Very often families come to me because of a child’s behavior issue and usually, the cause of the behavior is just an outward sign of something else, a broader or deeper issue.
We all had a dream of what we wanted our family life to be like before we had children or while we were pregnant. Often times there is a disconnect between this dream and what our family life actually looks like today. Simplification is the answer when wanting to align our dreams with our family’s everyday experience.
I always say that if we want to make room for a shift in the dynamics of our family, if we want a different or even better experience, then we have to create the space for it, and the way to do this is to first simplify the main location where most family experiences take place – the home. There are four areas that need to be looked at: the environment, the rhythm, the schedules and the amount of adult world that the children in the house see and hear. I suggest choosing one of these areas, one that feels the most doable first and then move through the others after the first is complete. Often times, the environment is where most people like to start so that will be the focus of this article.
Recently, there has been some very interesting research on behavioral changes in children with ADD and ADHD using “simplification” instead of drugs. It has been found that behavioral tendencies can be soothed and relaxed by creating calm. In one study 68% of children who were clinically dysfunctional in class and home changed to clinically functional in just four months of parents and teachers focusing on simplification of the child’s environment.
Children’s rooms or playrooms are usually packed with books, clothes and toys. In fact the average American child has roughly 150 toys. The effect of having too many toys is sensory overload. So many choices, in essence so much stimuli deprives children of leisure and the ability to explore their worlds deeply. Have you ever watched your child or someone else’s who has so many toys and they say, “I don’t know what to do” and your response is, “What do you mean? You have tonnes of toys to play with!” The same thing happens to me when I enter a clothing store that has beautiful discounted clothes all lumped together on racks; I get too overwhelmed by the choices and eventually leave.
So, if the problem is overstimulation of the senses then what toys do we keep and which do we donate or give away? Here are some guidelines for simplifying children’s toys:
- Keep dear night time toys – these should always stay
- Keep toys that involve building, digging, and construction
- Keep receptive toys such as favorite dolls or stuffed animals; toys that just receive.
- Keep creative materials such as paints, crayons and modeling substances such as clay or play dough.
Essentially, the toys with staying power should be figures like dolls, knights or stuffed animals, building toys and dwellings of some sort, into which the child can project his or her figures and therefore themselves. Throw away broken toys or ones with missing pieces.
Be sure to add some important things such as dress up clothes, musical instruments and a table with a big box of crayons and drawing paper as these allow for essential creative, imaginative play and expression.
After simplifying the toys, move on to books. Some parents think that the more books their child has around them the better. Not so. It’s important that young children particularly, really concentrate on and revel in what they are reading. Having our child become excited to have number 23 in the Magic Treehouse series is not our goal, enjoying books fully is much more important. Choosing 10-12 favorite books to neatly line a shelf in the child’s bedroom or playroom is ideal then simply switch the books every month or two.
Once books are taken care of move on to simplifying your child’s clothes. When you simplify children’s clothes you simplify daily life. The clothes in your child’s dresser or closet should fit right now. Clothes they’ve grown out of can be given away, stored, or sold. Clothes that are too big can be put in storage. Out of season clothes can also be stored and labeled. When the only clothes available are the ones that fit and are appropriate for the current weather, the closet is no longer a jungle to be hacked through. Even a three year old can recognize the pattern of drawers and be able to get a shirt or sweater themselves.
The last two areas of the home environment to simplify are scents and sounds. Most of us have read or heard concerns about the ill effects of toxic chemicals in some cleaning and home care products. Many “smelly” products like air fresheners, candles, soaps and cleansers come with a mixture of chemicals which causes adrenaline-pumping stimulation thus making us unconsciously more overloaded and physically stressed. I use lavender oil or peppermint oil to calm, yet energize my home. There are many ecological companies that have created essential oil products that can replace the fake, stimulating ones. I also have easy listening, jazz or classical music playing in my home which also sets the tone I want to achieve.
Simplification is an incredibly subtle way of changing the dynamics in your home. The changes you’ll witness though will be incredible. It’s always easy to look at a misbehaving child and say, “I can’t believe they are behaving like that!” however there is always a reason behind misbehavior and as more and more research is done, I’m positive it will continue to show that what really needs to happen is that we simplify our lives, slow down, and truly live life with our families the way we once dreamed.