just try to do it without totally trashing the world, most of the time.

And I also don’t want you to think I’m talking about ‘expensive’ stuff when I say ‘nice’. I’m not at all. This perspective isn’t coming from a place of privilege. The table wasn’t dear, the glasses are ancient and the beach toys were a Christmas treat.

It comes from a much more humble tradition of valuing and caring for the things you own. Because even if the table was a hand me down (like the last one we had that made it through three families before collapsing) the same rules still apply. Sure, I’m not exactly going to serve them up breakfast on my Grandma’s plates but I think it will be fine if they use the ceramic set I got from Kmart.

So yes, I’m happy to give my kids beautiful and breakable things, their home is the first environment they learn to care for, I want to encourage gentle hands. Just as I want them to continue with gentle hands as their horizons expand.

Do you give your kids ‘kid stuff’ or ‘real stuff’?

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Image; Barbara O’Reilly