- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2007

My children, ages 4 and 5, simply will not pick up their toys or books. I have reduced the number of toys significantly, but they still won’t pick them up. They pull out everything toy cars and planes, stuffed animals, blankets to make tents, and so on but they won’t pick up and put away anything unless their father stands over them or I do. What now? Should I further reduce the number of toys?

A: I have not one, but three ideas for you. Take your pick.

Incredible vanishing toys. The first option will deliver a huge wake-up call to the children. As the name implies, their toys — all of them, mind you — suddenly disappear. If you don’t have an attic or basement storage area big enough for the job, go to a self-storage facility and rent a unit big enough to accommodate the whole kit and caboodle.

The next time the children are out of the house for a few hours (this may require that one of you takes them somewhere) put all their toys in boxes and then take the boxes to the storage unit. When the children come home and discover their immaculate rooms, tell them you are no longer going to get upset and mean about their not picking up their toys because they aren’t going to have any.

Be very matter of fact. Don’t be mean or act as if this is a “gotcha” move. Tell them that in a month, you will give each of them two or three toys. If they do well with that number, after a week or so you’ll give them two or three more, and so on. Make sure you hold back the toys they covet the most for last.

“Boy, John,” someone in Reader Land is saying, “that’s a bit over the top, isn’t it?”

I’m sure some people think so, but I’ll simply point out that children who are without toys will find ways of entertaining themselves. In fact, this method just may result in two children who are a lot more self-entertaining and creative than they were before.

Nonetheless, knowing that we have some sensitive souls out there (obviously, I’m not one of them) I will unveil the second option.

Charity box. Put a “charity box” in the back hallway and tell the children that you are no longer going to nag them to pick up their toys. On any given occasion, you are simply going to tell them once that it’s time for them to pick up their toys. If they don’t do so within a reasonable amount of time, you will pick up the toys and put them into the charity box.

The children need to know, upfront, that once a toy goes into the charity box, no power on earth will get it out. When the box is full, it will be taken and donated to a local charity that distributes toys to underprivileged children, and a new box will take its place.

“Well,” my critic says, ”that surely will do less damage to the children’s psyches, but I’m not sure I would want to give away hundreds of dollars of toys.”

Therefore, my third suggestion:

Toy-lending library. Dedicate a closet or a large cabinet to toy storage. Go through your children’s toys, culling ones they no longer play with. Keep culling until you get down to no more than 20 toys. Put the rest in the new “toy library closet.”

Allow the children no more than two or three to play with at a time and make a rule that in order to get a toy out of the closet, they must give you one to put back in. This keeps the number of toys that are “out” at any given time to a number that your children will be able to pick up in no time. If they “can’t” pick up three toys, limit their library privileges to one toy at a time.

See? There is always more than one way to skin the disciplinary cat.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents” questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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