Why throwing out your kid’s toys isn’t a good punishment

I was punished as a child for not cleaning my room fast enough for one parent.

The punishment? Being forced to sit silently while Parent took garbage bags and threw out a bunch of my possessions; completely random choices.

Honestly, this is not a good punishment for any child, autistic or otherwise. You’ve told your child that their belongings aren’t theirs. That their boundaries don’t matter. If your child doesn’t clean fast enough for your liking, find out why instead of yelling and punishing. Maybe they have an order to cleaning that you don’t recognize. Maybe they’re not old enough to have complex cleaning and organizing strategies. Maybe you never actually taught them how.

Use this as a teaching moment. Not a punishing one.

I have seen cases where parents bag up toys and make their child earn them back.  Maybe. Maybe with a neurotypical child. Don’t do it to your autistic child, especially if you know or suspect they’re autistic. Just. Don’t.

Do. Not. Throw. Away. Your. Child’s. Belongings. No. Matter. What.

My things calmed me. They were friends. I didn’t have many real life friends. Especially after the first few years of elementary school. I was too weird. I didn’t fit in. The other kids were more likely to bully and/or ignore me than want to be my friend. I didn’t understand why. And I really wanted friends. I wanted to get invited over to people’s houses. To go to birthday parties. People came to mine, at least in primary school years, but I rarely got invited to theirs. And never after primary years were over.

I had my things though. And then I lost a lot of them. And I was lonelier than ever before. Not to mention the huge gaps in my memory from my punishment.

I feel great love for many people. I have great empathy and sympathy. But I also love my things. And for various reasons, I do not have great childhood memories, so my memories were attached to my things. I could see item X and it would help me remember event A. If choose to throw away item X, either the memory isn’t one I want to keep, or I’ve found another way to remember it.

If you make that choice for me, you’re not giving me a chance to process that memory into another way to keep it. Now that memory is gone. And eventually, I won’t even be able to remember if item X ever existed, or if I made it up. Family/Relatives tell me things that happened when I was a kid, and there’s no memory of it at all. And when I try to remember, I get an uncomfortable gnawing in the pit of my stomach.

I have so many fuzzy memories of toys I think I owned, but I’m just not positive, and I can’t describe them well enough for anyone else to tell me if I’m remembering something real or not. I have spent many months pouring over old toy sites trying to job my memory, but I was left with a lot of holes (and anxiety) that day which ever went away.

Later you told me you’d throw my stuff away or I could give it away and I could choose which. I chose the latter, but it was only slightly less traumatic. I can remember bits and pieces of what I lost that time. I got to “choose,” sure, but I wouldn’t have done it at all had it really been my choice. You made me choose more memories to lose. Memories I wasn’t ready to get rid of yet, but you gave me no out.

Same parent did this to me again as an adult. Threw away boxes and loose items of mine, even knowing I was working steadily on relocating them all. Once again, not fast enough. Never mind that we were waiting on a new storage unit to open up so there would be room to take said items home. I couldn’t go any faster until I had somewhere to put the boxes.

Excuses made that there were feces in the boxes from pests, but another sibling’s things were spared for me to go through and salvage their belongs — from a lot of poop. So I don’t buy that excuse.

The stress from having my things thrown away (and the forced give away) as a child never went away. Neither did the anxiety. And do you know what? My things were confined to my room that first day. Or the forced day. I didn’t have toys strewn throughout the house. My things were in my room. It may have been messy to you, but I knew where everything was. You left big holes in that knowledge. As an adult, my things were carefully stowed away in and on boxes, all neatly organized, which I was coming back for.

You taught me I wasn’t safe in my own house. You taught me to hide anything of value from you. You taught me to be afraid of you – more than I already was. You taught me a lot of things, but not what you wanted.

Instead of teaching me to clean faster, you taught me fear. You taught me my feelings didn’t matter.

And you made me watch while you threw my memories away.

It’s unforgivable.

And it’s certainly not the main thing I’d want any of my future kids to think of the most when they think of me and/or their childhood.

It’s my most prominent childhood memory.

 

Teach your kids how to clean.

Don’t punish them for not knowing how or not being fast enough.

Don’t assume a child should know how to clean just because they’re of a certain age. 

 

Do I know how to clean now? Sure. Mostly. I taught myself, after all. And I like being tidy and organized … but I’m still messy. And it gives me the semblance of a feeling of control that you ripped away from me all those years ago. (But I never really feel in control. You made sure of that.)

I would never put any future kids through this.

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