Among the gifts our daughter got at Christmas was her very own (kid’s) tablet. It came preloaded with lots of fun and educational apps, and we added several more that we knew she liked. The problem? Most of the preloaded apps were just partial versions—with the option to purchase the full app. Our girl knows that toys cost money, but at not quite five years old, she was having a hard time grasping the concept of a non-tangible app costing money. We bought her one or two, but for the most part, her Dad and I were left scratching our heads and wondering how we were going to get her to understand that we can’t purchase every app she sees.
One night, when we were doing our normal dinner bartering (“If you eat three more pieces of broccoli and two more big bites of chicken, you can have a cookie…”), it hit me. TOY Bartering. We have been systematically going through our house and getting rid of things we don’t use or want anymore, and (so far) had avoided her room. We wanted HER to help us choose the toys that we would get rid of, and she wanted no part of it. Every time we suggested getting rid of some long-forgotten toy, it suddenly became her MOST FAVORITE TOY IN THE WORLD. I didn’t want to go through her room without her knowing because I wanted her to be part of the process and to learn from it. We planned to consign some things and donate others, and I really wanted her to learn about donating to children in need.
So we decided that we would teach the value of the apps in this way: when she wanted a new app (or even a new toy), she would need to pick out toys equivalent to the purchase price for either sale or donation. We weren’t sure how it would work, but we knew we had pretty good success with the food bartering, so what the heck? It was worth a shot!
Sure enough, that night after dinner, she asked “Mommy, could I have this?” “This” being a collection of interactive, learn-to-read-on-your-own stories—priced at $7.99. Now was the perfect time to implement our new plan. I told her she needed to go pick out two medium sized stuffed animals or one large stuffed animal that she was willing to get rid of in order for me to purchase the app. I explained that she was “buying” the app by getting rid of the toy(s). She contemplated this concept for a minute before running off to her room. About fifteen minutes later (picking out toys to give away is a HARD decision, y’all!), she reappeared with two stuffed animals. When I pointed out that one was missing an accessory, she decided to put it back and choose another. She put them in our donation box, and I purchased the app. I explained to her that each time she wanted a new app or toy, she would have to give up some existing toys, and that Daddy or I would decide the number and type of toys she would need to trade in for the new item. That way, we can tackle the things that seem to collect and are never played with (fast food toys, stuffed animals, long forgotten toddler toys), and SHE would be in control of making the decisions.
A few days later, we were out shopping, and she asked if she could get a new toy. I reminded her of the new rule, showed her the price of the toy ($19.99), and told her the donation/give away equivalent: her puzzles. All of them. (She more or less just leaves pieces all over the house now, rather than playing with them). She thought for a few minutes, and then decided she would NOT like a new toy in order to keep the puzzles. This was the first time we didn’t have any whining about a new toy in MONTHS. The bartering system worked! Mommy success!!
In the last few months since we’ve implemented this, the number of times she has asked for new apps or toys has gone down considerably. She is actually taking the time to consider whether or not she REALLY wants the item rather than acting on impulse. She has also voluntarily begun helping us “purge” her unwanted stuff—without the idea that she’ll get something in return. My hope is that this continues, and ultimately, she learns not only to give but also to be frugal and thoughtful in her purchases—both are great lessons that I want her to learn which will help her immensely in adulthood.