Help me help my 7-yr-old appreciate what she has.
December 26, 2009 7:33 PM   Subscribe

Help me help my daughter appreciate what she has instead of wanting more, more, more.

My sweet seven-year-old girl had a great Christmas. She got lots of things she wanted, including an American Girl doll. She has carried it around with her constantly for the past 24 hours... until tonight. She told me she was "tired of her" and talked about another American Girl doll she wants. Sigh. I'm hoping it will pass tomorrow and is just part of holiday overload.

This is emblematic of how she behaves with a lot of toys. She pines after certain things for a long time, but when she finally gets them, the honeymoon is short-lived. She's got some pretty cool things that end up forgotten in her room.

I suspect that this is due in part to the influence of our material-based society. Commercials, tween programming and marketing, friends with different/more toys... My husband and I have done what we can to put up filters - really limiting television, saying no.

It could also be her age as well - maybe some of this is normal? The disinterest in her American Girl sort of breaks my heart. She's been looking forward to this for a long time.

I've started to introduce the ideas of focusing on what we have instead of what we don't have and how important it is to enjoy what we do have. I think she's at an age where she can wrap her mind around some of these concepts. Her room is also overrun with lots of toys - I'm cleaning it out next week and hoping simplifying will help her focus on the cool stuff she has.

I'm guessing this is fairly normal behavior? How do I encourage her to enjoy what she has in a positive way? Coming down on her for NOT behaving the way I want her to will just make this worse - been there both purposefully and accidentally and it dissolves all communication.

Thanks all.
posted by lucyleaf to Human Relations (58 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Maybe part of the problem is that she just doesn't know what to do with her toys once she has them? I remember feeling that way about most of my toys when I was that age.

Does she have any of the books written for the American Girl doll she got? This sounds kind of like "Throw more money at the problem!" but it might help her in a few ways - one, she will get a better perspective on how much stuff she has in light of how little kids used to have, and how kids used to play (the books are really good about that kind of thing) and two it will give her ideas about imaginative play that she can do with the doll.
There are also a lot of DIY craft projects around for you to make accessories and stuff for the doll, that might be a fun activity that you can do together. This could be a bonding experience and will help her enjoy the doll more.
posted by amethysts at 7:39 PM on December 26, 2009 [5 favorites]

Perhaps a more effective method for a 7 year old than sitting her in front of City of God would be to show her pictures of kids her age living in favelas or barrios. Compare the material abundance of her life to their lack. Etc.
posted by dfriedman at 7:44 PM on December 26, 2009

Best answer: A bunch of my friends who have children have "adopted" a child through World Vision or Compassion International... a child in a foreign country who as much, much less than we do. Having that kind of connection with a kid their age who has so little is a humbling experience.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:47 PM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

I had a few American Girl dolls as a kid, and I loved the books. I can't tell if I loved history before I read them or if they sparked that in me (kind of a chicken or the egg thing), but learning about how girls my age lived at different times in history was fun and gave me tons of imagination fodder. My favorite was Felicity (the spunky Colonial American girl), but they're all pretty good. Maybe the Addie books would be good for her-- they're about an escaped slave girl living in Philadelphia around the time of the Civil War, and they do a great job of showing the way people who have nothing live in a way that isn't too upsetting for kids.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:49 PM on December 26, 2009

Best answer: An old boss of mine had his kids shop for toys for charities every Christmas, and then help deliver/hand them out to needy families to help give them a reality check.
posted by rodgerd at 7:50 PM on December 26, 2009 [11 favorites]

Maybe a formal system of earning toys will help her appreciate them more?

also, what happens when you say 'hey, you haven't played with that thing for ahwile? Should we give it to your cousins? Sell it? Give it to Goodwill?'

I'm quite interested in the responses.
posted by k8t at 7:51 PM on December 26, 2009

Best answer: Maybe take half the toys that she's "forgotten" out of her room and store them away in a hidden place for a few weeks (or months.) Then, when she's complaining about how she's bored about all her toys, re-introduce her to her old toys. If novelty is what she wants, maybe give it to her without having to actually buy her new stuff.

This idea might be dumb, but it comes from the fact that when I was a little girl, I used to hide little toys under the cushion of the sofa, and do my best to forget about them, so that a few months later I'd suddenly remember I'd hidden fun things there, and lo and behold I'd lift up the sofa cushions and discover a whole treasure chest of surprises, and "new" toys.

(FWIW, I was in no way deprived as a child, but also craved the feeling of surprises and newness.)

Another alternative to this is to have your child designate three or four toys she's "sick of" and then ask the mother of a friend of hers to do the same, and swap toys every few months. Just make sure your kid really IS sick of them, so there are no tears.
posted by np312 at 7:53 PM on December 26, 2009 [10 favorites]

I might myself be quite willing to tell her that no, this is the only American Girl doll she gets, although maybe later you can get some of the clothes so she can dress up this doll like one of the other characters. They're functionally identical. Start teaching her how a toy isn't just one thing. Even if she doesn't have the right clothes, she can still imagine her doll is one of the other characters.

And stop buying new toys because she's bored of the old toys. This just perpetuates the cycle. Buy to replace things that are worn out or broken. Buy if there's something genuinely different from her existing toys, occasionally. But don't get her new toys just because she's bored of old toys, even if it is Christmas.

