No matter where you live today, the majority of us will encounter some form of litter on our walks throughout our neighbourhood at least some of the time.

What’s nice about this neighbourhood is that many people here are like-minded. We don’t trash our streets, we keep our garbage bins, recycling bins and compost bins tidy, we pick up trash off our front lawns if some appears there for one reason or another, and we encourage our kids to do the same.

Here is my dilemma of the day:

Let’s say we’re out walking on a path in the local park along the shores of Lake Ontario. Let’s say that the garbage and recycling bins we see on our walk are mostly full or half full. Let’s also say that for the most part, the path, the pebble beaches and the surrounding park lands are mostly litter free.

But let’s say the toddler, encouraged by her newfound upward mobility, is ecstatic about practically everything she sees during her toddeling. She admires and coos at every plant, leaf, stick and stone that enters her line of vision.

And you as the parent are enticed and delighted by her happiness.

Then she picks up a cigarette butt.

Here is where the dilemma starts. Because I’m suddenly confronted with different options on how to deal with this piece of litter.

First, I could just tell her to throw it away, it’s yucky, we don’t touch. (Which is in fact exactly what I did.)

Or, I could tell her that it’s litter, and litter belongs in the garbage bin. This presents a new problem because the child isn’t even one yet, and has no concept of what a garbage bin is, nor what garbage is for that matter.

But technically, I could point out a garbage bin, and if there is none around, take the piece of litter form her and carry it myself to the next bin. Demonstrate that garbage belongs in garbage bins.

Which is actually kind of gross. Frankly, I don’t want to spend my walk carrying around garbage which other people have discarded just to make a point to my toddler.

But, as we all know, toddlers see everything and touch everything, particularly stuff we don’t want them to see and touch.

How do you teach a toddler that it’s not ok for her to touch something but it’s ok for me to touch it? There is no right or wrong answer here. We do the best we can. In time, she will learn, just like other kids do, what is socially acceptable and what is not. Right now she doesn’t know it’s garbage, but in time, she will learn what garbage is, and that it doesn’t belong on the path in a park. Or on the street.

The messages we are sending to our kids are clear us mud. Unfortunately, I know of no other way to address this than to say “don’t touch, it’s garbage”. For now.


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