Parenting with Objects and Belonging

More tips from Dad School.

Being social creatures, we share a deep need to belong.

Early in our development, the need to belong manifests through objects. If you’ve ever taken a two-year old’s favorite toy then you’ve seen this need in action.

Toddlers can get locked between tasks when they don’t belong to anything. This is when many meltdowns occur. Quite often, during a transition or when they are feeling nervous, my kids will reach for an object. My son (2.75) loves to pick up a rock when he’s transitioning. I have a pile of rocks and sticks at my front door.

It’s important for me to remember his need for an object. I can push him over the edge if I try to get him to walk without any object.

With our oldest, her need for objects was so strong that she was constantly picking up cigarette butts and bird poop covered leaves! It would have been helpful to have my current experience back then. It was a hopeless task to try to get her to walk empty handed. Wasted over a year on that effort.

Anyhow, the object focus can’t be removed without freaking the kid out. So I’ve grown to accept it and look for props – blades of grass, sticks, small box at the grocery store, tissue, penny. It’s not about the specific thing, it’s simply about having something.


As my kids grow up, the belong shifts towards doing. An engaged mind is a calm mind.

It’s tempting for me to calm my daughter (5.5) by using the iPad, with headphones, to zombie her out. However, far more effective is getting her engaged in a story, especially real-life stories about me, or working on a coloring project.

Tip for the coloring project. Have her pick out the picture (kids coloring pages on Google Images). Set her up with a work station near you (kitchen, office, living room) and start her out on the project.

My oldest generates 150+ pieces of art/coloring a month and she’s slowly teaching herself how to write/spell. It’s a win-win but takes a little more energy than defaulting to electronics.


By the way, getting the kids engaged in their own project is a much better option than continual banishment via time outs. Time outs were our previous strategy but they were becoming ineffective with our oldest, and most spirited.

We were getting into power struggles and it was making everyone stressed out. A far more effective approach was to address the underlying lack of engagement/belonging and setting her up with her own project.


Final Tip for a multi-kid household – if we want our kids to use words, rather than physical actions, then we need to back them up when they use their words with their siblings.

I also need to use my own words carefully and follow through, even when inconvenient.