Get her to help in picking things to garage sale or donate and explain the bit about how a lot of kids don't have toys like she does, etc. But make her a part of the process, at seven she's old enough to help pick out things to go, to determine where to give them, etc. And guide her in learning how to play with the old toys in new ways. Don't encourage her to always think of her doll as Samantha (or whoever), but show her that the doll can be anybody her imagination can come up with, an American Girl or not.

This is basically how my parents broke me of this, even though we weren't in a financial position for me to have very much to begin with. And I'm glad they did, because now I'm much more able to appreciate the stuff I already have instead of always buying more.
posted by larkspur at 7:55 PM on December 26, 2009 [5 favorites]

Second roomthreeseventeen's suggestion. We adopted a child from Compassion that is the same age as my daughter. It really gives her a reality check. We get letters from Alice (in Kenya) talking about her school and what she buys with the birthday money we send her ($15-$20 according to the compassion guidelines) She bought a pallet to sleep on and some soap. The letters are eagerly looked forward to around here and it helps to start a conversation about being very fortunate with all that we have.
posted by pearlybob at 7:56 PM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

(oh, and seconding larkspur that you definitely shouldn't buy all the dolls. The books you might even be able to get through your library.)
posted by oinopaponton at 7:57 PM on December 26, 2009

Best answer: Hi, I'm MonkeyToes and I have a 6-y.o. with a Lego problem. Specifically, eleventy-billion pieces just aren't enough when there's a Mobile Command Center to be bought!

I, too, limit tv (no cable, just the DVDs we own) and say no a lot. Part of our solution has been to circulate toys; if my son wants something that's up in the attic, he has to switch it for something in his room. Taking away some of the Lego (for a bath, though they stayed in the bathroom for a few weeks) helped because he had to play with what was left. Scheduling more play dates got him focused on kids/experience rather than on things, at least while he was with other children. Adding a little more time for reading together and pre-bedtime conversation gets him thinking about things other than least for a few minutes.

He remains a bottomless pit of LEGO WANT, however, although I know that it's more about him exercising the limits of his power rather than about needing any particular set. Can he get me to go to the store? Can he convince me to get this Lego set? No? Well, then, can he work out a toy swap and get something from the attic for himself, or at least go with me (and perhaps snag an extra toy out of storage)? Can he ask me to get a toy for his sister, and succeed? That's his deal; maybe your daughter's situation is different.

The lust for the toy is not about the toy. It's about having power in a world that is fundamentally stacked against little people. For us, the answer that's emerging is fewer new toys; more choice (with tradeoffs) among existing toys; more time with people rather than toys; and an emphasis on giving him choice and power in situations that aren't earth-shaking for me but which are important for him.

Good luck. Less really is more, in the long run.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:59 PM on December 26, 2009 [40 favorites]

Best answer: Basically, I think your daughter may actually indicating to you her fundamental dissatisfaction with materialism. The things are supposed to make her happy and she wanted them, but fundamentally they don't, and she doesn't really know how to find that happiness other than to request more stuff. Don't be too hard on her. You can talk with her and help identify that yes, she really wanted the thing, but there's only so much happiness that things can bring.

One possibility rather than just on Have/Have Not, is to move her orientation to doing rather than having. One insidious aspect of materialism is the idea that if you don't Have Something, there's Nothing to Do.

I would suggest evaluating the experiences she has in her life right now. Sports? Music lessons? Play time with friends? Family Games? Reading or listening to music together? Cooking together? Family meals? Chores/housework together? Family outings? Volunteer together? Little family traditions/rituals?

If more of her experiences are shared social processes, and these are emotionally salient to her (ie. fun, or at least an acknowledgment that it's better together than alone), then these may well become more central to her identity. She will then be more easily guided towards happiness as something based on something we Do rather than something we Have.
posted by kch at 8:04 PM on December 26, 2009 [70 favorites]

One possibility rather than just on Have/Have Not, is to move her orientation to doing rather than having. One insidious aspect of materialism is the idea that if you don't Have Something, there's Nothing to Do.

I agree completely with this. She needs a hobby. Above all, be positive. Something involving adopting a poor kid or whatever is cool, but avoid negativity or guilt trips. "Don't you know there are starving kids in China" is a proverbial parenting joke because it just doesn't work. She has never been to China, isn't going to China soon, and starving Chinese kids are not her fault. Don't "punish" her, because she done nothing wrong. She just wants toys, which is perfectly natural for little kids. Help her find happiness and satisfaction in other ways, besides just getting more things.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:21 PM on December 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Here's what's worked for my now 12-and 9-year-olds (one boy, one girl):

1/ Sort through the toys she has now and make 4 different piles/bins. One is for keeping in her room or playroom now. The other three are for putting somewhere she doesn't go - the basement, the attic, wherever. Figure out a schedule where you switch out the bins. Since she seems to have a short attention span re: toys, a shorter time period would work well. So, in a month or so, bring out a bin, empty it and put the current toys away in that now empty bin. Lather, rinse, repeat. This keeps her from getting bored with her toys and helps her look forward to playing with her old stuff.

2/ Say no. A lot. No toys because she's been good at the store, or because she got a good grade on a test, or just because. Think of other rewards for that stuff; special time with you or your partner, viewing of a favorite movie (that you already own), reading together, a playdate with a friend, etc. Say no and keep saying no. New toys should be acquired only for special occasions: birthdays and Christmas.

