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8 Ways To Simplify Your Child's Life (And Yours)

03/22/2016 04:27 EDT | Updated 03/23/2017 05:12 EDT
Tracy Gillett

"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. So, I 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 watercolour dinosaurs sitting on the grass.

"Are we done buddy? Inside now?" I ask.

"No Mama" he says pointing to the back gate, "Bat and ball". So off we go, my little man confidently leading me to our local park.

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.

We track dinosaurs and play baseball in the fading afternoon light. We befriend dogs and their owners. And play hide and seek in the adjacent woods. The sun sets and my son finally agrees to go home for dinner after I suggest the bears may soon appear.

Three and a half hours later, our adventure leaves me feeling calm and peaceful, as if I've been meditating. I had no idea how far his imagination would take us this afternoon. My toddler's innocent curiosity and slow pace remind me of the 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.

I reflect on how popular a recent post I wrote about how simplifying our kid's lives may protect against mental health issues has become. 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.

We know when our kids are overwhelmed we have the ability to help by silencing the noise; lifting their spirits and making them feel safe.

Scientific studies are a powerful reinforcement that simplification is protective. But, subconsciously, we know when our kids are overwhelmed we have the ability 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 family connections 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.

Here are a few tips to help you 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!
  • Of course, always keep favourite toys which are often simple and classic.

Once you've removed excess books and toys your child may still have too many available at any one time. Create a toy library to rotate toys on a regular basis.

Don't stop with your kids' room though. Lead by example and declutter the whole home.

2. SIMPLIFY INFORMATION

It's healthy for our 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 area to mature. This means children 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 kids go to bed and having private adult conversations can reduce our kid's anxiety levels.

3. KILL THE SCREENS

One of the toughest parenting challenges is to reduce screen time.

Parent and Paediatrician, Dr. Dimitri Christakis suggests 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 begin?

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 can hurt 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. Use flight mode to reduce constant notifications. And out of sight, out of mind works well for me so I hide my phone... from myself.

They say it takes three weeks to break a habit so set yourself a 21-day challenge. Leave your phone at home. Have a social media free weekend. Or switch your phone off an hour before bed.

4. USE A NEW LANGUAGE

Have you heard of the five love languages? The theory is we give and receive love in different ways. The languages are words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch.

Giving and receiving gifts is a wonderful expression of love but our consumer driven society is allowing it to monopolize our relationships.

So, after reducing clutter, resist the temptation to express love as "gifts" by using the other four love languages. Spend quality one on one time with your kids. Wrestle with your two year old on the bed. Give hugs, hugs and more hugs. And show them every chance you get how much you love them.

5. ADD SIMPLE PLEASURES

Visit your local craft store and collect natural materials, fabrics, ribbons and pillows. Let your kid's imaginations 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. Montessori and Waldorf encourage nature tables for kids to learn, interact with nature and the changing seasons.

6. SIMPLIFY THE RHYTHM OF LIFE

In Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne describes daily life as a song, with high and low notes. The high notes are sports practice, music lessons and birthday parties. The low notes are walking the dog, going out for an ice cream or playing catch in the backyard.

It's important to factor in frequent low notes as a reliable release of tension and a break from the pressures of daily life. It's also an invaluable opportunity to strengthen our family connections.

7. MINIMIZE SCHEDULES

One study compared how children spent their time in 1997 compared to 1981. The results revealed children in 1997 spent less time playing and had less free time. They spent 18 per cent more time at school, 145 per cent more time doing school work, and 168 per cent more time shopping with parents. Almost 20 years on, one can safely assume, free time has diminished even further.

With kids being carted from one activity to the next, 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"

Prioritizing free play over organized activities fosters creativity, self-reliance and happiness. 

8. OUTSIDE MAMA AND DADA

Nature provides endless possibilities for healthy stimulation 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 linked to conditions such as attention disorders and depression.

Whether it's going for a hike come sunshine or rain, swimming in the ocean or exploring your own backyard, getting your kids outside will always lead to good things.

At times I'm sure he was sent to slow me down. To make me appreciate spring bulbs, ladybugs and dinosaur tracks.

RISE TO THE CHALLENGE

Without a doubt, parenthood has brought unprecedented levels of complexity to my life. But when I immerse myself in my toddler's magical world I'm struck by the sense of peace it brings.

He's 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, 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 make space in our lives and welcome it into our modern families.

As parents, 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.

A version of this post originally appeared on Raised Good.

You can also find Tracy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And free yourself from the "rules" of modern parenting and receive a free eBook, Parenting by Nature, by signing up for the Raised Good newsletter.

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