I have a five year old son, and was trying to play with him with a balloon. I asked him to get a book from his box, in order to help him guess what we were going to do, and he declined; he said he couldn't get it out because it would make a mess. I tried to make it an adventure, but he still refused to play along.

He has a lot of toys, but he doesn't get them out very much; he usually plays only with the toys that are on top.

How can I help to get him to explore his toys, rather than be stuck doing the same things over and over, or being bored?

  • 1
    "tried once before on hotel but failed" - that means what? "He couldn't guess" - how could he? How is this relevant to the question? "We had adventures outside and Cosmic Kids Yoga adventures on Youtube" same, why do you mention this? I'm afraid your description is hard to understand, regarding your question.
    – puck
    Sep 6, 2020 at 11:27
  • What is wrong with story and context? I tried to make a helium balloon but I had the wrong type of balloon and all the helium escaped. Sep 6, 2020 at 23:19
  • I think it's more that the details don't make sense in the question. I will edit the question some for language and remove some of what seems not relevant; let me know if I miss something actually important. (For example, it's irrelevant that you had trouble with the balloon the previous time.)
    – Joe
    Sep 7, 2020 at 2:01

2 Answers 2


I think this is an organizational issue that you should address, along with your partner. You don't exactly explain how the toys are stored, but the "book box" gives me a clue; I'm guessing he has boxes of toys that he'll have to search through to find a toy.

Kids at that age aren't likely to do that. That's a lot of work for a toy that's not really that different in value than another toy which is just sitting on top! They'll keep a few things on top that are their favorites, and then ignore the rest. That's frustrating, and is a frustration many parents of similar-aged children have.

There are a few ways to help with this issue.

  1. Toy reduction. Reduce the toy count significantly, so that there are the number of toys he's interested in playing with and not more. This has the downside of reducing the theoretical diversity of toys, but that's only theoretical anyway; this just acknowledges that.
  2. Toy rotation. Take a large fraction (3/4, say) of the toys into storage, and only leave the remaining fraction out. Then, on a daily/weekly/monthly/etc. basis, rotate some fraction of those toys with the stored toys. This is more likely to be useful at 2-3; but at 5 it's still possible. I noticed this with my children - we rotated toys still occasionally around that age, and putting something front and center meant they'd play with it even though they'd ignored it before.
  3. Get more appropriate storage for the toys, combined with either a reduction or a rotation if needed based on that storage. I highly recommend the Montessori style; the idea is to make the toys easy to access by placing them on shelving, rather than in boxes, and with each toy having a very well defined spot on that shelving (sometimes not just a place but a container/basket/bag). This can go very well with a desire for neatness - search for pictures of Montessori toy shelves and you'll see what I mean. It makes it very easy for the children to keep things neat while still accessing all of their toys.

It sounds like the problem you want help with is that your son is uninterested in expending energy on unknown things that might turn out to be boring – and/or that he is afraid of making a mess. You don’t give enough information for us to know whether his attitude is learned – e.g., your culture frowns on people who make messes, or you have punished him before for making messes – or intrinsic – a tendency towards OCD, or Asperger’s, or some isolated quirk of his personality; but you are right in wanting to help him work through this now.

If it’s the effort/mess that bothers him, my suggestion is that you start by agreeing with him that messes are unpleasant, but point out that most of the necessary things that adults do involve effort and mess: building a house, growing food on a farm, filming a movie, repairing cars, even cooking dinner makes a mess. And the really fun things people do are also messy: paintbrushes, pottery wheels, garden tools, camping gear, kayaks, surfing wetsuits, all that fun stuff must be cleaned and put away after use. Point out that it would be a good thing to get used to dealing with messes now, so that he can have a fun life as an adult.

Then, agreeing with him again that messes are unpleasant, and that having a clean house is important, say that it’s also important to have fun. Tell him that the key to making messes without people getting mad at you is Never make a mess unless you know you're going to clean it up. Tell him since he’s only five, you’re going to help him do the cleanup until he’s good at it. And for really big messes, you’ll probably be helping him until he’s 16.

Then help him take out his toys, play with him for a while if you can, and when he’s done, help him put them back. Keep helping him put things away until he’s comfortable doing it himself. Remind him as he gets older, and his toys become more complicated, that most things in life require effort, and if he can learn to do the boring parts quickly and automatically, he can enjoy the fun parts more. Hopefully you’ll end up with a responsible, competent kid who isn’t afraid of a little hard work.

  • I feel it because his mother is so anti-mess. She gets him to tidy far too early after using toys. Sep 6, 2020 at 23:07
  • Most boxes don't have lids. Sep 8, 2020 at 22:58

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