3/ If/when she starts talking about friends who have more/different toys, bring out the party line of "Different families have different things and isn't it fun when you can go to your friend's house and play with stuff you don't have?"

4/ A month before Christmas we have our children find things to give away, to make room for the new things that are coming. They must make a discernible "dent" in their stashes. The toys then get donated to St. Vincent de Paul or Goodwill.

Other than that, just keep doing what you're doing. She'll learn to appreciate what she has, with a little help from you.
posted by cooker girl at 8:23 PM on December 26, 2009 [10 favorites]

I'm proud to say that my seven year old has remarkably little lust for Things, and is pretty appreciative of the stuff she has. I attribute this to a few factors:

1) temperament: I just happened to have been dealt a kid who doesn't care so much about this stuff. Before I had a child, I was firmly in the nurture camp, and I would not have thought natural, innate temperament had much to do with anything. Now I believe this is the dominant factor in who she is, for better and for worse.

2) modeling: I don't buy myself a lot of stuff - in large part because I don't have much money. The stuff I do buy myself is usually used or small. I also model giving stuff away, sharing, etc. I'm sure my kid has picked up on my behavior much more than she would absorb lectures about this subject.

3) expectations: I don't buy my kid much stuff and I never have, so she doesn't expect much stuff. When my daughter was little I got her very small gifts. You can laugh, but for her second birthday I actually got her a roll of sticky tape - which she loved! I also told her second birthday party guests that instead of a gift, they should bring a picture of an animal to her birthday party. I put all the pictures in an album, and we still have that album and look at it and it means more than a bunch of cheap toys would now. Now that she's bigger I get her one big gift each birthday - a bike, a desk, etc, and that's it. It doesn't feel bad to her, because this is how we've always done it.

3) no Christmas: Part of why I stopped celebrating Christmas when I left home at 18 was I didn't think it was possible to divorce it from consumer culture and all of the negatives included in that culture. And I still think that. We celebrate Hannukah. She gets a small gift on the first night of Hannukah (this year it was a small marionette she'd noticed in the toy store) and that was it. Again, she doesn't have an expectation of large or elaborate holidays, and she's never expressed disappointment about it.

4) no TV: I know, I'll sound shrill however I say this, but my kid didn't watch TV for the first couple years of her life, and still does so rarely. I don't say this to one-up anyone, and I know that there are some really fun programs out there, and that sometimes TV can provide needed mental breaks for the grownups, but the fact is that it is very difficult to raise a kid with TV and computer games without exposing them to tons of commercials - and to commercial tie-in culture.

Do I sound like a wet blanket? I hope not. My kid and I have tons of fun together. We go to museums and parks and play dates. We cook and read out loud and ride bikes. I try my best to use my time with her in ways that re-enforce that fun can be free.

I don't think I'm a perfect parent. There are a lot of areas where I feel lost about how to do things, and there are areas I know I've done things wrong. And I also know that as I said, the biggest factor here is probably innate temperament, but I do feel good about how I've handled "stuff" with my kid, and I think how I've handled it has payed off in a kid who is generous and appreciative of what she has.
posted by serazin at 8:27 PM on December 26, 2009 [30 favorites]

Put her to "work". If she wants this toy or that toy, make her earn it by doing a few chores. Make her earn it. Yes, she's just seven, but if you're seeing a pattern in this behavior, maybe it's time to try something new. Besides, if a child is constantly just given "lots of things she wants", why should she appreciate gifts? They won't hold as much meaning 'cause there's a steady stream of fulfilled wants.

On the flip side, perhaps toys aren't satisfying her? Try enrolling her in art, music or dance classes, or pick up some science and math workbooks if that's more her spend. It sounds like she's just easily bored and that may be cause she hasn't found anything that really holds her interest yet.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:27 PM on December 26, 2009

This is more targeted to the American Girl issue than the larger problem, but I always played imaginary games with my American Girl dolls and made clothes for them from fabric store remnants, my parents' old clothing, etc. I also made them furniture from what I found around the house. I usually acted out stories with them from whatever books I was reading at the time- fantasy meant all the dolls had magical powers, Louisa May Alcott meant they were poor-but-imaginative, etc.

Actually, that makes me think of something else: does your daughter enjoy reading on her own, or having chapter books read to her? Children's books from the early 20th or 19th century are sort of necessarily less stuff-focused than modern stories. Lots of Christmases with one doll, an orange and some candy, struggling poor families, etc. My favorites were the Little House series, Anne of Green Gables, the aforementioned Louisa May Alcott books, A Little Princess, and oh man, lots more. The Christian moralizing that a lot of these feature was pretty much above my head when I was a kid, but that aspect of them tends to stress caring for the poor and less fortunate and being grateful for what you have, which sounds like the message you're trying to get across to your daughter. They also have the historic appeal of the American Girl books but largely without the danger of "but Mom I neeeed the Addy doll and clothes and furniture now!!" happening.
posted by MadamM at 8:27 PM on December 26, 2009 [6 favorites]

When my kids were young we were pretty broke. They weren't deprived but they didn't get a lot of stuff. (I was a spoiled only child, so there was some contrast there.)

I notice that they really did seem to appreciate what they had.

The lady who wrote the Tightwad Gazette newsletter stated in one of her books an idea that iirc she called "creative deprivation." Her example was that if she took her kids to the mall and occasionally they got a junior cone at the ice cream store they appreciated it, where if she had continually upgraded to pricier treats they'd have started to lose their simple appreciation of the simple ice cream cone.

