How do you feel when you are in the most cluttered room of your house? Uneasy? Stressed out? Unable to complete a task?
Children often feel the same way – but they aren’t quite able to express it.
It has been beyond interesting to observe young children (specifically toddlers and preschoolers) in different environments over the years.
Children are very adaptable, so when put in a room full of playthings, they are usually able to dive right in.
However, as I’ve gotten more into organizing, I’ve observed children focusing for much longer periods of time in rooms that have a smaller amount of items to choose from.
Consider this passage about decision fatigue:
The “process of choosing may itself drain some of the self’s precious resources, thereby leaving the executive function less capable of carrying out its other activities. Decision fatigue can therefore impair self-regulation.” (Source: Running Head: Self Regulation and Choice)
How does this carry out in children? When they have too many things to choose from, they shut down, and instead, choose nothing at all. They are overstimulated, so they seek means of entertainment that don’t require quite as much self-regulation – usually behaviors that seek attention from caregivers.
Here’s a couple of things that I find very helpful when it comes to reducing stimuli in child environments:
1. Take away half of the items in the room. 
Yes, it sounds extreme – but you will be absolutely amazed at how big of a difference this makes!
Block set? Put half of the blocks in storage. Without the overwhelming thought of cleaning up way too many blocks, a child is more likely to be adventurous in their creations.
The child sized kitchen set? Your child will be just fine with three plates instead of six.
Matchbox cars? Keep the favorites ones – store the rest for latter – or better yet, reduce your future stress and donate half to Goodwill!
2.  Tone down the decor.  
You wouldn’t think that decor would have an affect on kids, but it does. Let’s be honest – how do you feel when you walk into a perfectly designed space that has just the right amount of wall hangings, throw pillows and furniture? 
The New York Times recently published an incredibly insightful article about colorful kindergarten classrooms. It sites a study with somewhat surprising results:
“The study, one of the first to examine how the look of these walls affects young students, found that when kindergartners were taught in a highly decorated classroom, they were more distracted, their gazes more likely to wander off task, and their test scores lower than when they were taught in a room that was comparatively spartan.”
Wow! Can you believe that classrooms with less decorations had higher test scores? It seems like this factor would be minor, but let’s face it – our environments greatly affect us.
3.  Consider variances
In the years that I have worked in preschools, it is best practice to make sure that there are a variety of spaces available to children. 
For example: does the child have a flat surface to do an activity such as a puzzle? Alternately: do they have a cozy spot that they can sit down and decompress if needed?
What about alone space and shared space? Is there a place close by that the child can get some privacy or alone time away from siblings and parents? Is there a space big enough for two or more siblings to work together on a project such as Lego building or dramatic play?
Of course, in small homes, not all of this is possible – but try to put yourself in their shoes. As adults, we can usually retreat to our bedrooms when we need space (or retreat to the bathroom, as some desperate parents do!) Think about it: sometimes kids need that, too!
As our lives become busier and busier, the necessity of slowing down is starting to become more and more apparent. Sometimes calm feels like it’s out of reach. When (if!) you have a moment in the next week, think about it:  what ways can you think of to infuse just a little bit of peace into your environment for your family?