Encouraging children to embrace lifestyle change

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About Renee

Renee writes about nature inspired family life, creativity and homeschooling at her personal blog FIMBY. She's passionate about home education (among other things) and spends her days with her children--loving them, training them and giving them hours each day to create, explore, learn and grow. Together with her husband she encourages families to get outdoors together at ADVENTUREinPROGRESS.

Change is a part of life. We give our children an amazing tool when we teach them to adapt to change.

Sometimes we undergo a personal or family transformation that calls for major upheaval in our lives. Mom or Dad takes a pay cut to have more time with the family. You downsize your belongings and house to live debt-free. You choose to adopt a child, rescuing them from poverty and extreme suffering.

Life-changing beliefs and convictions call for life-changing decisions.

In just three short months our own family will be trading our current life for another one. We are leaving our home and moving out of the country. Downsizing our belongings and living with family for a season. And then making home again in a province where we don’t speak the dominant language.

You can read the whole story here at FIMBY. It’s safe to say, there’s a lot of upheaval in our family life right now.

caution sharp turn
Photo by Renee Tougas

We are making this move during a stage of parenting where our children are not just tag-alongs.

Our children are eleven, ten and nine, well beyond the years of “pack the crib, toddler beds, and toy bins.” In order to maintain a peaceful, happy and contented home we need them on-board with our plans.

You might not be making huge life altering decisions right now; you might just want to live more simply and with greater intention.

Whether you want to cut out stressful extracurricular activities, de-cluttter the kid’s rooms, or are just trying to eat dinner together every night as a family, if you have children past toddlerhood you need everyone’s participation to be successful.

Here are the techniques we have used to help our children embrace lifestyle changes, both big and small.

Common Vision

The most important piece in helping children embrace a major lifestyle change is to communicate your overall family mission. As they get older, it is even better if they help craft that vision.

Here at Simple Mom Tsh has written about making a family mission statement. She also gives direction in her book, Organized Simplicity. You should check out these resources to help you get started.

Before your family embarks on any significant changes (homeschooling, downsizing, moving, adoption, etc.) you need to clearly communicate to your children why you are doing this.

“What’s in it for me?”

Let’s be honest, everybody asks this question — children especially.

There are two parts to answering this:

1. Immediate and tangible rewards

There should be immediate and tangible rewards for your children as you make major lifestyle changes.

In our case, we need to downsize our household possessions. There have been rewards along the way for our children as they have let go of things. A family experience, treats or purchasing one special toy in exchange for a bin of less desirable toys are a few examples.

2. Long-term, individual growth

This point is especially important for older children.

One goal of large-scale family change is to help everyone reach their personal potential.

The change should encourage the development of your children’s gifts and skills, and maximize how they can uniquely contribute to your family’s mission.

walking with Daddy
Photo by Renee Tougas

For example, let’s say your family is about to embark on a more back-to-basics, homesteading lifestyle. If age appropriate, your children’s interests and talents should be a part of the decision making for how to build your home, what animals to raise, and what crops to plant.

If your children know you are in their corner, that your goal is to help them develop, they are more likely to come on-board.

Be the Primary Influence

I’m the first to admit I think it would be hard for our family to make our upcoming change if our children were going to school and had strong attachments to peers.

As it is, we homeschool (because of the freedom it gives) and are able to determine our own family culture because of that. Our intention is not to withdraw from interactions with other people. We truly value forming relationships outside our family.

However, as the parents, we want to be the dominant influence in our children’s lives during their formative years. Not their peers, school, sports teams, or even church.

The time will come when they will spread their wings and make choices for themselves about where to live, what to eat, what to buy and how to worship. But in their younger years, we are responsible for those choices.

This doesn’t mean you have to homeschool — but the stronger your influence on your children, the more likely they are to embrace a family lifestyle change.

family on beach
Photo by Renee Tougas

Find a supportive community

Being part of a community of people with similar values is so helpful when making big life changes. Especially when those changes take you further outside the mainstream culture.

We all want to feel like we belong, and children are no different.

For years our family has invested a lot of our time in pursuing outdoor adventures together. It’s part of our mission. We hike most every weekend and backpack also, but haven’t found many families around us who do the same.

