Dear Rachel,

I have four children, eleven, nine, seven and two. Mostly they are great kids, and they usually get along. However, my seven-year-old son is very into possessions. He can remember everything that he was ever given, who gave it to him and why he got it. He is constantly going around the house asking me about different objects, if they belong to someone, and if not, if he can have them. Also, he wants to keep total junk! You would be amazed at the things that he collects on the way home from school: plastic soda bottles, broken pencil cases, screws, etc. I really need some help with my son to get this situation under control.


Dear S.M,

"I want it, and I want it now!!" This is a familiar mantra, and not just for two year olds anymore! Depending on a personality, this could be a lifelong struggle for someone. This is a very tough situation for any parent to handle. It's very good that you are noticing your son's tendencies now, and trying to help him gain control over the situation.

I have found that boys in particular are very into their "things." Many a mother will talk about the treasures they have found in their little boys' pockets, backpacks, and even in their beds! Part of this is developmental, and as he grows up and matures, you may start to see that this tendency to collect things will start to wane. On some level, you have to accept that little kids are very curious about their worlds, and, as they explore, they like to keep things as mementoes.

The need for things is not a new idea, nor is it going to go awayOn a practical level, you can work with him to help him figure out how to manage his stuff in different ways. One way is to give him a special place where he can keep his things. Set it up so that he gets this place on the condition that when it gets too full, then he needs to clean it out. A good place would be either a drawer or a bin of some kind. A contained place will help keep the mess under control.

Another way is to make rules about the category of items he collects. If he is bringing in real garbage, (wrappers, old bottles etc), don't be afraid to put firm rules around these items. Delineate for yourself what you are willing to have him bring in, and then let him know what is off-limits for entry into the house. Or, you can let him have more freedom with the things that he collects and brings home, provided that there is a set, regular time that everything gets cleaned out (i.e. once a week, once a month, depending on his collection proficiency).

I think that you are very wise in trying to get this situation under control now, while your son is so young. The need for things is not a new idea, nor is it going to go away. The Maharal explains that those who lack wholeness try to fill themselves in other ways (think food, things and entertainment, etc.). Now of course, this is a very deep idea for most adults to understand and integrate into their lives, let alone a young seven year old boy! However, you can try and take some opportunities to help him see the joy and happiness he can feel from intangible things. Also explore with him if perhaps he is feeling empty or unfulfilled in some way and if that is why he likes to collect and hold onto objects.

Encourage him to play a game, read books or color pictures with you. During these times mention how nice it is to spend time with him. Perhaps, he may enjoy being given new responsibilities that he has become old enough to do. Praise his abilities, and focus on his accomplishments.

At the same time, let him know that his possessions are important, and that you will try and help him make sure that they stay his. If the object is able to be labeled, then help him label it. Create a space that is off limits to the other members of your household. By, creating these parameters around his things, he may begin to feel less need to claim other things as his own. As he knows what's his, he can focus on those things. His behavior could be stemming from a feeling of being threatened by the other kids, and he needs to feel that he has some of his own things that are sacrosanct for him.

Rest assured, most children do grow up and outgrow this behavior. One day, you may even look back on these times and miss your little boy. For the meantime, this certainly sounds like a challenging situation, but, with patience and forethought, I am sure you will be able to help your son.