Can your kids “just be”?
What would happen in your home if you took away the T.V., the Xbox and cancelled your teen-aged son/daughter’s Twitter and Facebook accounts? What if you replaced your kid’s smart phone with a regular flip phone? What if you cancelled all after school activities (no more soccer, swimming or art classes)?
Are you brave enough to try? I’m not.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to resort to extreme measures. When it comes to teaching kids how to simplify there’s plenty you can do to get the ball rolling.
Over the last two years, I’ve tried countless ways to simplify our home life. These can be grouped into three categories.
- Things that I tried that didn’t work in our home
- Things that I tried that worked but took too much effort to enforce (translation: excess yelling on my part)!
- and finally, the things that I tried that have worked – and worked brilliantly.
Change can be difficult and sometimes obstacles get in the way (you’ll have to listen to your fair share of groaning and complaining). But believe me, if you hold your ground for a week (maybe two), I promise that the change you’ll discover will be well worth the effort!
1. Unschedule: Do your kids have scheduled activities practically every day of the week? One or two activities a week is more than enough. Kids need time to unwind and to learn to pursue hobbies, read, and simply be. If you’re not convinced, think about the money you’ll save, not to mention the extra time you’ll gain when you’re not stuck behind the wheel in your role as dedicated driver.
If you’re worried your kids will miss out, think back to your own childhood. How many scheduled activities did you pursue as a child? Other than Sunday school I didn’t have any, but that didn’t stop me from having fun.
When you’re rushing from one activity to another and when your mind is constantly reacting to stimuli (TV, video games, social media, etc) you don’t have access to down time. Everyone needs down time, especially kids. How else can they learn to love themselves and to be comfortable in their own skin?
2. Create a weekly dinner schedule. Keep it flexible so that you can go with the flow, but have a schedule in place so that everyone knows what to expect for dinner. You’ll find that come dinner time, you’ll spend less time stressing about what to cook for dinner (half the work will be done for you) and your kids will stop complaining about the food on their plates and start eating it instead!
I converted an old framed painting into a chalkboard (using chalkboard paint) and now everyone knows what’s cooking on any given night (see picture at top of post). It’s a simple idea but it has worked wonders for the dynamics at our kitchen table.
3. Simplify toys. Most kids have way too many toys. Too many choices can hinder playtime. When you have a small collection of toys, your kids will play with the toys more often and indulge in more deep play. When you purchase toys in the future, invest in good quality toys that are less likely to end up in land fills.
Once you simplify your toy collection, you’ll see a marked difference in the way your kids play. It’s a process well worth the effort. You can read more about how I simplified toys here.
4. Limit screen time. Studies show that on average, kids in North America spend four hours in front of the TV on weekdays.That’s 20 hours every week – not including week-ends! Last Summer, my family went screen-free for a week. My guest post on Midway Simplicity gives a detailed account of how our lives changed in that one week.
Here are some of the changes I saw in my own kids:
- They played nicer.
- Their toys held their attention for longer.
- Their new found imaginary play blew me away!
If you find the idea of a screen-free week too radical, then limit screen time to half an hour a day on week-days. Your kids will complain that they are bored (mine did) but it’s okay. Let them be bored! The younger your kids are the faster they’ll figure out ways to entertain themselves. If your kids are older (and are used to spending large chunks of time in front of the TV or other type of screen) it may take them a few days to figure out what to do with themselves. In the meantime, when they complain of boredom smile sweetly, confess that you’d love some help and proceed to dish out a chore or two :)
5. Limit consumerism. Too many kids these days have everything they need, want and wish for. Don’t give in to their peer pressure. Just because their friends have an iphone, an ipod and an Xbox, doesn’t mean that you have to purchase these things for your kids – even if you can afford them! Don’t cram their closets and drawers with clothes and stuff. Leave room for their things to breathe.
Teaching kids to simplify is an important life lesson. If you take the time to teach it, it will be a lesson your kids will carry with them for a long time.