However, we recently met a family who enjoys these same pursuits and went winter camping together. The adults had a great time, but our children LOVED it, having fun and connecting with other kids like them.

Photo by Renee Tougas

Nothing replaces a rock solid family foundation, but finding community makes new experiences and transitions easier and more enjoyable.

Be inspiring and enthusiastic

It’s fine and dandy if one of your family goals is to live more simply, but if there is no joy in doing so don’t expect the kids to embrace your philosophy.

Your life should be enriched with better family time, deeper relationships and more joyful living because of the changes you’re making.

For example, if your family decides to pay down debt, your own attitude should be inspiring to your children. Be realistic — it may take some time to win them over to a new way of doing things, like cutting back expenses to save more money.

Encourage them with your own enthusiasm.

Start young

Making big changes that mark your family as different than the norm is easier when your children are too young to know the difference.

Some people think “Oh, these baby years are so hard, let’s just wait till the kids are sleeping through the night, out of diapers, fill-in-the-blank before we make any major changes.”

I say, go for it now. This is the ideal age. If your dream is to become vegetarians, live like “Little House on The Prairie,” or sell most of your belongings to live overseas, do it now while your children are little and you won’t have to go through most of what I’ve shared above!

Has your family made any big lifestyle changes? What techniques do you recommend to help children with change?

Join the Conversation

Comments

  1. This is an awesome post! We have made several changes over the last couple of years, and these are great tips. Switching to homeschool three years ago was the hardest, and finding a community made all the difference!

  2. Problem: your project simplify – specifically de-cluttering childrens rooms doesn’t start until AFTER I move :(
    I need it NOW (as in I move in less than 3 weeks & I have a toddler & newborn’s stuff to sort/pack). :)
    I guess I’ll have to wait. Love your blog – it helps me a lot as a mom. Thank you!

  3. Wonderful advice . . .I like how you emphasized getting everyone “on board” to be successful.

  4. When our family moved to Central America to work full-time in missions, our children were 12, 11, 7 and 2. Our son, the oldest, went “kicking and screaming”. We were “ruining his life, and taking away everything and everyone he loved”. We were patient, and tried to help. We even actually considered going back home. My husband wisely said he wasn’t willing to “lose his son, to win the world”. Long story, but let me just share, we broke it down into “doable” time frames. We spent money we didn’t intend to spend on tickets for visits, etc., but it payed off. When it was time for our furlough, 4 years later, guess who cried when we left for the US for a year. Yep… that’s my boy… never afraid to show his emotions!

    In 3 weeks he’ll be 21 years old, and he has thanked us for helping him stick it out. He learned so much about other people, their cultures, and is fluent in Spanish. Now as he finishes his training as a paramedic, he has chosen to live in our hometown, but he has a whole lot of living and experience under his belt.

    On a more practical note, we allowed each child to pack one truck of their very own. Grandparents and close friends help “sponser” the extra costs, and these trunks became their personal “treasure chests”. Whatever was precious to them (and practical for shipping) was tucked inside. When they were out of room, the “editing process” was their very own!

    • Beverly,

      I loved that you shared this. Thank you. We also have made some concessions for our oldest, who will be 12 when we move.
      I have been reading about personality types lately and learning that how my children respond to this move is influenced a lot also by their personality, not just age (duh…).
      Some children are just naturally more resistant to change (my oldest is like this). This doesn’t mean we have to stop our family plans but we do need to take their needs into consideration and work with who they are are individuals.

    • Yes, thank you for sharing, Beverly. Back when we were in training to move overseas, I remember a much older, wiser woman share this about moving cross-culturally: when they’re under 7, you tell them you’re moving; when they’re 8-12, you involve them in your decision-making process about moving; when they’re 13 and up, you ask them if they want to go, and if they don’t, you wait until they’re out of the home. It’s not that cut-and-dry, of course; there are a lot more details than that. But I remember thinking that was wise.

      • Tsh, I really like that advice. I think hearing it early in my parenting journey (which I am, with one 8 month old) will help our family make long term plans. Thanks for sharing.

