Creating a Life Free From Chaos

Simplify Your Child’s World For Happier, Calmer Kids

A version of this article appeared in the Holiday 2011 issue of Green Child Magazine. With summer vacation upon us, I think this is the perfect time to reevaluate our families’ schedules, routines, toys and “stuff” that may be creating chaos at home.

Simplify Your Child’s World For Happier, Calmer Kids

As parents, we’re in charge of our family’s daily lives, everything from schedules to the places where we work, play and rest (no pressure, right?) We build the structure and set the rhythm for the day. A lack of routines, excessive toys and clutter, chaotic schedules, and an overload of information can bring even the most resilient family down.

Children (and parents too) are happiest and flourish when we have the time and space to explore our world without the constraints of “too much.” “Too much” is overwhelming and stressful, whether it’s too much stuff, too much information, too many activities, too many choices, or too much speed. Always hurrying from one task to the next, never a moment to relax or play ― it can really wear you down. Having and doing too much can lead to unnecessary stress for kids and parents alike.

Simplifying your child’s routine and cutting down on their information and activity overload, as well as excessive toy and clutter piles, can help overstimulated kids become less argumentative and disruptive. When you simplify a child’s world, you make space for positive growth, creativity, and relaxation.

“Many of today’s behavioral issues come from children having too much stuff and living a life that is too fast,” says Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids. Payne says that many American kids are experiencing sensory overload with “too many trinkets, too many choices, and too much information.” By approaching parenting using simplicity as a framework, parents may be able to significantly reduce a child’s daily stress, which can lead to happier, more successful children.

Your Home

“As you decrease the quantity of your child’s toys and clutter, you increase their attention and their capacity for deep play,” says Payne. “Too much stuff leads to too little time and too little depth in the way kids see and explore their worlds.”

When clearing out toys, focus on keeping a mix of toys that your kids consistently enjoy and that keep them entertained for long periods of time. Often, kids’ favorite toys are simple, classic toys without lots of bells and whistles – stuffed animals, dolls, building toys such as Legos, trains and cars, dress-up clothes, and arts and crafts materials. Whittle down books to a handful of favorites that can be savored, and remove the rest to create a “library” to find new reads one or two at a time. Add some fabric, string or pillows for creating forts and playhouses, then give your kids some time to adjust and create their own play world from this simple selection of toys.

Your Daily “Rhythm”

Children are comforted when they know what to expect each day. Your rhythm doesn’t need to be a strict schedule, but a predictable flow from lunch to rest time to outdoor playtime, helps a child know what comes next and helps the day transition smoothly.

Along the same lines, simplifying your family’s schedule can reduce the frantic feeling of always being on the go. Kids with a full plate of school work, extracurricular activities or sports each day may feel stressed and chaotic since they’re lacking the free time children need for creative play and exploration. As a parent “taxi,” you probably aren’t feeling all that relaxed either. Cutting back to just one or two of your child’s favorite activities can give them the freedom not only to have that time to play and explore but also the time to actually practice and focus on the activities they do choose to partake in. This is even more important if you have more than one kid.

Reducing the physical clutter, setting predictable rhythms and streamlining activities has benefits for parents too. “As parents, we also define ourselves by what we bring our attention and presence to. This is easy to forget when daily life feels more like triage,” says Payne. By simplifying, we can concentrate on what we really value, not just spend our days reacting to everything the world throws at us.

Simplification is an ongoing process, not something that can be completed in an afternoon or weekend. It takes time to reduce possessions, change habits and develop new rhythms. It’s not easy to change directions when your whole family is moving at the speed of light and the chaos always feels like it’s creeping in.

Begin slowly, with small changes and an eye toward what you want your family life to look like. Simplifying is about finding a place of balance as you move away from “too much.” Only with less can children figure out what they truly like and want.

Simplify Your Child’s World For Happier, Calmer Kids