Involving kids in living ethically

How do you persuade your kids to get rid of the mountain of soft toys they are rapidly accumulating? This is a question I’ve been asked time and time again.

Over the last few years I’ve slowly found ways of engaging our children in the process of simplifying and living more intentionally and ethically. Unfortunately the hard work had to start with me! I’ve had to make changes, the kind of changes that are uncomfortable, the kind of changes that made just throwing some of the soft toys out look like a very easy option!

I couldn’t ask my daughter to start going through her clothes until I’d gone through mine. Reducing their screen time wouldn’t have made sense without reducing mine. How could I suggest skipping a playdate for some much needed rest time if I was packing out my own diary? In many ways that’s been the biggest game-changer, as our children have seen us make choices to reduce and live more simple, generous lives it has kick-started the process for them. In doing that, we are slowly reframing what ‘normal’ looks like for our family.

From that starting place, here’s a few things we have found helpful in bringing simplicity and a more intentional way of living to our family. Your kids might be totally different to mine but hopefully my ideas will spark creativity and even better ideas of what would work in your family.

Their world

Kid’s worlds are small, I mean really small! One of my favourite little people was asked by her mum last week how many people she thought there were in the world, her answer…four! Helping our children experience people, places and situations that are different to their world is so valuable.

  • Build routines
    Whenever I take the kids shopping (which let’s face it I try to avoid at all costs!) I try to remember to get them to choose something for the Foodbank collection point. My husband also previously volunteered at a Foodbank with our daughter before she started school. Simple ways to start little conversations about the food we have in our cupboards and how that’s not the case for everyone.
  • Find a bigger perspective
    For our family travelling to different places where people’s lives look totally different from ours has been really life-giving and life-challenging. I sincerely hope that when they grow up they will remember queing to pump water with locals in Uganda or sitting in a simple mud-hut eating rice. Or course these experiences were a once-in-a-lifetime one but it’s made me more determined that our children’s eyes are open to the world away from their doorstep. Going to museums which have exhibits about different cultures is a fun way to thinking differently about the world. And something as simple as reading this amazing map book has opened up fantastic conversations about what living somewhere else might be like.

Their stuff

As I mentioned earlier the best way I have found to help our children simplify their stuff is for them to see me simplifying mine. We have regular trips to the charity shop to drop off bags of things we don’t need. The idea of removing things certainly isn’t foreign to them.

  • Conquer a clearout
    For the last two years we have initiated a clearout before Christmas and before birthdays. I love building in a rhythm that we give things away before we take things in. We put music on, do a bit of dancing and make ‘keep’ and ‘donate’ piles. They have total control, nothing goes which they want to keep, that way I’ve found that the experience isn’t a negative one of ‘mummy getting rid of my stuff’ – that would suck!
  • Bless a smaller friend
    It helps my children to know who will be the recipient of their excess or unneeded things particularly clothes. When my daughter has grown out of something or doesn’t wear a particularly item I ask her ‘who do you think might like to wear this?’. She’s always excited to be able to give things to her younger friends and loves to see her clothes getting a second outing.

Their choices

I’m acutely aware that I’m raising tiny consuming machines. Helping them navigate their own consumption habits is a challenge.

  • Keep it local

    Early on in the life of this blog I did a milk taste test. We found that we all much preferred our locally produced milk. Our children love going to the shop to buy a bottle. In fact it’s hard for us to go in without buying milk. I had one embarrassing moment where I had to forcefully remove a child from the shop who was screaming ‘I want more milk’ at the top of their voice. Our local veg box has also been a brilliant source of conversations , particularly around why everything ‘looks dirty’!

My journey towards ethical, simple living has been slow, my children’s journey will be equally slow and will be their own. But hopefully the small steps we take together will give them foundations from which to make their own choices in the future.

Would love to hear how you have found involving your children in ethical living.