Looking back at my own childhood and comparing it to my (now grown) childrens' experience, I'd say the lady had something there.

One doll is plenty.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:30 PM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe next time get her to think more about the choices she's making. Ask her, "So why do you want Toy X? What are you going to do with it?" Get her to really think about her request.

Sometimes with kids it's a knee-jerk reaction when they see something to say they want it, and with girls there is always peer pressure. (I got the Malibu Barbie, which one did you get?)

Perhaps by having her think through her desires a little deeper she may develop some good decision making habits.
posted by NoraCharles at 8:35 PM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I absolutely agree with kch and others -- it's not really about her toys. It seems to me while you want your child to appreciate the toys she owns, what you'd REALLY like is for her to be an appreciative person, who sees beyond the worth of material things.

Learning to appreciate things -- material or intangible -- is no easy lesson. Hell, I know some adults who haven't got that down, of course a seven-year-old hasn't figured that out yet.

Personally, I learned this lesson from my family. My grandmother, who had wonderful gardens, would hold up blossoms to me and say "isn't this so beautiful?" or my grandfather (and this was on Christmas Eve) once held up his hand and moved his fingers and said "isn't this amazing? that we can do this without even thinking about it? they don't even make a sound." I remember seeing my mom crying while listening to Vivaldi's Gloria and not understanding her when she told me it was because the music was so beautiful.

Everyone else's suggestions of donating toys together, setting limits, and putting toys away for a few months are great. But so is being conscious of what is praised and valued and introduced in your household. and be patient -- it takes a long time to learn life lessons.
posted by missmary6 at 8:39 PM on December 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

As another data point, my mom did the trick with hiding half my toys for six months and it worked so well that I actually don't remember her doing it. I've never been tremendously observant... it was always pretty believable that I just wouldn't be able to find something, and then by the time it showed back up I'd basically forgotten about it and it was fun again. Novelty does that. (It's the reason why the big diet trick is 'remind yourself you can have it whenever' - it makes you want it less).

I also agree that your daughter may need to learn how to play - if she has friends who can help with this or other kids her own age who aren't her friends yet but who are good at imaginative play, you might want to encourage them to spend time together, remind her about toys she has that are fun to play with, etc.
posted by Lady Li at 8:40 PM on December 26, 2009

Best answer: Please, please do not try to solve this problem by showing your daughter that other people live in misery and want and squalor. That was a constant refrain from my childhood and it Fucked. Me. Up.

Because what my kid brain thought was "Wow, I must suck really badly because I have all of these things and kids are starving in {place} and why can't I be happy when I am so lucky I must be a horrible person I should kill myself."

Talking with your daughter about why she gets bored with toys and why she wants new shinies would, I think, be more helpful. I don't know. I just know that the "you should be grateful!" message interacted really badly with my neurological predispositions for depression and self-loathing, so I'd make extra sure that none of that is in the mix with your daughter before doing the Pollyanna thing, if you really feel that would be helpful.

(Note: I am not saying by any means that you shouldn't show your daughter that other people live in misery and want and squalor. That's important information about life in the world, and the folks on the thread who are doing charitable stuff with their kids helping kids in need get so much honor from me. What I am saying is PLEASE don't link the two things by implying to her that she "shouldn't" be impatient or dissatisfied with her stuff because other people are living in misery and want and squalor.

Dissatisfaction is a bad habit of mind, I agree. But I don't think you can shame people out of it, especially little kids.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:08 PM on December 26, 2009 [28 favorites]

Her room is also overrun with lots of toys - I'm cleaning it out next week and hoping simplifying will help her focus on the cool stuff she has.

I'd like to share something my parents did with us when we were only a little younger than your child. The first week of summer, my mom would bring each of us a box and place it in our rooms. She would talk to us about how other children did not have toys, and we had toys we'd outgrown and didn't play with anymore. She would ask us to put the toys we'd like to give to the other children into the box. Then she'd leave us alone to decide what to put in the box (which was destined for Goodwill). It was such an important and serious decision, what to keep and what to share!

A bit later she'd return to help us a little. In the end, it was always our choice, but if we didn't have many toys in the box, she would remind us of a few toys that we no longer played with; and if we had too many toys in the box, she'd remind us how much we still played with certain toys.

I'm sure you do this, but I'll add that my parents played with us to get us started with some new toys. Maybe she needs help learning how to make up games for herself, and you could ask her if... she and her doll are going to have a tea party, if she'd like to tell you a story about her doll, if she'd like to take a bath with the doll, if she'd like to build a house for her doll out of a cardboard box, etc.
posted by Houstonian at 9:27 PM on December 26, 2009 [5 favorites]

" Coming down on her for NOT behaving the way I want her to will just make this worse - been there both purposefully and accidentally and it dissolves all communication. "

Forgive me...this is your problem. Apparently there has been no consequences for her obnoxious behavior. She is is getting more and more spoiled---particularly as you are trying to shield her from your honest and true feelings on the subject! Why must you walk on eggshells pertaining to this subject?

Certainly you can be and should be disappointed that your daughter is "bored" with the toy you got her. If you don't express your honest feelings about this how is she to understand that wanting more more more is not only unrealistic but also unattractive and in the long term crippling!?