        • Yes, this has been harder for us as we’ve explored ideas like taking a year to do a teaching exchange in another country or even travel beyond our province. Our oldest son (almost 15) has always been such a homebody and super resistant to change or travel. Finally, this year we are considering that maybe we really do need to let our plans go for the time being and do these things with our daughters who are far more willing and adventurous. I asked my son seriously, though, if he is certain that he won’t feel regret or left out should we wait a few more years until he is in university and then travel with his sisters and, after thinking about it, said that no, he would be fine with that. Of course if he changes his mind when older and wants to join us that would be great too. Anyways, I know some changes must happen regardless of a resistant child but for some ‘dreams’ it just doesn’t feel worth it to force one family member into something they want no part of.

    • I love the trunk idea, so brilliant!

  5. we’re 8 weeks away from a very similar big family change, only ours is going back to america! so i know just where you’re coming from here. since my kids are still little, 3 and 5, they’re the ones going to a foreign country and i’m trying to prepare them (especially my 5 year old) that they’re not going to be blonde movie stars anymore, they’re not going to get candy everywhere they go (and if they do, don’t eat it!), and if a man comes up them at the playground and wants to hold their hand (something that is perfectly common and acceptable here) we’re calling the police!

    my oldest was 3 when we came over and the transition was easy, but she definitely went through periods of mournings things (grandparents, teachers, our dog) that would hit her at random times. it was hard to see her go through those sad times. i can’t imagine going through it with older kids (cuz i’m such a big softie), but i know a lot of people that do and come up all right on the other end! so to you i say “kolay gelsin” (may it come easy)!

    • Thanks Andie. Fortunately for us we’re moving closer to grandparents! Who my children adore.

      One of the toughies will be the language. But children learn so much quicker, so many it’s just myself I’m worried about : )

      • Aw, learning the language will be a non-issue. My oldest is currently learning her seventh language (she’s had to leave many of those behind but it’s the seventh time she’s learning a new language — and she’s speaking four of them almost every day!).

    • Andie — Just to visit, or to move back? Email me… I’m curious. :)

  6. Your post is very inspiring. No great ideas here, but I really like reading what you and others have to say. We’re hoping a few years down the road to at least manage a semester abroad, and I think your ideas, especially about how to communicate and craft how it fits into our family values and mission will come in handy.

  7. Great advice!

    We are currently considering sort of an opposite move. My oldest has been abroad since she was two and my youngest has always lived abroad (four countries in eight years). They have always been the minority, living in a world where language-learning was a sink-or-swim deal. Now we’re considering a move back to France — close to family, close to our holiday home on the coast, and, most importantly, back in our own culture and language. And then — yes, a big downsize since we will no longer benefit from our expatriate status. We will no longer be able to travel home to the States (my home); we will have a mortgage and a new monthly rent to pay (paid here), etc.

    I know my oldest doesn’t want to go. In fact, there was a recent tragedy at her school when a boy had to move back home to Germany. She just this year found her “place” in the world and now she’ll have to leave. Your advice is wonderful. I could think of all the things she would be gaining (regular access to mangas being a big one!) but I hadn’t thought of many of your tips. Thanks!

  8. What a wonderfully well written post. I find much of this inspiring, and I’m not even moving! Change is a constant though, and what you write here can help me (and us all!) embrace whatever changes come my (our) way, with the grace and thoughtful consideration you demonstrate through sharing your own life and experiences.

    Thanks Renee! I’ll be printing this one out for my inspiration file for sure :)

    (and best of everything with your move :))

  9. I’m living in Québec. An I’m a french speeking person. Don’t worry about language. You will find people that are able to help you in english if you need to.

    Québec is a great province to visit. There are so many things to see! Good luck with your move!

  10. We are 8 weeks away from leaving the East Coast to move to Alaska. As a family, we are thrilled that our dream is coming true! Due to being a military family, we are used to moving every 2-4 years. We have a good track record for embracing our new community and treating each move as a learning and growth experience. To make the move special this time, we are driving cross country and taking a month to visit landmarks we have never seen before and to spend special time with family.

    Thank you for such a great post! My children are almost 13 and 10 so this will be the first time that leaving close friends might be an issue. I feel as though I now have a few more ideas in my back pocket to help this move be a success.

