While my husband and I are raising what I call an “extreme child” (one with mental health and/or behavioral diagnosis), these steps can be very beneficial for any child of any age. As we are parenting kids in a culture of “right now” and “more, more, more”, all of the “things” can feel very overwhelming to growing minds.
Since we know scientifically that most brains do not reach full maturation until our mid-twenties, it is safe to say that following these six steps to simplifying your child’s space will help to encourage their mental stability and emotional health as they learn and grow into adulthood.
Sister if your kids are anything like mine, I know how difficult this can be to manage. However, I promise that reducing the number of unnecessary items that you allow to come into your home will help your child breathe better in their own space.
For our family, we allow our children to each choose two art projects/coloring pages/school papers to come in the house per week. If they love it, great! So do we. And we display it proudly. The rest find their place in our dumpster in the driveway and the kids honestly stop caring after the first time or two.
We encourage them not to leave their random stuff around the house (i.e. one shoe, a rogue sock, or ponytail holders and acorns from our yard) by giving them one warning to find a place for it or it gets thrown out. They catch on quickly, regardless of age. I promise.
Having too many choices is to blame for so much overwhelm in our kids’ lives.
Consider when we were children and we had Nintendo as our only gaming console and basketball or bikes as our choice to play with outside. Now, our kids have so many choices that they can feel bogged down and incapable of making the right decision. This can cause stress and anxiety even when they are choosing something fun.
For our kiddos, we give 2-3 options for each choice. This is called “controlled choices” and is a practice we can all benefit from, really.
So from what they will wear the next day to what they will have for snack, to making dinner or choosing what sport to play next season—my husband and I decide what we are okay with and present only those 2-3 options to our kids. That is all.
I promise no one gets disappointed. The kids feel empowered to choose for themselves while we are able to dodge several disagreements because we were already armed with what we were okay with beforehand.
Create a Space for Everything
No matter the size of your home, assign a place for everything.
I am not crazy. If you assign everything a place, it will help the less organized members of your household understand where things go.
So, give rogue shoes stroon about by your front entry a bin to belong to and coats their own hooks. Put shelves in kids’ rooms and totes to go on them in which books and puzzles, toys and trinkets can find homes.
Do the same for yourself but start in your car—remember starting small has big payoffs. So put napkins you’ve collected from various drive-thrus in your glove box and buy a small trash can for the floorboard so you don’t have wrappers all over the place.
Everything has a place and what you find that is out of place will get re-assigned a new place (We call this place the garbage in our house—it’s a great motivator for those less organized!).
This feels like a foreign concepts to those of us with kids in every sport or every school club, but I promise—as an educator and mental health professional—this is not only bad for our kids’ ability to cope, but no college on the planet will not admit your kid because they weren’t involved in 37 extracurriculars. Swear.
Whatever you are comfortable with, stick to that. In our home, we allow each child to choose one activity outside of home and school to participate in each season. This is what our budget and time allows without making us feel like our schedules are overwhelmed.
Additionally, we try to aim for reserving at least one weekend a month where we go nowhere—not to church, not to friends or family’s homes, no where. We simply stay home, watch movies, play outside, clean the house, take naps, read, and catch up on what it’s like to live and love together. It is pretty magical.
Customize a Space to Create
Creativity—whatever that looks like for you and your children—is a crucial part of maintaining a positive self image and stable emotional and mental health.
Your child might be a natural athlete or painter, writer or avid reader. Whatever they are organically drawn to (See: Not what you are vicariously living through them…sorry Karen, but I speak the truth), create a space to promote their growth.
If your child is a natural artist, find a cheap table at your local consignment shop and set them up in a corner with paints or pastels, chalks or canvases. If they like to read, create a small space in their room where they can feel transported like Harry Potter under the stairs or a cheap curtain with twinkle lights made into a tent.
Fostering these interests in your kids will give them an outlet both to express themselves as well as a place they feel safe.
Spend Time Together Outside
Because of our rush, rush, rush culture, few of us take the time to just go outside as a family anymore. So do that, friend.
Whether you host a barbeque for friends and family or whether you just take the kids to the park, being outside is good for the soul. Scientifically, it also boosts mood, decreases anxiety, and allows our bodies to soak in much-needed vitamins from which our bodies are usually deficient.