You are the parent and it is your job to teach her about life so when she can leave home she will be adequately equipped. This is a great opportunity and instead of being squeamish about it...seize it! A place to start would be to tell her that you are disappointed that she is disappointed and ask her if she'd like to donate the toy to someone else--and also tell her she is not getting a different one! "Tighten our belts" is a refrain that is being heard in every household. You need to grow some brass balls and tell her you love her, but she has to learn to be happy with her modest presents. If not..the alternative is no presents. Time to draw a much harder line than you have previously.

Enlist help (husband? Grandparents?) in explaining why objects can't and won't continually be provided endlessly. It is an economic lesson as well as an ethical and moral lesson. I know you can do it. Takes practice...start right away.
posted by naplesyellow at 9:56 PM on December 26, 2009

Best answer: Your daughter needs something challenging and satisfying to do, and she wants new dolls, or at least new costumes for the doll she has. Solution: Get an older relative or neighbour to teach her to sew. Seven is plenty old enough to handle a needle and thread, and maybe she will learn that working to make something can be much more satisfying than pestering your parents to buy it.

I'd also suggest initiating a conversation about why people sometimes feel dissatisfied after they acquire material possessions. Acknowledge her sadness - right now she has a doll, but she feels miserable and she doesn't really know why. So tell her that there's more than one kind of joy: one kind comes from relationships and experiences, and it grows over time. Another kind of joy comes from simply getting new 'stuff', and it burns bright but fades quickly.

And start talking, gently, about the ways in which marketing might be influencing her wants. Explain that although there's nothing wrong with wanting a few nice things, the people who make the dolls are spending lots of money on advertisements to make her want new things all the time. If your daughter has any semblence of anti-authoritarian streak, channel it towards this sort of over-zealous marketing. Ask her if it's really a good idea to make herself unhappy by doing everything the advertisers want her to do.
posted by embrangled at 10:25 PM on December 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

My husband and I have done what we can to put up filters - really limiting television

Get rid of the TV. Family life is much, much richer without a TV in my experience.
posted by anadem at 10:30 PM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

How often is she getting new toys? When you only get new stuff at Christmas, and a little something at your birthday, then you learn to make the fun last all year. If she knows that she'll be getting something new in a couple of months, then there is little incentive to be satisfied with what she has.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:42 PM on December 26, 2009

I find that our 7yo son appreciates toys more if I play with them too. He still wants things, but I just introduce the big world of "NO", and repeat if necessary. I'm not too alarmed that he still wants stuff. He doesn't really understand what's happening.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:46 PM on December 26, 2009

I agree with the comments that encourage you to help your daughter do stuff rather than want stuff. This includes imaginative play with the toys she already owns. If she has trouble with thinking of characters and stories, maybe invite some other kids over, or give her the start of a story line and encourage her to go with it.

The simpler the toy, the more useful it is in imaginative play. I was happy with hand-me-down stuffed animals and blocks that were just chunks of wood, because none of those toys had any personality or meaning already assigned to them. I was free to make up whatever I wanted, which could change every day.
posted by PatoPata at 11:01 PM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

"The disinterest in her American Girl sort of breaks my heart."

Perhaps that was the intention.

People sometimes forget that children are as sensitive to other's feelings and can be as manipulative as adults. I'm am most assuredly not saying that this is so in your circumstance, but I do think it a question worth asking yourself.

(Yes, I have a daughter and she even had such a doll at that age. Fortunately I've not had to contend with that particular issue so haven't the benefit of experience to pass on.)
posted by fydfyd at 11:06 PM on December 26, 2009

Best answer: I just came in here to suggest sewing, but embrangled beat me to it. At seven or eight, my mom was showing me how to use her old singer to make my own American Girl doll a few very simple outfits. I'd also recommend generally that you get the doll a variety of cheap outfits (Target used to carry knock-off AG clothes) for different personas and in different styles; this opens up the doll for more imaginative play, though I can see why you'd be reluctant to throw more money and more stuff at the problem.

But mostly, I'd say, let her be bored. Boredom is something we need to learn to deal with and soldier through to be creative. She needs to figure out ways to spend her downtime that aren't dictated by mom and dad.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:15 PM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Play is an action that does not necessarily require props, the props themselves don't seem as important to her as acquiring them. Maybe you could help her make toys? on preview what PhoBWanKenobi said.

but also,
Metafilter: ...a bottomless pit of LEGO WANT
posted by Blasdelb at 11:44 PM on December 26, 2009

I'm going to build on something that embrangled said re: marketing, and discussing this with your daughter.

I still feel like a fool recalling this story years later, but if it helps ...

When I was a bit younger than your daughters current age, I requested some shiny new toy that I saw in a commercial and really, really wanted. My mother made a point of mentioning several things about it (she reminded me that if I ever got this shiny new toy, it would not have accompanying music, or happy people that came along with the object, etc.). I was reminded of this several times.

I then got this shiny new toy for some holiday (Xmas, B-day). I played with it a few times (bath tub) and subsequently abandoned it. My mother brought me the shiny new toy a few months after this - it was discolored and even looked rotten (I probably left it in water).

My mother then reminded me how I had wanted and requested shiny new toy based on a commercial, and she asked whether it was what I wanted -How many times had I played with it? Did it have all the qualities that I thought it would have? I was also told to remember that the next time I watched commercials.

