A Question About Respecting Stuff

I posed this question on the Vitafam Facebook Page and we all agreed it’s a problem but we don’t have a lot of solutions. Anybody care to give us some suggestions?

Today’s question: How do you build “respect for our stuff” into your kids? Anybody else feel like they are out to systematically destroy not only everything they own, but our house, our cars, and every thing WE own, too? Tell me how you combat this…

Come on. Surely some of you veterans have advice to offer????? I’d love some practical suggestions, as well as ways to get to the real heart issue behind it. Help?



  1. Following this!

  2. Angelia says:

    This is a tough one but here are a few thoughts off the top of my head. Depending on their age it’s hard to get them to see the value to “stuff” and therefore the need to care for it. The issue is taking care of what God has given us. Ultimately everything we have is from Him and he wants us to care for it (people – especially the people in our family – included). There are many biblical examples of this. It is pleasing to God when we take care of our “stuff”. We want to be good stewards of what He has given us. If we trash our toys, house, cars, etc., we are ultimately trashing God’s things. Some of the things we’ve done to teach this to our girls is by our own example – “Mom’s going to wash the car today. I’m so glad God gave us a car. I want to show God that I am grateful and thankful for this car by taking care of it.” “Hey everyone, pick up your trash when you get out of the car. Let’s throw it away and not leave it in here. It will make the car smell bad. God has given us this car and we want to show him that we are grateful for it by taking care of it.” When something gets disregarded or broken we make them put some “skin in the game” to replace or repair it. If it’s a stain in the carpet from a disobedient trip through the living room with juice they were right there with me, on hands an knees with a rag cleaning it up. Afterward they might have been relegated to a specific spot in the kitchen for drinking anything else that day. Toys left out or misused? Those toys got put in a basket to be earned back with odd jobs (not their regular responsibilities/chores). Continuous disregard of their own toys? They got donated to Good Will. (That one I stole from our good friend Sheryl.) If they take my stuff or others stuff or break/destroy someone’s stuff – service with a smile for that person (taking one of their chores/responsibilities like making their bed for a week), an apology not just an “I’m sorry” but “I wronged you, will you please forgive me?” In addition some discussion and then prayer time asking God to forgive us for not taking care of what He’s given us and asking for help in taking care of our things and other peoples things. If restitution is possible we create a way for them to be apart of that as much as they are able. This may mean earning money through odd jobs to replace the broken toy, yard work to earn money to pay for the repair of the tear in the van seat. As they get older and want things I don’t think it’s a bad idea to have them earn and save for them. It’s a great way to begin teaching them that the things we have aren’t free and come with a cost. Another key part of this is that we’re family – a team – so we help one another and consider one another. To work as a team you are helpful, considerate, kind. We show love to one another in the way we treat each other and others stuff. I don’t grab Mom’s iPad without asking because I love her and want to show her love and respect by asking first. I obey Mom if she says to stay on the couch with the iPad because I love and respect her and I want to take care of the iPad God gave her. I don’t break all my sisters crayons or leave them out in the floor because I love her more than the crayons and I want show her that I love her by being respectful of her things and by being kind to her.

  3. Covetousness and carelessness are the heart issues.
    We combat this by having to repeatedly explain this to our kids. It’s not all about you, everything is not yours, and everyone is not here to serve you.

    It’s all about Jesus, everything is His and He has given it to someone else to steward, and you are here to serve others.
    We tell them this especially when we go to someone else’s home.

    Also, making them repair the damage or clean up the mess or replace something they broke.
    Also when we are out and they are making a mess or smoothing faces on glass, I try to gently point out that now someone else has to come clean that.

    Sometimes though, I realize that the destruction is just part of having a whole.lot.of.kids. We teach and train them to think about the consequences but there are a lot of messes on the way.

  4. Angelia gave a great answer. I don’t have kids myself but some things I remember from my childhood and things I’ve seen from my friends are keeping the number of toys on the lower side. Sometimes this means giving some away, sometimes it means putting them in a box in a closet and rotating. If there are so many that destroying a few won’t make a difference because there are plenty more, then they might have too many out.

