It starts with a few pebbles or feathers, and before you know it your house is crammed with stuff, so what is a child’s collector mania all about?

Pebbles, seashells, feathers – small children are magpies in their desire to pick up stuff. But that endearing toddler habit soon morphs into a covetous streak, with ankle-breaker metal trains, sinister Minions or dishevelled Barbies surrounding you on all sides. Their trophies consume space and cash, so here’s what you need to know. 

It’s absolutely normal, with most children starting their collecting journey as toddlers. Psychologists have speculated that they are tuning into the early humans’ gathering instinct when they pick up natural objects – pebbles, feathers, fallen leaves – on their travels. This is also pattern spotting behaviour as they become curious about their world.  

School crazes

As they grow, there tends to be a price tag attached, and the crazes may come and go in rapid succession. Toy companies are, of course, well aware of what to make to appeal to their youngest consumers and it’s often shiny and plastic. If there’s a TV show or YouTube video attached, you have little chance of winning this battle, however tawdry the objects of their desire.  

“Console yourself with the fact that what they buy can usually be swapped, gifted or even sold on to pay for the next craze “

You may hate what they are collecting, but it’s usually better to support it, within limits. Usually the child who collects will also be sorting, using and inventing, too, so these objects form part of their imaginative play.  As they grow, being in tune with the latest crazes (spreading like wildfire through schools, as we all know) becomes a means of fitting in with peers, but also establishing their own identity – the child who collects something is making their own choice.  

There may be trials when you loathe what they love (a house full of menacing Huggy Wuggy soft toys anyone?). The older they are, the less able you are to influence their taste – peer-group crazes rule –but talking about the things you collected (football cards, Sylvanians or Lego, say) to try and nudge them in a more wholesome direction is always worth a shot.  

Small compensation

However horrible the stuff cluttering your home is to you, collecting it is a source of comfort to your child. Console yourself with the fact that what they buy can usually be swapped, gifted or even sold on to pay for the next craze. Of course, if they do happen to look after their treasured collections (including the boxes they came in) there’s always the distant possibility of earning a small fortune selling them off down the line.  

Further reading: Tackling tiny terrors before they become big phobias