Mind & Body

Life Lessons for Our Children

These are 8 ways we try to prepare our children for the world they live in
TIMEDecember 18, 2021

“I’m so bored. … There’s nothing to do at home! Can we just watch TV?” groaned my 6-year-old daughter, Sophie.

My daughter is no different, in many ways, than most children her age.

She seeks instant gratification. She wants constant stimulation and becomes bored when her toys become boring. She sees what others have and desires more, having a “the grass is always greener on the other side” mentality some days.

Children are always observing what we do, so being a role model for these young people is an important job. And as our own kids transition beyond the toddler stages and into more mature youth, we find ourselves challenged with how to parent them in this modern world full of choices, efficiency, busyness, and constant stimulation.

Mike and I have our own ideals about how to live simply. But we also desire to share these habits and values with our children—in an age-appropriate way, of course.

Below are 8 life lessons in simplicity that we find most important to teach our children. These lessons may take years to fully saturate into their lives, but we hope they’ll lead to a more generous, intentional life.

1. Just because you own something doesn’t mean you need to keep it forever.

Over the course of a year, our kids go through stages of affection for toys. Within a few months, a special truck or doll may be discarded and replaced by another item as the favorite toy. Teaching our kids to keep only what they really use and play with allows them to not hold too tightly to their “things.”

Just as we regularly declutter our home, we teach our children to evaluate their things as well. If something can be mended or repaired, let’s fix it. If not, it’s time to let it go. If a special toy is no longer played with, who else could benefit from it?

2. More options doesn’t always mean more fun.

Too many choices leads to decision fatigue and overwhelm when it’s time to clean up. It can also lead to an ungrateful spirit. This heart can leave our children—or us—dissatisfied with the good things in our lives. To help with this lesson, we use a toy rotation bin. Every few months, we put toys in this bin to limit the amount of choices our kids have at one time. After a couple of months, we rotate those toys back into the playroom as we simultaneously put others away in the bin. Whatever toys don’t get played with once we introduce them back into the playroom usually get donated so we can share the toys they once enjoyed.

3. It’s okay to be bored.

It’s okay to be bored, because this provides fertile ground for creative solutions and imaginative play, says Jodi Musoff, an educational specialist at the Child Mind Institute. “Boredom also helps children develop planning strategies, problem-solving skills, flexibility, and organizational skills—key abilities that children whose lives are usually highly structured may lack,” Musoff wrote in an article on the institute’s website.

During the kids’ afternoon quiet time, we provide lots of materials for them to get creative—legos, magnatiles, tape (including decorative washi tape), glue, scraps of paper, beads, sequins, paint, and crayons. It’s amazing what they can create with an open mind and a low-structured setting.

4. Spending money isn’t always the solution.

This lesson has been a hard one to learn, even for me as an adult. Our society teaches us that when our clothes and toys no longer bring us pleasure, we should just buy something new to satisfy the desire. We try to teach our children to be creative with what we have or allow ourselves to make do for a time if possible. Pushing back against impulse buying by implementing the 48-hour rule is a helpful habit we’ve begun, including times when they use their own piggy bank money.

5. Simple, repeatable routines create healthy rhythms.

When kids know what to expect, they feel more safe and secure. Regular routines provide the structure that orders their days. As members of our home, that routine includes a few age-appropriate chores. Doing these jobs has taught them how to do them independently and encouraged them to take responsibility, such as making their bed, setting and clearing the dinner table, or doing their afternoon quiet time well.

6. Every item has a home.

Teaching our kids that every item has a home and encouraging them to clean up after themselves is a simple way to reduce a lot of clutter from toys, dirty clothes, and shoes. When we make each item’s home a logical, realistic location, it’s a much more attainable task for them to accomplish.

One strategy that has helped our kids with this lesson has been the creation of our “clutter bin.”

It’s a canvas bin in our living room where toys, shoes, and other items that become scattered on the floor get placed into at any given time (as Mike or I walk by and notice a cluttered floor, we simply toss the items into the Clutter Bin for the kids to put away later). The benefit is that we aren’t always asking the kids to clean up the floor, but at the end of the day, the expectation is that the bin gets emptied and every item put back into its home.

7. Be content with what you have.

Gratitude is something many parents try to teach their children, but even adults can struggle to live it out. Being ungrateful is one of the main reasons we continue to desire more and more things.

We recently got the Amazon Christmas toy catalog in the mail, and, unsurprisingly, my kids began circling and pointing out everything they thought they had to have. Their playroom full of toys was no match to the endless possibilities this magazine held.

Fortunately, moments like this allow us to have conversations with them about needs and wants, being grateful for what we have, and finding contentment.

8. Live with a generous heart.

Perhaps the most important of these lessons is to teach our kids how to live with a generous heart.

We live in a “me-centered” society, where entitlement and self-ambition are driving forces. To contrast these paths and lay the groundwork for a flourishing life, we encourage our children to seek the needs of others, which is nearly impossible to do well at their young ages. But through teaching them this lesson, we hope it will encourage them to have this attitude as they become adolescents and young adults.

We regularly donate toys and clothes that we no longer have a use for—that’s a no-brainer when it comes to owning less and reducing options for our children. Over the past few years, we’ve looked for ways that our kids can share their time and gifts with others. They enjoy visiting our elderly neighbors, making cards for family members, giving their special “stuffies” to their cousins, and donating food to the local food pantry. These are small but meaningful ways to teach them to seek the needs of others.

These are some of the lessons we’ve tried to impart to our children. They will have to walk this journey themselves and choose how to live as adults when they’re older, but we see the great value in teaching them habits that will prepare them for life in this modern world.

This article was originally published on ThisEvergreenHome.com

Mollie (and her husband, Mike) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.