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10 Ways to teach children that less is more


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Mathilde Dugueyt - Cerith Gardiner - published on 06/09/18

By going back to basics, kids learn how to place importance on how we live, not what we have.

A recent report by Dollar Street looked at the favorite toys of children from families on different income levels around the world. The findings were documented as photos of children holding up their most beloved possession. While it demonstrates a very visual reality of the inequality among children, it also shows that a lot of joy can come from the most basic objects: a plastic bottle, an old tire, and even a handmade ball. Children who have less are encouraged, and motivated, to get more creative and use their inventive skills. And it’s even better when the whole family gets in on the act too — just think of those days when kids spent days building a box cart with an adult to lend a hand.

By just adopting 10 simple measures suggested by Pascale Morinière, vice-president of the Catholic Families Association, and Sioux Berger, author of a book on taking a “minimalist challenge,” we can give our children a more healthy taste for life.

Here they are:

Accept that kids get bored

By filling our child’s life with endless activities, we actually prevent them from developing their imagination and being able to make up games. We are creating a vicious circle, as Berger explains: “By keeping our children constantly occupied, without any down time, we actually teach our kids to come to us and ask to be entertained.” This leads to that incessant question of “Mom, what can we do now?” But what if we put the ball in their court? We could suggest an activity, such as building a fort in the backyard, and let them do the rest.

Do things at home together

As vacations drag on, it’s common for parents to feel that their kids need to do something mind-blowing, like a trip to Disneyland. Yet sometimes, the simplest activities can be more meaningful. Berger suggests getting kids involved in age-appropriate chores. As Morinière points out, a mini-chef might love the sense of achievement in carrying out a grown-up task such as chopping vegetables, even if we ourselves find it a tad tedious. Not only does it keep their little hands busy, it also teaches them a few skills. These household jobs can also extend out into the backyard; just teach your child what weeds look like and set them to work! By teaching our child the daily essentials, they’ll develop key values.

Teach children the value of patience

If we can hold off succumbing to our child’s wishes straight away, we’ll be teaching them the art of patience. As Morinière reminds us, we’re all taught that patience is a virtue, and when your child realizes that they don’t get everything at the drop of a hat, they’ll be learning a strong Christian value. If we look to Christmas and birthdays, the excitement a child feels in the build-up to receiving those precious gifts is all the more magical due to the patience they have exercised.

Keep games simple

An accumulation of toys in our child’s room only serves to confuse them: they don’t know which to play with. Sticking to toys that require no batteries is a first golden rule in keeping things easy. Avoid gimmicky toys that serve no real purpose, and opt for a few value-added toys that reflect daily life. Berger stresses that toys that encourage creativity, such as Lego, building blocks, or Play-Doh, are more worthwhile than buying a ready-made car or house. A treasure hunt can be equally rewarding, as well as drawing a hopscotch court.

Watch and observe nature

Nature is a great way for all ages to get back to simplicity. “It’s another way of looking at life, at reality,” explains Berger. Even in the middle of town we can point out the names of trees. By asking our child, “What do you see?”, we’re teaching them to step back and notice, to understand, and to develop their intelligence. A vegetable garden is a great way of teaching patience, taking care of plants so they can bear fruit and vegetables.

Valuing objects

“Looking after our things means cherishing them,” stresses Berger. In the past, a jacket, a bag, or a toy, would last for years. Teaching children to take care of their possessions means they can be handed down the family. This lesson can be learned even at school by encouraging our child to keep track of their jackets or their pencil cases, and reminding them they are not easily replaceable.

Stay the course with those teenage years

Berger explains that the turning point in adolescence is both natural and favorable. Clothes are important for teens, yet it’s pointless to cram their closets. Provide the basics, and any extras should be paid for by the child through doing household chores, babysitting, or gardening. This will not only teach them the value of their possessions, but also give them a useful lesson in budgeting.

Get children involved in family decisions

As a way of encouraging a sense of maturity, a child can be made more aware of their responsibilities within the family. Morinière suggests that, as children grow, they can be involved in joint family efforts, such as helping with the family budget. By gaining insight into the runnings of family life, they’ll be able to put things in perspective. For example, if the house needs a coat of paint, should the family do it themselves to cut costs?

Have a solid foundation

Some rules may seem a little out-dated, yet they’re essential in helping the child realize the importance of living better with less. As Morinière points out, when parents insist on not wasting food and on only serving oneself what you can eat, and finishing what’s on the plate, they are teaching important basic values. This can begin at a young age, without the need for any lengthy speeches. Just place a small portion of food on the plate and insist it’s eaten all up, without getting stressed.

Encourage good habits from a young age

Our consumer society has encouraged us to develop an endless thirst for more, starting in the very first months of life. Berger rightly reminds us that babies amuse themselves with next to nothing — some Tupperware and a plastic spoon often does the trick! While those new baby gadgets are tempting, the vast majority are unnecessary and will only take up space, leading us to waste more time sorting and clearing out our homes.

In the end, of course, the best way to teach children to be happy and creative with less, is to be a good example by the way we live or own lives.

Sioux Berger is the author of Mon défi minimaliste (“My Minimalist Challenge,” currently only available in French).


Read more:
Why you should take away most of your kids’ toys

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