There were definitely follow-up conversations over the next few years about marketing, but nothing stood out more strongly than the fact that I fell for it once, and I never wanted to be the idiot who fell for the commercial again.
posted by Wolfster at 11:48 PM on December 26, 2009 [7 favorites]

It kind of seems like you and your daughter are coming from the same place, and this might be a good point for discussion. Your daughter thought that getting this doll would completely change her life and make her completely happy... and when she revealed to you that it didn't, you felt disappointed because you sort of wanted that to happen, too (at least for more than 48 hours). So talk to her about exactly what happened - remember how much you wanted the doll? And the very next day you wanted the *next* doll? So maybe... getting dolls isn't as great as the Doll Makers make it out to be, huh...?
posted by moxiedoll at 12:08 AM on December 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

I was never much for TV...and still am not ( I preferred books), but nthing telling your kid that the kids who rave about the stuff in commercials are being paid to do so, not necessarily because they like it. I would also let her know that her peers who are her true friends like her for who she is and not the stuff she has.
posted by brujita at 12:42 AM on December 27, 2009

Best answer: Does your daughter have friends or siblings to play with on a regular basis? If not, do you ever get down on the floor with her and play dolls?

I had my share of Barbies and my brothers had their toy soldiers and GI Joes. I did some play on my own, but for the most part, we were sent outside to go sledding or my brother and I would line up the toy soldiers, facing each other, and see how many we could knock over with rubber bands. Or we played Monopoly, Life, Clue, and cards. I sat through endless card games with my son when he was little, as his big sister is 10 years older than he is. Then it was backgammon and then chess when he was a bit older.

I agree that sorting through toys is a good thing. But I remember the months before Christmas, going through the Sears catalog, and imagining what it would be like to have this or that toy. I'd make a huge list, which made my mother shake her head and laugh, and I'd get one or two things. The fantasy and build up were gigantic in my little kid head.

I don't think she's bored with the doll, it's just that she probably imagined all these things she could do with it, then it didn't live up to her expectations. Maybe you can set up a play date for her for the rest of her school vacation, or have a tea party with her on the floor. Alternatively, my mom used to put two dining room chairs together and drape a blanket over them. You can have a lot more fun with dolls inside a blanket cave then your boring old room. Even better if you have a mom or friend in there with you.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 1:46 AM on December 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think amethysts hit the nail on the head re: whether she knows what to do with what she has. So, she got the doll and she carried it around, but did she play with it? Did she tell you any stories about what AG doll did today? Did she play with the doll's hair? Did she have a friend over, preferably with a doll of her own, to make up stories about the doll?

As others have pointed out, books can be great for fostering creativity, but sometimes a bit more is needed for it to be translated into real life (such as a creative friend who has good imaginary scenarios). I had an AG doll of my own when I was younger and she was infinitely more fun to have when my best friend was over and we came up with stories about how our dolls were on the Oregon Trail (or something similar).

Perhaps you could help her think of fun things to do with her doll? What if you help her and her doll get dressed up for dinner tonight? You could play with her hair while she fixes her doll's hair and then they could both put on their fanciest clothes. Could she tell you a story about where her doll lives? Does her doll have a bed to sleep in tonight? Could your daughter design something out of a shoebox?
posted by brambory at 2:02 AM on December 27, 2009

Best answer: She's just a normal kid. All this is heartwarmingly sincere, but overthinking a plate of beans.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:02 AM on December 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

I think that in the American Girl commercials and ads, they always show the doll in an imaginary environment with lots of accessories (some of which you can buy, but some you can't), which is hard to recreate at home by yourself when you're 7. My niece and her mother make sets for her out of old cardboard boxes. They just draw scenes on them, so that she can imagine what the doll is doing. Also, I agree that maybe checking some of the books out of the library to familiarize your daughter with the stories might help as well.
posted by bluefly at 4:26 AM on December 27, 2009

One little thing you could do that might help is to check out the book "The Gift of Nothing" from the library and read it to her.
posted by drezdn at 5:32 AM on December 27, 2009

She is seven years old. The behavior you are describing does not seem pathological or manipulative or something to be fixed. I say this as someone who was a 7-year-old girl who got bored with her piles of toys on regular basis. I do not have kids.

As someone said above, there is nothing wrong with boredom. She will lie around, stare at the wall. If you are absolutely intent on doing something, show her how to crochet or sew outfits for the doll. Or teach her chess, if you want to open up her head.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:04 AM on December 27, 2009

Both of you could go to a local soup kitchen--there are many of them these days--and help out for a meal --preparing or serving, and those on the receiving end will benefit and those on the giving (serving) end will become aware of just how much better off they are. I have done this with my kids and they loved doing it. It got them outside themselves and they became much more aware of a larger community not so well off and not spoiled by having too much.
posted by Postroad at 6:37 AM on December 27, 2009

When I was this age (and I have several friends who did too, so I know I wasn't a completely weird child) I went through a phase where I was reeeally interested in impoverished children. Not that I knew anything about actual poverty, mind you, I was pretty far removed from that, and my parents never actually made any moves to expose me to it, though I think I would have benefited from gentle exposure. But I was just starting to read books like The Boxcar Children, or A Little Princess, or even the Little House on the Prairie books and the like where children were often put in difficult situations and just had to tough it out with their own inner strength and pluck.