  11. We recently moved from Brooklyn to a small town in Texas outside of Austin — from a 3 bedroom apartment (albeit with a yard) to a house on 3 acres, much of it wooded. It’s a big change. Our kids were 2 and 5 at the time of the move, so not much “getting on board” was necessary, but we definitely emphasized the advantages (more ability to play outside, more contact with family) to our 5 yo. We did try to make the move before he started kindergarten, so he’d wouldn’t have to make that transition. Anyway, all this to say that I enjoyed this post and imagine it will come in handy in the future. I’m already considering transitioning us to a more vegetarian lifestyle, so perhaps I can apply some of these ideas!

  12. During the past year our family has changed in that we have experienced a divorce. Obviously the change was very hard and yet we seem to be weathering it. Just this week my oldest (only six) said, “Mommy, it’s okay now. I still get to see Daddy lots and we’re doing good! I think he sensed more than I wish about how strained thing were before our separation.

    One thing that has consistently come up is how much he loves his room. For him that is his retreat, safe place, personal domain! I love the idea of the individual trunks that someone mentioned above – such treasure! When big changes are happening, I think it helps to keep some focus on what is remaining consistent: family traditions, love, personal keepsakes or even a bedroom like my little guy.

  13. I have really enjoyed following your family on this journey so far -and reading about your thought process along the way.

  14. Thanks so much! We’re new missionaries just about to head to Uganda (praying for May) with a 4 yo and a 2 1/2 yo. This post was helpful and encouraging!

  15. This past summer, my family and I went through a “debfriefing” conference to help us transition from overseas living back to the States. One thing the children’s director encouraged us in was to let our daughter fully cross the “transition bridge.” By this, she meant to let Tate fully experience the mourning, the homesickness, the excitement, the loneliness, the awkwardness, and whatever else she may be feeling. To not water it down for her, or to try to push her too quickly through one of her necessary phases. if we do this, either because it’s uncomfortable for us or because it pains us to see her hurting, then we’re attaching a bungee cord to her waist and tying the other end to the side of the bridge we left. She won’t get too fully leave that side and move to the other — as soon as she makes some progress, she’ll go ricocheting back.

    I thought that was extremely helpful advice. Even though it’s a bear to endure, allowing Tate to fully mourn and miss our former home, it’s been easier for her to embrace where we are right now as a family, and to trust us in making future decisions.

    Great, great post, Renee! I loved reading it. Chock full of wisdom.

    • Thank you so much for this insight Tsh. I like my children to be happy and content (sometimes for selfish reasons since I think it reflects well on my parenting) so I tend to try and make bad feelings go away.
      I really needed to hear this part about letting children fully experience the mourning. I’ve been trying to do that lately. There have been some tears as we get closer to the actual date. I need to bear with my children through those transitions. Let them feel those emotions and not make them go away. Though I hate to see them hurt!
      I appreciate you sharing your wisdom from your own experience. We all have so much we can learn from each other – it’s great.

  16. True about starting young when they don’t know the difference!

  17. Love seeing you share here in this space, Renee.

    The insights you share apply to so many of us in different ways, even if we’re not preparing for a huge transition!

  18. avatar
    Rita Gleason says:

    I loved this post.

  19. For years we lived basically on one income. When my kids got older, in their teens, I went back to work and eventually got a great job with awesome pay. We lived like that for 2 years. ANd the 2 youngest got spoiled, but especially the baby. Well I had to leave that job last summer. It was a high stress corporate position and it tooks its toll on me in many ways. I will not be returning to that type of paying job at anytime soon. So we have had to adjust. The younger one had gotten spoiled to mom handing her cash and taking her shopping. Of paying for her gas. And now it just isn’t possible. It has been difficult for her, but she is almost 18. It is a lesson she needs to learn anyway.
    I agree wholeheartedly that if you do want to make major life changes that you do it when the kids are younger!
    Bernice

  20. avatar
    Marilyn Holeman says:

    When my children were young (8, 6, 5, and 3) we moved into a small house (605 square feet.) Our goal was to be out of debt as quickly as possible, and my husband had a good paying job. We made payments on the mortgage with every paycheck. He put a piece of masking tape all the way through the length of the house. Every time we made a payment, the kids got to cut off a length of tape, to see how much of the house we “owned.” Sometimes, when we made a payment, we couldn’t cut any tape, because that was the interest. That was a graphic way for the kids to learn about mortgages and debt. We celebrated when we finally owned the bathroom–and had a mortgage burning party when the house was paid for. When they were teenagers, we added on to the home. (And when I say “we” it was our family who did it, with some help from knowledgeable friends–and lots of research!) Now they are adults, and all are believers in staying out of debt.

