Elaine Shienfield remembers the day last year when her six-year-old son, Jack, came home from school devastated over a Pokémon card. “He’d traded his most valuable card by accident, and the other kid refused to give it back,” she recalls. In grade one at the time, Jack brought the situation to his teacher’s attention, “but she basically said a trade is a trade,” says Shienfield.
For generations, kids have traded collectibles with one an-other, from stamps and stickers to fads like Pokémon cards and the more recent Shopkins. But it’s easy for young kids to be duped by older or savvier ones into handing over a rare, valuable item for a common item. Other times kids trade their favourite collectible without realizing they’ve made a permanent deal. The after-school tears and arguments with classmates and friends can leave parents frustrated and schools scrambling to institute bans on trading.
Here’s how parents can help ensure swapping stays the way it’s supposed to be: fun.
1. Get involved
You may have to brush up on your knowledge of the tradables he likes, so you know exactly what you’re getting into, and can go over trading etiquette together. “Explain to your kid that trading means an item is no longer theirs, and that if they bring something to school, it can get lost or damaged,” says Sonia Nicolucci, a psychotherapist and parenting expert at Leaside Therapy Centre in Toronto. “Talk to your child about how they will feel if they trade a valuable item. Introduce them to concepts popular on the playground, like no trade backs, which means the trade is irreversible.” He just might choose to leave that valuable card at home.
2. Practise, practise, practise
Let your kid try trading at home by inviting her friends over or having her try it out with a sibling, Nicolucci suggests. “If the items come with a set of rules, read them so you’re up to speed. It’s also a good time to teach her that if she doesn’t want to make a trade, it’s perfectly OK to say, ‘No, thank you’ or ‘I’m not trading now.’” If she still makes what you think is an unfair trade but doesn’t seem upset by it, let it go.
3. Check school rules
To avoid having your kid’s beloved items taken away, ask the teacher what the rules are in her classroom. Keep in mind that what’s allowed will often vary from classroom to classroom, as teachers have the authority to create general guidelines as they see fit. “It’s easier not to deal with trading,” says Cathy McMillan, an elementary teacher in Victoria, BC, who works at a school where tradables are banned. “But who is going to supervise and monitor kids trading under a tree at school? It’s difficult.” Be aware that even if trading is banned in the classroom, it could still happen during recess or after school hours.
A 4. lesson in economics
Buying Pokémon cards and Shopkins figures can get expensive. A Shopkins 12-pack can set you back more than $13. A package of Pokémon cards can cost as little as $6, but a starter kit runs in the double digits. To help your kid understand the monetary value of trading, have him buy collectibles with his own money; or ask him to contribute to his next purchase with money earned from performing chores around the house.
According to McMillan, trading is a rite of passage. “It’s their social currency, and they use it to fit in,” she says. “It also teaches kids honesty and the importance of speaking up for themselves.” After losing his most valuable Pokémon card, “it took Jack a week to move past his devastation,” says his mom, Elaine. But the now eight-year-old is still happily trading.
Cathy McMillan, who teaches grades two and three in Victoria, BC, also has a six-year-old who loves to trade Pokémon cards. It’s inevitable that your little one may make the occasional bad trade while at school—but McMillan suggests you don’t insulate them from the situation. “Don’t offer to replace it with a new one—they have to learn to live with their decisions.”