I remember being impressed by how much they valued the few things that they had, and often times the pretend games I played with my best friend centered around "survival" and gathering enough wood for the fire before winter set in or harvesting all the walnuts in the yard or other "food" items: pinecones, bits of moss, flower bulbs that we were totally not supposed to be digging up.

There was never any real danger in the books, never any real threat of starvation or freezing to death (barring Little House, perhaps), so it all felt pretty safe, and it never had the negative effect that I think the guilt trip of "Look at these dying children!!1!" may have. After all, it's not a kid's fault they were born into the American middle class, and it's not their fault they're bombarded with messages of materialism. I think the more valuable route would be to seriously amp up the positive modeling: an afternoon of baking cookies for the neighbors, tons of arts and crafts, and volunteering at a soup kitchen would have the most long lasting impact.

Also The Boxcar Children!
posted by hegemone at 7:43 AM on December 27, 2009 [6 favorites]

When I was a kid I had about a billion times more fun poring over the American Girl catalog and reading the American Girl books than I did playing with my American Girl doll (Kirsten!). The doll turned out to be kind of lame and too big/difficult to move/play with easily. I far preferred my Barbies and Breyer horse girls, in part because it was fun to play with several dolls at a time.

My parents were very, very generous with toys when I was a kid, but I don't remember ANY of it. Here is what I DO remember:
*going on nature walks around the neighborhood and keeping a nature diary with dried flowers
*making "flower dolls" out of big flowers (like lilies) and toothpicks
*doing chemistry experiments in the tub with bath products and a monster set of plastic test tubes, pipettes, etc. from my researcher aunt
*running around town buying leather and fabric to construct intricate saddles and gear for my model horses
*sewing and crocheting my own outfits
*having unlimited books, but also knowing the value of a library
*playing in the insane two-story playhouse my uncles, dad, and brother built for me (complete with running water-- what can you expect from a family of plumbers)
*helping out in the vegetable garden. one especially fun thing to do is to grow gourds and tie string around them when they are babies so they grow to be funny shapes.
*sneaking around under-construction homes in the very amazing street of wealthy custom homes a few blocks away from our subdivision
*grandiose baking projects, like making challah, and constructing strange candy with chocolate molds
*buying toys from the dollar store, which was just as fun (and far more interesting) than toys-r-us

Most of these things were sort of independently done, and I was probably sort of a weird kid, but the takeaway is that you should allow your child the tools and freedom to live an interesting independent life and not worry so much about explicit lessons about materialism.

P.S. American Girl is just as if not more evil than Barbie. Yeah, she's flat-chested, but she's also a self-proclaimed "premier lifestyle brand" with obscene prices, aggressive albeit untraditional marketing, a finite and hollow educational message, semi-fixed backgrounds that discourage creativity, and the kicker, a Doll Hospital that nicely represents the cascading tower of materialism, irresponsibility, and brand allegiance that is set off upon purchase. I mean, when I first heard about that Doll Hospital, I wanted to break my doll six ways so that I could get my hands on that hospital gown and get-well balloon. And at least Barbie wasn't unemployed.
posted by acidic at 8:12 AM on December 27, 2009 [5 favorites]

Best answer: First:

This is emblematic of how she behaveschildren behave with a lot of toys.

Now, the reason this happens is a two-part affair. The first part involves the marketing of these toys, which give children a lot of reasons to believe they want the toy more than they actually do -- the reality of the toy doesn't live up to the hype, they get bored, they toss it aside and start pining for the next hyped toy. It's important for children to learn that commercials don't represent reality, of course. Still, you should take this opportunity to talk to her and make sure she understands and can articulate how her expectations don't quite jibe with the realities. You should also avoid turning the experience into one where she believes that the only "fix" is to get the next great thing -- in other words, don't buy her more to alleviate her disappointment.

The second part of this is all about you, really; children get bored with toys, then they come around again. For instance, my son was obsessed with drums, so we bought him a very nice drum kit. For a few days we couldn't keep him off them -- then he wanted nothing to do with them for several months. Now he's playing them again, but not with the obsession he had earlier. It's a cycle, really, and one most adults follow: obsess, reject, accept. Not all toys make it to the third part, and the more toys they have, the less likely any given toy will make it there. Your own expectations may be set to think that there shouldn't be a second step, or that there isn't going to be a third. Don't sweat it -- instead, consider that if your child always rejects toys and never accepts them for occasional play in time, then you should stop buying so many toys and find other activities she likes to do...but to be fair to her, assume the same cycle with those activities. Otherwise you'll have several years of being disappointed in what is, for her, totally normal behavior.

I can be long-winded, so the short answer: it's normal for kids to do this, it isn't a problem unless you express your disappointment that they should remain obsessed with a toy longer or if you fail to help her understand the difference between hyped expectations and reality.

my kids' grandparents-in-law went apeshit on gifts this year for our four-year-olds, much to out chagrin, and the following toys have already been obsessed over and then rejected: a $200 lionel train set, a $200 dollhouse, a jungle playset, too many smaller gifts to count, their first bicycles, and even the $2 pull-a-string helicopter launching toy I bought my son, which got more initial play than anything else. I'm not even slightly disappointed or annoyed by this, and in fact I'm glad, because now he has these things to accept and regain interest in throughout the year.
posted by davejay at 8:38 AM on December 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

er, when I said "he" in my small print, that should have been "they". I have two children and should always acknowledge that lest they learn to read these posts and then call me out
posted by davejay at 8:39 AM on December 27, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the responses, everyone!

