With many of the families and classrooms that I work with, one of the biggest things that the adults want to find a solution to is the way children are interacting in the learning/play environment. Children are being aggressive with each other or with the toys and materials they have. Children seem generally unhappy or have unusually short attention spans. Children aren’t showing any real interests or don’t want to participate in the activities that parents/teachers are setting up for them.

And almost always this can be traced back to one thing – clutter in the environment.

You see, when a space has too much available or feels disorganized, it can cause children to feel overwhelmed, which leads to frustration, disconnect, acting out, or destructive behavior. Clutter can actually trigger a fight or flight response in children (and adults too!) which is the exact opposite of engagement and creativity.

Here are a few signs that your child might be showing you that they’re suffering from an overwhelmed feeling in their environment:

 They act or tell you they’re bored.

“How can they be bored if they have a million things to choose from?” you might ask. It’s the same feeling as when you have 150 things on your to-do list and the thought of even starting with one thing is so overwhelming that you just Netflix and chill instead. Too many options causes overwhelm which causes a mental shutdown.

Note: This is NOT the same as general boredom. Yes, it’s ok for kids to just be bored sometimes – it encourages creativity and resiliency. But if they’re consistently saying they’re bored and there are far too many options available, it’s probably a sign of something deeper.

 There’s tons of sibling rivalry. 

A little bit of spatting is totally normal, but if you feel like you’re living in a WWE reality show lately…. they’re probably feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated. A lot of times in families with multiple children, parents feel the need to offer more toys and opportunities (or an equal number of the same toy/resource for each set of hands) purely because of having more bodies in the space. This is not always necessary and can even add to the chaos. Children learn communication skills, patience, and collaboration when they have to wait to use something or share with someone else. 

 There’s no joy or imagination in their play. 

Maybe they’re playing the same thing over and over again, or perhaps “playing” just looks like a chaotic tossing of things around the room. Whatever the case, when children feel overwhelmed by options, they can actually lose the ability to play in a healthy, creative way. You know the old joke that kids would rather play with the box than the toy that came in it? That’s because the box sparks more imagination than the toy.

 They’re not using their toys and materials in an appropriate way. 

Dumping, destroying, throwing, or other seemingly destructive behaviors towards their possessions is also a clear sign that there is too much available! Repeat after me: Less Is More. 

 Everything is a disaster. 

Obvious one, but if there are piles of clutter everywhere to the point where your child isn’t even able to put it all in its proper spot (or, worse, there isn’t a proper spot for things to even go in the first place), some decluttering and organization is definitely in order!

Is any of this sounding familiar? You’re not alone… and there is a better way.

In my Nature Hack Challenge, we talk all about decluttering our spaces and what happens when our children feel overwhelm from too many options, among other awesome space-transforming things! Come join this free challenge and start your learning space transformation!