My boys (ages 7 and 9) always want to buy Lego. For the last couple of years, we've only bought Lego. They build the sets, play with them for a few days, and then take them apart again. In the end, all that's left is a bunch of bricks, and we already have a few boxes of those. It's chaos in the room and there are Lego bricks everywhere. I've talked to the kids many times about not taking the sets apart and taking care of their toys. For their birthday or Christmas, they only want Lego and only Star Wars (Lego) and all the money from the grandparents is spent on Lego. The younger one rarely plays with it, he just likes to build it up, but he still wants to buy it because his older friends (his brother's friends) play with it. The older one sits at home all day building Lego. He moves very little and has no desire to play outside. I have tried to bring up other interests, like remote control cars, drones, other toys, or even Lego Technic for a change. But no chance, nobody wants to play with the new toys (after a few days). Soon we'll have another birthday and they'll want Lego Star Wars again. Should I give up and buy it? Are there other strategies i can pursue?
I'd like to challenge the framing here: is this actually an addiction, or is it just a normal child's passion/fascination?
It seems to me there are a few issues that could be the concern here:
- The children have a limited range of interests
- The children aren't developing other skills/in other areas (related to 1)
- The children aren't cleaning up after themselves
- The parent is frustrated at buying so many Lego products.
To respond to each in sequence:
- Children often fixate on specific things, or have a narrow passion; this is entirely normal for the age. I'd even say that as far as things to be fixated on, Lego is (cost aside) pretty good: it promotes creativity, spatial reasoning, and can lead to interests in engineering/construction/design/etc. Compared to only wanting to watch TV or play video games, Lego seems like a pretty great passion for a kid (or even an adult) to have.
- Children will often grow into/out of interests. I wouldn't rely on this, but keep it in mind. As long as they're getting exposure to other areas or hobbies/activities, there's every chance they'll eventually find something else they're also interested in, or might find their tastes have changed. I'm a big fan of the "if it's not going to hurt you, at least try it and see" motto. Instilling this in kids can be hard, but that pattern of curiosity and open-mindedness can sink in, even if they dislike every new thing they try.
- This goes to more of a developmental/character issue; I think the Lego are only the symptom.
- Is this frustration due to monetary concerns? Lego can be an expensive hobby, even for an adult with disposable income. For parents with two children, I imagine it could get pretty rough. If this is the case, then it would probably be best to communicate to the children that we can't always have everything we want and sometimes we have to be responsible. Not "no more Lego ever", but "we already have a lot of Lego, and you're going to have to be more selective about what you get/purchase." If this is a frustration due to being personally tired of Lego or not as interested, then I can empathize, but I'd be terrified of dissuading my children from a (non-harmful) passion just because I don't find it interesting or I'm tired of hearing about it.
Ultimately, this doesn't sound like an addiction to me. From the description, it sounds more like this is just the primary interest the children have. It's completely normal for children to have particular fixations, and these fixations do often drift or change as they grow (though not necessarily, and that's not a bad thing). It seems like the main issues are some classic parenting struggles of imposing order/instilling responsibility, encouraging other interests and trying to make them well-rounded, and trying to teach self-control/restraint.
My advice would be the following:
- Don't dissuade them from Lego. Assuming it's not actually interfering with their development or lives elsewhere, it's a perfectly normal and in fact even healthy passion.
- Instead, designate particular requirements or expectations of non-Lego activities. Don't frame this as "Lego vs. Other Thing" but rather as a separate expectation and goal--and communicate why it's important. For instance, when I was a child, I was similar to the description, only with books; reading was my overwhelming fascination (I also loved Lego, but those were really my only two interests). My parents encouraged my reading and didn't mind my Lego play, but also required at least a minimum amount of other activities: I had to take some kind of musical class/club and participate in at least one sport every semester. I was also often given times that I was to go outside and not allowed to read. While I hated all of this in the moment, they explained their reasoning and I understood that it was in fact probably healthy for me to do those things--and when I finished them or had free time, I was free to do what I liked (reading and Lego).
- Use the Lego as a tool to help teach responsibility and organization. If they're leaving their Lego everywhere, there's a simple response to that: designate Lego-building areas, such as their room, a particular table, a corner of the living room, etc. Any loose Lego outside of those areas will be gathered up and confiscated for a time. You could even use it to encourage good habits in them: say, every weekend, they are expected to at least organize and tidy up their workspace. They don't need to put everything away or disassemble everything, and they can still have bricks and parts out and ready for use, but they need to at least make it more organized and orderly. Not only might this be a nice compromise for you and them, but it could very well help teach them how useful it is to organize their workspace and keep their area clean and efficient. By framing it as "this'll make it easier for you to keep track of everything," you can give them an intrinsic incentive instead of a purely extrinsic one.