I needed to hear that my girl is perfectly normal, and that many other parents face these same issues. It also didn't hurt to hear that some overthinking might be going on. That happens a lot with me. Doesn't mean I'll stop, but a little reminder helps me stay grounded. :)

Also, a lot of these suggestions are top-notch! Trading out toys every few months, chair forts and lots of imaginative play, etc etc.

When she walked into my bedroom this morning, she had her AG in hand. I have seen my girl do exactly what your son did with his drums, davejay. It's a cycle.

Thanks again, all.
posted by lucyleaf at 9:08 AM on December 27, 2009

I think you need to teach your daughter how to play with dolls. My sister and I were big fans of Barbie. Not because of what Barbie looked like; the Barbie dolls were the moms, and then other dolls (1980 Annie movie tie-in dolls, Strawberry Shortcake dolls) were the kids. My sister spent HOURS building houses for these families with hardcover books as walls and washcloths for carpets, and then some barbie furniture. These houses were often built half-way under beds and had multiple storeys. We had elaborate, weeks-long story lines involving our various families, including boat trips and boarding schools with evil head masters and other things. We never knew what to do with the Ken dolls. Anyway, point being: the actual doll is not the fun part. The fun part is getting the doll to represent a person, and then orchestrate a storyline.

She probably needs friends around to do this well.

At age 36, my sister still misses playing Barbie. Once you get into it, it's more like role playing than traditional "playing with dolls". That's play that can last a lifetime!
posted by Hildegarde at 9:34 AM on December 27, 2009

Instead of buying her things, have her earn them. Start paying her an allowance and let her spend her own money -- after a few purchases on frivolous things, she'll start to learn to spend more wisely.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:18 AM on December 27, 2009

Nth teaching her how to sew, or cook, or fold origami, or plant a garden, etc. These are the things my tween self spent hours doing, they were all cheap, and none of them involved dolls or toys, just minimal supplies. I went nuts for projects because I didn't "get" playing with dolls, but man, I HAD to figure out step #93 in the book so I could finish my origami praying mantis. That tendency still serves me well.
posted by slow graffiti at 10:22 AM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Get rid of the TV. Family life is much, much richer without a TV in my experience.

I disagree. My parents and my brother and I watched meaningful stuff on TV together--my mom, for instance, watched the Watergate hearings and explained what was going on to us. My first exposure to the Marx Brothers, to the ballet, to Shakespeare, to the wildlife of Africa, to the insides of Egyptian tombs all came from TV my parents and my brother and I watched together.

A TV is an appliance, like a toaster or a blender. The issue isn't the TV--it's how you use it. You don't turn your blender on and leave it on all day just in case you want to blend something.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:35 AM on December 27, 2009 [9 favorites]

Kids usually learn about toys from television commercials: music, sound effects, cooperative friends, loving parents, a great play area, and The Toy in the middle of it all.

You need to make sure she has the friends, family, and play area. She can make her own music and sound effects. Then just about any toy (such as the proverbial cardboard box) can be fun.
posted by pracowity at 11:13 AM on December 27, 2009

Back off and let her play with it in her own way. One day she'll be into it, the next day she won't, the next week she'll re-discover it. Don't you guys remember how toys come to life, go dull, and then come to life again? THe sure way to kill the joy and work of play is when the grownups are telling you how to do it. Let her be a normal kid, as fourcheesemac says, which also means don't manage her imagination.
posted by fullofragerie at 11:55 AM on December 27, 2009

I used to love sewing clothes and making quilts for my AG doll. Probably more fun than I had actually playing with the doll itself. You can tie this in with almost any of the historical dolls because they all did handicrafts of some sort.
posted by ishotjr at 12:17 PM on December 27, 2009

I remember really enjoying making things for my Barbies: clothes and furniture and blankets and so on. My sister and I developed complex narratives for them too (and I remember we gave them all flower names: Daisy, Rose, Violet, Aster, and so on), but for me at least half the fun of dolls was from making stuff. I agree with those in this thread who are recommending you be careful about how you shape your daughters play, but I do recommend teaching your daughter sewing and knitting and the like. They are hard skills she won't just know on her own.
posted by orange swan at 2:42 PM on December 27, 2009

Every year my grandma would take me to the toy store to pick out toys for underprivileged children. I was just as excited going toy shopping even though I was not to get any toys on these trips. I carefully considered every toy and genuinely tried to pick out toys I thought kids would love. I also spent tons of time wrapping them nicely. That might give your daughter the idea that some kids has less than she does. Might also give her the thrill of toy shopping without giving her new toys.

Also you should make her give away 3 old toys before she gets 1 new toy. Even at christmas time, before she can open a new toy she has to pick three old toys to give away. When it comes down to giving away toys I am sure she'll find a new appreciation for them when she has to part with them. This should make her appreciate her old toys more.
posted by ChloeMills at 6:19 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Coolguymichael is right. As Grandparents we no longer buy anything beyond token gifts. We give money (not too much!) on birthdays and Christmas.
posted by snowjoe at 9:00 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

All the above suggestions are great, I also reccomend watching The Story of Stuff with your daughter, and reading The Blessing of A Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel for yourself. The book is about raising resilient kids and a lot of that is teaching children what to do with their frustration/unhappiness.
posted by blue_bicycle at 11:12 AM on December 28, 2009

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