    My Mom also used to give a warning if we were mistreating our toys or fighting over certain toys all the time then she would pack them up and take them to the Airman’s Attic on base (like Goodwill or Salvation Army) and she would tell us that there are lots of children who don’t have any toys. If we couldn’t take care of the ones we had, then there were other children who would. I think hand in hand with this is doing some volunteering as a family to serve others. With small children a good activity might be visiting a shelter of some sort. Small children can visit with residents while older children help serve a meal or fold towels. While we might tell children that there are others without all the things they have or starving children in Africa, their world’s are relatively small. They’ve never seen or experienced this, so it’s not “real” to them. Not that they don’t believe you, but they find it hard to imagine and relate to these situations.

  5. Well, I’m suspect that “veteran” means “old.” In either scenario my 3 boys–now 16, 15, & 12–probably have qualified me.

    Destruction was their first name for a bit there. It was like living with 3 tasmanians. Our 1st intervention was to require them to clean up what had been de-created, de-constructed, and/or de-stroyed. But we soon realized that while that tactic had some effect, it was only after the fact. We wanted them to think ahead as to the whys of their actions & the why not we don’t destroy the such and such.

    Honestly (& not to cause despair), this has taken longer. It has been a combination of involving the boys in preventative care & maintenance of the home. Requiring that they be in charge of a particular thing gives them an investment of not wanting someone else to mess it up, let alone themselves. Demonstrating to them the cost of certain repairs (even sometimes taking the birthday/Christmas/gift money out of their pockets to pay for broken things) has had its place in our home. Ie. the oldest put a baseball through the living room window even though he had been warned to move the game to prevent such an occurrence.

    We regularly talk about noticing what needs to be done & speak to the “dominion” heart of these boys. The Lord placed Adam in the Garden to have dominion & be a steward giving glory to God. When in Christ, we are to bear that restored image of dominion & stewardship.

    Failures & successes have all been a part of the process. I had to learn to discern between childishness & destruction. Ie. lay a towel over the nice dining room chairs because they will forget to wipe their hands on the provided napkin & will consider the upholstery a great substitute. Pay the extra for scotchguard on the furniture. Put down floor coverings that can take a beating, because they will. Give some portion of their walls over to the hanging of posters, drawings, football cards, etc. knowing that some spackle and paint will one day be required anyway.

    However, we did not allow & do not allow blatant destruction for the heck of it. Instead, we tried to provide nails & boards & hammers & outside venues of take it apart, dig a hole & fill a hole type activities that helped burn off that “creative” aspect of boyhood. We tried to show them that the curiosity of how a thing worked was a “wise want” but to willy-nilly destroy was a perversion of a “wise want.”

    I’ll stop now. This was supposed to be a comment & I’m at blog post status. Maybe something I’ve said will spark a discussion.

    It takes a while but the worthwhile thing is hearing your sons tell someone else to take responsibility because the Lord cares about our stewardship.

  6. LoraLynn says:

    Yes! I knew you’d have something! Blog post away, my friend! I feel like our house is Very kid-friendly. In fact, Andrew and I will often remind ourselves: “We live here, too.” We aren’t just the cook and handyman who live downstairs. And we should be able to sit on our own couch sometimes.

    So it still utterly mystifies me, this deep-seated need to pull banisters off the porch or break down the end table into tiny pieces. We’ve given them most of the house. Very little in it is precious. So WHY abuse it so?

    This may be the first question I ask God when I meet Him face to face.

  7. We have this issue too. I don’t think anyone with children is immune to it. I think that is because it’s in our nature as humans to think of the “here-and-now” (emotional) rather than the future consequences (logical/rational).

    This is more prevalent in children because their frontal lobes (where planning takes place) are not yet fully developed. How do you develop this? Through teachable moments: helping them make connections between their thoughts, feelings and actions, with the feelings of others.

    Everyone’s frontal lobes are eventually developed but the “shape” or degree to which they develop depends on the methods used. The more personal the teaching, the more mature the development. If left to develop on its own, it might not reach it’s full adult potential. That is why we sometimes see adults making irrational decisions and acting out of emotions, sometimes with devastating results (have you watched the news lately? OY!, with all the examples of this right now!!) because their frontal lobes aren’t strong enough to pull the thoughts away from the occipital and parietal lobes at the back of the head, which react on visual & auditory stimuli.

    So, if a child sees a pretty red crayon and a big, blank, white wall, why not color it, right?? Make it pretty!!

    Well, because it doesn’t belong to them. It belongs to you. And God gave it to you and has charged you with being a good steward of it, and that includes teaching the child to take care of it too. Why should they? Because you are sharing it with them (lucky kids).