  21. What a great post! I’ll be reposting this one! Only one of my kids is exiting the toddler years, so we’re really only in the beginning stages of involving their interests, skills, and intelligence into family changes, but I completely agree with you that making sure we are all on the same page is helpful not only making the journey easier but more enjoyable.

  22. What a great post Renee. Change in family life, however great, is a constant, but there are some decisions about parenting style that are fundamental – thank you for your insights!

  23. Your post is very inspiring and act as a reminder not to wait until our children are older to do what we want to do. Also, my kids are toddlers but I was wondering about homeschooling, the cons I was up against are my abilities to do it and how to have a close friend circle.

    I put it all in my agenda, it’s good to do a check-up once in a while.

    Congrats and welcome in Québec (I live there too) ! It’s a gorgeous place you’ve chosen, independant people, community life…

  24. This is a great timely message for me. We are embarking on a life change. While maybe not as drastic as the ones you’ve mentioned, it is definitely life-altering for us. I’m leaving paid employment after seven years, and we are downsizing to a one-income simple lifestyle. It means sacrifices for all of us. We are moving to a much smaller house (975 square feet for a family of four), cutting back on all the “extras”, and we may even end up going down to one car. We started out by talking with our oldest daughter who is seven and asking her opinion throughout the process of making this decision. She’s been on board the whole way, and she’s excited about when Mommy finally comes home for good. Thanks for the encouragement that I’m on the right track!

    Also, interestingly enough, I was homeschooled from grade 4 on. My daughter attends public school. I understand your comment about it being easier to make these changes when your kids aren’t plugged into a school and peer group. For personal reasons, I want my daughter to continue to attend her public school, but I do think it would be easier to make these changes if she wasn’t in a traditional school setting.

  25. This is a great post, Renee. You always have good advice. I have such young kids that I’m just trying to get through daily life right now, but you always make me think about the future and how I hope to shape it for my children.

  26. You have wonderful things to say here, Renee! Thank you for taking the time to share this. I will be bookmarking this for future reference as my husband works in higher education and we live our lives on the brink of change:)

  27. My husband and I recently signed up for a financial class. My hope is that by learning to live debt free our children will not make the same mistakes we did. Since major changes are going to take place I’m glad we have a class full of people for group discussion and encouragement. It is a relief to admit “our” way is not working and that we want to change our lives for our children.

  28. Thank you again for sharing wonderful words Renee. I really like how you pointed out being your children’s primary influence. That is the way our family has been moving towards to in the last few years. It’s easier said than done, but so worth it.
    The mantra in our home during a major transition (moving) “take one day at a time”. Some days require us to take it one hour at a time. :)

  29. Great post Renee!

    You know I’ve been following your family’s journey and the challenge of uprooting older kids never really dawned on me until now. We made the big leap when our oldest was three and our second was a newborn. This of course presents another whole host of challenges, but was easy in terms of bringing the kids along.

  30. This was a very timely post. My husband was recently laid off. One of the first things we did was to re-institute weekly family meetings to get the children involved with our family’s survival. They understand the new frugality and that some changes might be inevitable (such as the younger two going to public school). Hopefully, if the kids feel involved, they will weather the stress and changes better.

  31. Wonderful post renee. I have a lot to learn from your experience and wise words. I myself am starting with finances and changes in spending. There is so much we can do differently here. My daughter will be a stronger woman for it.

    I did want to mention that your comment about adopting a child and rescuing them from poverty and extreme suffering struck a negative chord with me. I am an adoptive mom. While the words sound noble (and I think you meant them in the most positive way) I whole heartedly believe a person should adopted a child because they want to love the child, not because they want to save a child. There is a difference.

    Sometimes a person’s “heroic intentions” lack the true depth of what it takes to do the very things you mention we can do to create positive lives for our children. It can easily become “look what I’ve done to save a child” vs. here’s my beautiful child.

    Blessings on your venture north. You and your husband seem solidly grounded, even though your earth is moving at this time.

  32. Loved this post, Renee. Great job! We have several decision-making crossroads on the horizon, and with kids, ages 14, 11, and 2, I appreciated all of your tips on the importance of including everyone’s input!

