“Outside Mama” says my little man, “outside”.
A momentary break in our round-the-clock west coast rain reignites my son’s passion for the outdoors. His instincts are telling him life’s better in the fresh air. With my husband away on business I decide to throw our schedule out the window and go with the flow my son is about to create.
We rake the yard. Dig for worms. Study ladybugs. And paint watercolor dinosaurs sitting on the grass.
“Are we done buddy? Inside now?” I ask after being outside for an hour and a half.
“No Mama” he says pointing to the back gate, “Bat and ball”. So off we go. My little man confidently leads the way. We take our time, examining spring bulbs, collecting rocks and looking for “Six Toes”, our neighbour’s cat.
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We arrive at our local park and start tracking dinosaurs. Their footprints are scattered all across the gravel pitch and their eggs are resting in a hollowed out tree. We head up to the diamond and play baseball in the fading afternoon light. And we play hide and seek in the adjacent woods with another little boy and his Dad.
The park is quiet as the other kids go home for dinner. The dog walkers come out and we make friends with a rescued black and white collie. The sun sets and my son finally agrees to go home for dinner after I suggest the bears may soon appear.
Our three and a half hour adventure leaves me feeling calm and peaceful, as if I’ve been meditating. I had no idea how far my little man’s imagination would take us this afternoon. His innocent curiosity and slow pace remind me of the power and beauty of simplicity. I crave more.
I often find myself feeling as if I need to entertain my son. To stimulate him. Teach him. But he’s proven if I hand him the reigns, he’s got this.
And what’s more – he’s ready to take me on marvellous adventures. I feel privileged he included in his enchanted imaginary world. A simple afternoon where not much happened was exactly what we both needed.
I reflect on how widely a recent post I wrote about how simplifying our kid’s lives may protect against mental health issues has been read (over half of a million times, and counting). I’m humbled by the overwhelming flood of positive comments it’s received. But it’s made me ask: Why?
I wonder if it’s because, collectively, we know simplifying is vital not only for our kid’s health, but also for our own. Simplicity is a rare gift in modern life. It’s an obvious message, and when we hear it, we can’t help but shout YES.
Slowing down feeds our souls and nurtures our families. No matter what parenting style we practice, this topic unites us.
Scientific studies are a powerful reinforcement that simplification is protective. But, deep down, all parents know when our kids are overwhelmed we have the power to help by silencing the noise, lifting their spirits and making them feel safe.
Simplicity infuses family life with countless benefits. It’s a powerful tool to show our kids unconditional love, strengthen our parent-child connection and make us happy. So, here are eight practical tips for incorporating simplicity into modern family life.
1. CONQUER THE CLUTTER
Perhaps the most obvious place to start and also a LOT of fun. Fewer toys benefit kids and gives them the freedom to immerse themselves deeply in imagination rather than superficial play. One reader this week commented:
“When my kids were young, my husband read an article about children having 10 toys and no more. We walked into their play room, he scooped up all their toys and told me to get rid of them. I was extremely hesitant. I thought they’d be at my feet with so ‘few’ toys. But no, they played better with 10 toys than with 40.”
Here are a few tips to make it easier to decide which toys need to find a new home:
- Remove broken toys
- Remove toys with missing parts
- Remove toys which limit kids imagination (toys where you press a button and it lights up or makes a noise are prime candidates)
- Remove toys your child hasn’t played with in over a month
- And then remove some more!
- Always keep favourites which are often simple and classic toys
After you remove excess books and toys your child may still have too many available at any one time. Create a toy library where you can rotate toys on a regular basis. And don’t stop with your kids room. Lead by example and declutter the whole home.
We have to make room in our lives for the things we want by removing what we don’t want.
2. SIMPLIFY INFORMATION
It’s healthy for kids to be aware of the world around them. But, we need to safeguard against age inappropriate information which will not “prepare” our kids for the world but will paralyze them.
The National Institute of Mental Health suggests the brain doesn’t fully mature until our mid-late twenties with the frontal lobe, responsible for judgment and decision-making being the last region to complete development. Therefore children simply can’t process adult information.
Exposing them to distressing world news can be the source of genuine uneasiness over a situation they can’t rationalize. Watching traumatic news after the kids go to bed or limiting adult conversations can go a long way to reducing our kid’s anxiety levels.
3. KILL THE SCREENS
One of the toughest parenting challenges is reducing screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics report children spend an average of seven hours a day on screens, including television, devices, computers and phones.
Parent and Paediatrician, Dr. Dimitri Christakis suggested in his compelling TED Talk that rapid image changes on screen, when viewed by children during critical periods of brain development, precondition the mind to expect high levels of stimulation. This can lead to inattention later in life. So where do we start?