    How do you do this? Make it personal. “You colored on this wall that doesn’t belong to you. You will clean it now because that is the right thing to do.” And then provide them with the tools to do so, offering gentle teaching/instruction as they go about it (the level of instruction and help you give depends on their age and ability).

    When it’s clean (or as clean as possible, because, let’s face it, some colors just STAY FOREVER), review the lesson: “This wall doesn’t belong to you. This wall belongs to me; it was a gift from God because I am His child and He loves me, and He wants me to take care of it. I’m sharing this house with you because you are my child and I love you. I want you to take care of it, too. How can you take care of it?”, etc. Talk more about the Why and learn scriptures together to reinforce.. And then show them what they CAN draw on. The goal isn’t to stifle their creativity and expression, but to teach them about appropriate media on which to do so.**

    Here’s the key: repetition. Don’t walk away from it thinking the lesson’s been learned. The frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until the mid-twenties (irresponsible college students, anyone??) so the lessons must be repeated often and in varied situations.

    So, yes, this will happen for years. But take heart! It’s not because they are TRYING to drive you crazy; it’s because they are developmentally incapable of stopping. Good news, though: the more diligent you are, the less often it will happen because these teachable moments will make impressions in their brain, carving a path to the frontal lobe! (It just takes about 25 years.)

    This is the same thing we go through with God on a daily basis, isn’t it? How many times do we have to hear the words and go through the actions to learn the lesson? Remember that while in the midst of this parent-child discipleship, and pray daily for eyes to see the teachable moments, wisdom to know what to say, and patience to teach it gently and consistently.

    When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot & call your girlfriends for a mom’s-night-out. Socialize, vent, seek their wise council, pray, eat, laugh, cry, pray again, eat chocolate desserts. It will clear your brain a bit and lift your heart, too.

    The issue will still be there, but you’ll be recharged to handle it better knowing you’re not alone.

    **This reminds me of a story my mom tells of my grandma, who had five children, all about 2 years apart. One day her brother came to visit and happened to see several of the children peeling wallpaper of the walls in the hallway. He said, “Ruth! Look at what they’re doing!” She just laughed and said, “Oh don’t worry about it! They’re just being creative!”

    May we all have that outlook! We’ll live a LOT longer!!

  8. Ok so this is nothing earth shattering but I have found that most of these infuriating parenting issues can be helped by applying Charlotte Masons habit training. You chose 1 habit at a time (it could be anything, cheerfulness or, what we’re working on right now, remembering to wipe and wash your hands without mom telling you. You know, the important things). Anyways, spend 6 weeks or as long as it takes working on that habit. Over breakfast you bring up all the amazing thoughts on here about how God has blessed your family and you need to be responsible. Flood them with inspiration. Look through your picture books and try to find examples of people taking good care of stuff. Tell them you want them to remember to respect the home without you having to remind them. Anyway, the eventual goal is that they will own it and you won’t have to nag. Take on an “I know you can do it!” cheerleader/coach attitude. Seriously, this method has changed my parenting and has made some “big” issues for me disappear. But I’ve not been at this panting thing for as long as you just take it for what it’s worth! 🙂 Have a good weekend.

  9. I just have to say I AGREE and need the advice.

  10. I remember back in the 70’s I wanted a stereo. My dad bought me one and set it in the middle of the living room floor, pointed to it and said, “Now take care of this because I don’t have money to replace it.”

  11. Donna Lybarger says:

    I am late on the reply here, but I wanted in on this… My daughter is 6 and I have tried very hard to build respect of stuff into her life. As a baby I would trade out something that isn’t a chew toy (a book) for something that is and tell her books aren’t for chewing. As she grew I always taught the proper use of the toys, while also careful not to stifle the imagination. I did this mostly by saying the * isn’t for you to climb on, but look your teddy bear can.
    When she was old enough to understand I would tell her If she breaks it she doesn’t get a new one, or that cost $* and she doesn’t have that money to replace it and mommy and daddy won’t replace it. If she continued to play with something in a way that would break it I would assess the situation on how sad/mad I would be if it broke (is it special or just another toy) and if it is special I took it away from her until she could learn to respect it, if it’s just a toy then when she broke it I would say sorry, I tried to tell you that would happen and we would throw it away or make sure it was still safe to play with before letting her continue to play.
    This has worked well for my daughter, and she understands that her American Girl doll is special, and her McDonalds toys are junk and she treats them differently and that is fine with me, as I am usually anxious to get rid of cheap toys!

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