  33. A timely post. We are in the process of relocating 5 hours away. The house settles on April 6 and we will then be debt free. Our kids are 5 and 7 and the 5yo is the one who says we are ruining his life, the 7yo is keen to go (must be like his mum). We are downsizing, going back to renting, starting a new job (me – I started 3 weeks ago and have been coming home on weekends – will be glad when that is over) and DH entering fulltime study for ministry, so lots of things are happening.
    They are both starting to downsize their stuff and are looking forward to their first winter of snow. A new school may be a bit daunting for the younger one as he’s had the same friends since daycare, the older one who has changed schools between Kinder and Year 1, isn’t phased at all. They will be away from grandparents for the first time (they travel alot tho so we can go weeks without seeing them now – they are over in Canada at the moment).
    We will be able to spend more time as a family unit, me without the burden of shiftwork (nurse), hubby without the burden of 50 hour work weeks and church ministry and management and study and after school parenting all rolled into one – just take out work and management I suppose – and the boys without satellite TV as a constant distraction. Mr5 wants to play tennis and Mr7 baseball, both of these would mean excessive travelling away from where we are now living, in the country town we are moving to, everything is 5 minutes away. Now just have to find somewhere to live (rentals are in short supply)!
    So thank you! It is great to see other families doing this and thanks for the advice.

  34. Looks like this post is timely for so many of us :) Our family is in a holding pattern right now while we wait for our house to sell, and then we will be moving to another state, with the closest family being a two day drive away. Your post has encouraged me about the move and how great it will be for our family. You’ve also encouraged me not to underestimate my kiddos – my oldest will be 7 this summer, but I think I’ve been addressing the move with her like she’s just a toddler and along for the ride! Wonderful post, Renee, thank you for sharing!

  35. Renee,
    We’ve undergone a year of massive change. We’ve moved multiple times, had another baby, my husband was laid off, and more. Now we are settling in to our new life in our 90 year old farmhouse and restoring everything to be a working organic farm once again.
    So far, whether through these changes, or just the normal everyday ups and downs, I find that my attitude is key to how they react. If I can be positive, they will weather it all fine, or at least a lot better. When I am discouraged and whiny, so are they. :)
    Love your site! As we are now a mile from national forest land, I hope to get us all up and hiking again soon. It’s a bit cold here (!) to hike with the baby, but give us a few months and we’ll be up and running, or hiking as the case may be!

  36. while i think its important to have a good attitude its also important to recognize and acknowledge with them, that sometimes change is hard. and we don’t always have to like it. but we can make the best of any situation.

    a few changes we had to make – we had to sell our house and move in with family. the way I tried to make this easier is even though we are living in someone else’s home, I have a few things of ours – our bedding, his books, his toys.

    it was also hard for him to move daycare providers when back at our old place. we kept in touch with our previous caregiver and visited when we could.

    sometimes we both sit there say how much we miss our old house. how we’d like our own place. and then we talk about what is good now. everyday.

  37. I took notes in my journal on your suggestions, Renee, and appreciate the insight and thought that went into this post. Best of luck to your family!

  38. Great tips, Renee! My husband is in the middle of a career change and currently away for 14 weeks of training. When he is done, he will hopefully get a job – but we don’t know when or where. Knowing that change is coming, but not knowing what or when has been difficult. My girls (7 & 5) know that Daddy is going to school and will get a new job, but they don’t understand what changes might occur. And I feel inadequate at preparing them, since I don’t know what is coming either.

    We talk about other families and what their lives are like. Where does their daddy work? What kind of schedule does he have? (We went through 4 months of him working nights before he went off to school.) Do they have to be quiet while their Daddy sleeps, too? My hope is that by talking about how other families live with different circumstances and make it work, they will be open to change when the time comes. Maybe they can say, “Oh, Madelyn’s family does that, too.”

    I guess only time will tell!

  39. Renee,
    Thanks so much for this article. I must have come upon it from a more recent post at your blog, but it was timely for my family. We’ve been in Istanbul Turkey for the last four years and will be moving back to the states this June. Lots of transition ahead and our 8 and 6 year olds are both excited, sad and a bit scared. You’ve given us some good things to think about as we move into this time of transition. Thanks much!

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