Perhaps the most powerful influence we can have is to model the behaviour we’d like to see by reducing our own screen time.
My son recently said to me, “put the phone down mama”. It was a monumental wake up call. Even as adults, it hurts when we spend precious time with loved ones and they allow texts and emails to distract them. The last thing I want is my son feeling like he’s competing with my phone.
So, I’ve started setting rules for myself. I don’t reply to texts immediately unless it’s urgent. Emails can wait. And social media updates will be there later. Out of sight, out of mind works well for me so I hide my phone…from myself. And using flight mode is my new best friend.
They say it takes three weeks to break a habit so set yourself a 21-day challenge. Leave your phone at home when you go out as a family. Have a social media free weekend. Or switch your phone off an hour before bed.
I feel calmer, more present and less scattered with the small changes I’ve made. And the ultimate reward – my little man is asking for less screen time. It’s only the tip of the screen time iceberg but leading by example will filter down to your kids.
4. USE A NEW LANGUAGE
Have you heard of the five love languages? The theory is that each of us give and receive love in different ways. The languages are words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch.
Most of us experience love through all of these languages but often one or two are dominant. Giving and receiving gifts can be a wonderful expression of love but I wonder if our consumer driven society is allowing it to monopolize our relationships.
Once we reduce the clutter lurking in our kid’s rooms we can resist the temptation to give more love as “gifts” by using the other four love languages. Spending quality one on one time with our kids. Wrestling with our two year old on the bed. Hugs, hugs and more hugs. And telling them every chance we get how much we love them.
“Children need at least one person in their life who thinks the sun rises and sets on them, someone who delights in their existence and loves them unconditionally.” – Pam Leo
5. ADD SIMPLE PLEASURES
Visit your local craft store and rummage through the house to collect natural materials, fabrics, ribbons and pillows. Give them to your kids to let their imaginations to run wild, building forts, playhouses and enchanted castles.
On your next hike or trip to the beach collect shells, leaves, moss, stones and acorns. Bring the outdoors inside and create nature baskets or tables, to examine and play with later. Both Montessori and Waldorf encourage nature tables for kids to learn, interact with nature and the seasons and immerse themselves in an interest they’re passionate about.
6. SIMPLIFY THE RHYTHM OF LIFE
In Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne describes daily life as a song, with both high and low notes. The high notes are school, sports practice, music lessons and birthday parties. The low notes are walking the dog, getting an ice cream with Dad or playing catch in the backyard.
It’s important that we build in regular low notes for our kids to rely on as a release of tension and a break from the pressures of daily life. It’s also a valuable opportunity to strengthen our connection with our kids.
7. MINIMISE SCHEDULES
Since I was a kid, homework and time spent in structured activities has doubled meaning free time has been cut in half for most children.
With kids being carted from one activity to the next and often watching devices on the way, they’re constantly stimulated. Payne says, “A child who doesn’t experience leisure – or better yet, boredom – will always be looking for external stimulation, activity, or entertainment”
By prioritizing time for free play over organized activities we foster creativity, self reliance and happiness.
As an added benefit, parents who feel like a taxi service enjoy a new sense of calm and a chance to spend more time with their kids. One reader wrote to me this week having done just that. She decided to pull her son out of hockey as he needed more downtime. Other parents thought she was mad. But, she says it was the best decision as her son is much happier and calmer.
8. OUTSIDE MAMA AND DADA
Spending time with children outside is never a mistake. Nature provides endless possibilities for healthy stimulation, creativity and confidence building. In his compelling book Last Child In The Woods, Richard Louv, exposes the growing divide between children and nature. He suggests “nature-deficit disorder” is directly linked to conditions such as obesity, attention disorders, and depression in today’s wired generation.
Whether it’s going for a hike come sunshine or rain, playing at the park, swimming in the ocean or exploring our own backyards getting your kids outside as often as possible will lead to good things.
RISE TO THE CHALLENGE
Without a doubt, parenthood has brought unprecedented levels of complexity to my life. But when I immerse myself fully in my toddler’s magical world I am struck by the sense of peace it brings.
He is my tiny, two-feet-tall Zen Master. At times I’m sure he was sent to slow me down. To make me appreciate spring bulbs, ladybugs and dinosaur tracks.
If we all lived in wild places, in log cabins, growing veggies and tending to our money trees simplicity would come naturally. But until that time, if we want to revel in the treasures it promises we need to first make space in our lives and welcome it into our modern families. Let’s support each other to have the courage to trust our instincts, be the odd man out and let our kids be silly, fun-loving kids for as long as they can.
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