The Lost Toy Dilemma
It’s a moment parents dread: you’re looking for your kid’s favorite blanket to tuck them in when you remember you haven’t seen it since mid-afternoon in a busy airport terminal, or don’t remember packing it at the hotel on your way home. Your young child is heartbroken. You promise you’ll look for it, but it seems almost impossible to trace back to where it went. Eventually, after calling all the places it could have been left, scouring the neighborhood and suitcases, and checking one more time under the bed, you’re sure you’re never going to see this toy again. What can you do? Do you replace the toy with a new one? Do you explain what happened?
We have some options that may make the situation a little easier to handle, and help your child cope with the loss.
The first option is the one many parents jump to first, for good reason: if the toy is still easily available for sale, you can just buy an exact replica. Depending on the age of the toy and how well worn it is, and the age of the child, they may know what you’re up to. To lie and hand them a new toy to replace one that feels familiar and smells like comfort can be upsetting. If you do replace it, however, you can say the toy went for a spa day, or that whoever found it helped it get all fixed up and shiny new before it came home. Wash it a couple times to get rid of the newness and make it feel more like the original. When it finally comes home with a friendly note from the spa, you can even consider giving it a new outfit and a story to tell to the child. It will make the time away seem less scary. If you think your child may be skeptical, or the toy is not available for sale anymore, I recommend the next method.
This method will be a bit more involved, but is good for teaching your kids to say goodbye to people (and things) they love. Send them a letter from the toy saying why they left. Perhaps they needed to go help their sick parents, had to do some work for Santa, or any number of wonderful important adventures, but that means they had to go. Maybe they had to leave to fulfill a long time dream to be a trapeze artist, or wanted to explore their family roots. They should apologize for leaving in such a hurry. They could also recommend a new friend, whether this is a comfortable toy that the child also loves and was a ‘friend’ of the lost toy, or a new friend they asked to take their place so the child won’t be lonely. If your child misses them, you can help them send a letter to their toy, asking how they are and what they’re up to, keeping their friendship alive. If you think your child is also too keen to go with this option, there is one more solution available.
This last solution is the hardest to do: tell them the truth. Explain that the toy is lost. Your child will have their heart broken and that’s ok, there will be many sad times in their life. Comfort them, tell them it’s ok, you can’t ever truly replace a longtime friend. Explain that things get lost sometimes, it can happen even if you’re being careful, and people can be forgetful. Even adults lose things all the time. Umbrellas and sunglasses and sweaters lie in piles in Lost and Founds everywhere. Maybe their lost toy has found a new child that needs comforting, or is going on an adventure. Honesty might be hard, but we can do our best to teach our children to process difficult feelings at a young age.
It’s important to remember that a beloved toy can be far more than just a toy to a child. Often they’re alive in their own way, or are a source of familiarity and comfort. While a child is learning empathy, we should do our best to encourage it, and their love and care for a beloved toy is a great place to start. Grieving and learning complex emotions takes time and patience, but hopefully with these tools you can navigate this journey with your child and help you both come out better on the other side.
Ross Grenier, Former Child