These days, our kids are bombarded with media messages and peer pressure to acquire the latest toys, gadgets and gizmos. A number of researches show that children need less television (or refreshingly, none at all), less “over scheduling,” and less material possessions (yes, especially iPads and PSPs!). Instead, children need lots of downtime, freedom, and free reign of their imaginations. These are difficult to accomplish when their lives are complicated by objects, one-dimensional toys, and the dulling effects of TV entertainment.
If we as parents provide an atmosphere at home of simple living, our children will imbibe the value of living with less. Here are a few tips which impart a simpler lifestyle, especially for those with preschool-age children.
1. Pare down your child’s toy selections. Toy stores are out to trick you that kids need various toys! But the fact is when a child has less toys, he is able to do more because he is left to use his imagination. Children need more play, not toys. Opt for traditional toys such as wooden blocks, art supplies, balls, puzzles, and books. These are divergent toys which give children open-ended opportunities to create, innovate, problem-solve, and think critically. They are also timeless, meaning you’ll incur less toy purchases, and thus, have a less cluttered home.
2. Create toys from household items. Household items can serve dual purposes: their original purpose and as a toy. Fill up old plastic bottles with rice and grains for noise-makers. Clump old socks together to create a “ball” for playing dodge ball with. And remember how all kids seem to love simple cardboard boxes? Teaching kids to make use of their imagination with items you have at home breeds less of an acquisitive mentality of always wanting a new toy.
3. Limit toys by rotating their use. Begin this right away, when your child is an infant. Display half the toys you own, and in six months, bring the others in storage out and keep the others. Repeat the rotation again after six months. For preschoolers, the toys will be new again!
4. Involve your child in your shopping routine. Children are sponges: they take on our habits, our ideas, and they tend to pattern their decisions after our choices. If you’re at the department store with your preschooler, say, “What a nice red blouse! I like it, but I have one that looks like this at home, and I only need one. I won’t buy this anymore.” Your child might not understand exactly what you’re talking about, however, they’ll “absorb” your shopping habit of being selective and not purchasing extra items.
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5. Teach your child to purge. Regularly purging your home of unused items is a process you can share with your child. Every six months, for example, ask your children which of their toys they think another child might enjoy more. Do the same with their clothes, especially those they’ve outgrown. Explain that in giving these items away, you’re helping to provide for another child or family. You would have taught your child resourcefulness, how to recycle usable items and how to give charitably.
6. Teach your child to earn in order to buy his own toys. You can teach a four- or five-year-old that every chore she completes that’s not among her basic tasks will earn her a few centavos. For example, you can reward your child for attempting to fix her bed, which is something that you or the house helper might do. A few centavos aren’t much, but the value of receiving them gives your child a sense of earning, money management, and decision-making about where her earnings will go. Teaching money management and good stewardship is vital to living simply!
7. Reinvent the “I want” wheel. “I want _____” is such as common cry of many a preschooler. Instead of resorting to this phrase, tell your child, “Don’t say ‘I want’; say ‘I like that _____.’” This subtle switch in wording can surprisingly transform a child’s attitude towards acquiring more stuff. Rather than breed greediness, teaching a child to say “I like” over “I want” helps them understand wanting something doesn’t always mean they can have it. They learn that it is not wrong to want things, but that getting what they want should be worked for and paid for with hard-earned money.
8. Make friends with like-minded parents and like-minded kids. This doesn’t mean avoiding anyone who’s not like you! This is more about being vigilant about the kind of children you preschooler routinely socializes with. If your child is in the constant company of a child who gets everything he wants (and has all the latest toys), of course your child will find it difficult to appreciate his home-made toys and your clutter-free, simple home. Teach your child to befriend all people, but make sure he socializes with children whose families share your values about living simply.
9. Get actively involved in community service or charity work. A good way to give your child an age-appropriate perspective on social justice is by sponsoring a child who is less fortunate through World Vision, Compassion, or similar organizations. This is a deep lesson, one which will require your utmost support and understanding. Your child will see how you as a simple-living family still have an awful lot compared to a child whose family has nothing.
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10. Declutter your home Keeping your home free of clutter helps increase the value of the few meaningful items that you do own.
Fostering an attitude of frugality, simplicity, compassion, and joy in the little things will help your family live happily with less. By transforming your home environment to reflect these values of simple appreciation of the little things in life, you will create a more meaningful and rich childhood for your kids. After all, as the “future generation,” our children need to understand the value of living simply if we are to depend on them to be better managers of the earth’s resources.