- Finally, make acquiring new Lego special. Whether you're annoyed with the monotony of their interest or worried about the financial side, making new Lego purchases a more special and less-common happenstance should help both. Not only can this help teach self-control in purchasing, but it can also be something to look forward to for the children and help teach about opportunity cost.
It seems like you have a couple of different problems here.
- Too many Legos in the house
- Room is a mess
- Not playing outside
To answer (1), a common strategy is to either re-sell or donate complete Lego sets once the children are finished playing with them. If you can teach them how to keep the Lego sets together, this can be relatively simple, and can teach them either budgeting (as they sell the kits, in order to buy more kits) or charity (if they donate them, perhaps to a children's hospital or something similar where they can see the benefits of their donation).
Handling the mess may be part of that same goal - limiting the amount will reduce the mess, and also having a better organizational system will reduce the mess AND let you sell or donate the complete lego sets. This can be as simple as introducing a system for the children - say, buying small bins that hold an entire lego set, and labelling them with the set name - and then helping them learn the habits of cleaning up and maintaining the sets properly. This part will be challenging, but it's something a parent can absolutely help with.
To encourage playing outside, what we do is limit other activities to particular amounts of time, then playing outside becomes a preferred choice over other available options. If you set limits of, say, 2 hours of Legos a day, then when they pass that limit they can choose another activity - and sometimes, hopefully, that will be playing outside; mine certainly did. I'm not a fan of mandating outside play explicitly, because anything you mandate will be something the child doesn't want to do - so you're training them to not like outside play.
One other note on word choice: the word addiction may not be an appropriate choice here, though I understand the reasoning behind using it. An addiction is not simply something someone does frequently; it is the "repeated involvement with... a[n] activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable."1
In order to qualify as an addiction, there would have to be substantial harm occurring. While it's true that the children would benefit from more outside time, it's not clear that there is a substantial harm present here. Playing with Legos can be quite developmentally beneficial2 3 - in my experience I've seen it help with developing spatial skills, creative play, role playing to help develop empathy.
This is not to say it's appropriate to do any one activity to the exclusion of all else; I would, however, avoid the word "addiction", and replace it, perhaps with "overemphasis".
I have two boys who loved Lego - still have a LARGE box of Lego and several still completed models that work.
The boys are now over 20 and completed engineering apprenticeships - both precision machinists.
So my boys expanded their interests as they got into their early teens: skiing, mountain biking etc The oldest even does the winter downhill on the ski slope using a mountain bike (I think it’s nuts but he loves it :) )
Give it time and you might find they develop some skills.
One strategy that you might could use, to keep them engaged in their current sets that they don't want to get rid of, would be to look up, print out, and offer them alternate build instructions. When you buy a set, it usually only has instructions for what's pictured on the box. However, there are alternate instruction manuals and Lego and other people have made, for creating new builds using an existing set (even combining sets).
So if you try it once or twice and it seems to work, you could perhaps encourage or offer a better lego organizing system for them, and continue finding alternate build instructions using their list of past bundles/builds that they've received.
Perhaps start asking to photograph each of their new completed builds and make a wall or board that contains all the pictures. That way they can look back on what they've done and it might make them want to make it again -- or inspire them to keep building or trying to build new things so that another photograph goes up on the wall.
There's already a great answer from Joe, I'd like to highlight some other aspects:
Budget: Is the amount of money you spend on lego reasonable for you (regardless whether it's your money or received from grandparents).
If yes, than I think it's ok, they're enthusiast and it's ok.
If they keep asking for more and more expensive sets and it's a lot of money you spend on lego, than it's probably time to teach them about worth of money and make some prioritization. (something like: you can decide whether you get some smaller sets, or if you really need that big one, then we need to merge money for both of your what we would spend and what you've received from relatives).
health: for healthy development of children they need food, sleep, play and movement. If it's really no movement as your question suggests, than again it's time to change.
I know it's not easy, I'd probably start with organizing some common activities where they could meet / learn fun forms of movement.
I don't ask my children what they want as presents. I consider maintaining the prerogative to decide what I give to be one of the greatest gifts of parenthood.
I'm aware that no two parent child relationships are the same, but if it were me, I would approach this from two directions.
- First; provide your boys with opportunities to earn and save money for the purchase of Legos.
- Second; Gift them with experiences that promote activity and benefit the family. A camping trip, horseback riding, an amusement park, a trip to the Zoo etc.
To be clear, though, this is a horse to water situation. Kids are their own people and make their own decisions. I try to offer as wide a variety of opportunities as I can, all while knowing that I have little control over the effect those experiences will have.