Should a Child's Room Be a Castle? Let's make sure most of the living is done as a family, not alone!When my children were first born, I did something radical. I didn’t decorate their bedroom.

Part of it was a money issue; we had so little cash, and we were trying to save for a downpayment for a house. I thought putting our money into an apartment sized washing machine would be a far better use of our funds than buying cute little Noah’s Ark wall hangings.

But part of it was also a conscious choice.

I figured they were babies; what did it matter what their rooms looked like, as long as they had a comfortable place to sleep with an interesting mobile above the crib to look at?

So we bought a sturdy crib, a practical change table, and a rocking chair where I could feed them. Everything else was kind of boring. In fact, until my oldest was four we actually stored our Christmas decorations in their room, in a pile in the corner.

Here’s the clincher: I knew that throughout the day, they would be spending most of their time in the family room, not in their bedrooms.

They would need to be where I was; so why put all kinds of money and time into a child’s room that they really only used for sleeping? I wanted to keep the living room in our small house as fun for them as possible, so I often sacrificed some of the comfort in their bedrooms–where they rarely were–for the family space we all shared.

I think modern parents pay far too much attention to children’s rooms. We want to create a fairytale for them, but honestly, how important is that? I have seen 3-year-olds with televisions in their rooms. I have seen six-year-olds with video games and computers in their rooms.

And it’s a big mistake.

When children hit the teenage years, they will need some privacy. Giving them a nice, bright, comfortable room where they can do homework, read, and practice an instrument or something is good.

When they’re 8, they don’t need that. What they do need is an incentive to be with the family.

We spend far too much time in North America cocooning in our own individual places than we do hanging out, all together, in common space.

I respect the urge to try to create a comfortable home for your child; I really do. It is admirable to want to provide for your child and to nurture your child. What I don’t agree with, though, is how our society comes to define “providing for” and “nurturing”. We think that this means that our kids should have access to all the latest gear. Really, I think nurturing our children means giving kids access to each other and to us. They need family far more than they need a television.

What happens when kids have a television in their bedroom?

They sleep less. They gain weight. They score lower on reading and math tests. And perhaps most importantly, they’re more likely to start smoking and get involved in other delinquent activities, even controlling for all other factors.

While the health and educational factors are important, it’s that last one I want to talk about. When kids have televisions and computers in their room, they are more likely to make lifestyle and moral choices that you would not approve of. Why would you want your kids doing that?

And the reason they do that is because their lives have now become more and more separate from you. Kids with TVs in their rooms live in their rooms, not in the kitchen or the family room, where they can hang out with you. And perhaps just as importantly, they tend to live solitary lives, not lives with their siblings. If you’ve ever wondered why our kids squabble so much, perhaps it’s because they aren’t forced to play together or cure boredom together. Instead, they just retreat to their rooms to be entertained on their own.

I really can’t think of anything much more destructive in a family than encouraging your child to coccoon, all without you.

Kids need input from us. They need conversation. They need meal times. They need to have fun! But we’re letting them grow up by themselves, in their wonderfully decorated room with every little gadget. It’s wrong.

This year my family started enforcing family games night. We’ve had it theoretically for years, but somehow other things often intruded: meetings or dinner engagements or kids’ activities. Not so now. It’s every Tuesday night. I’ve stopped accepting speaking engagements on Tuesdays (except this one, because I’m away for a whole week! But my family is playing without me!). The kids don’t work or get together with friends on that night. And that night we have a great dinner, and then pull out the board games and laugh and laugh altogether.

Let’s provide for our kids. Let’s give them a great living environment.

But that environment should not be in their own rooms, where they’re encouraged to spend time far away from the rest of the family.

It should be altogether.

I find that my girls need to talk about the stuff of life, but that conversation usually only comes after we’ve been together for a while. They need to be comfortable opening up. After we’ve been goofing around or chatting or cooking together for a little bit, suddenly out will come this torrent of feelings about friends, or youth group, or their futures, or whatever. But it only comes after that initial bonding time.

Emphasizing family living area over children's individual rooms

If your lives consist mostly of gathering the children for the practical functions of life, like putting food on their plates or collecting homework or ascertaining everybody’s schedules, and then you separate during your leisure times, I doubt that kind of opening up will happen. If your children hang out in their own rooms, rather than in the family room with siblings, I doubt great friendships will develop.

When money is an issue, I think the priority should be making the family room fun for the family, and making the parents’ bedroom inviting for the parents (since the marriage impacts the family, too!). The kids’ bedrooms should come further down the list.

But even if money isn’t an issue, think about the purpose of the different rooms in your home.

Try this thought process: think about how you want your kids to turn out. What values do you want them to have? How do you want them to act?

Now, does your physical home reflect those values, or are you undermining them?

If your kids cocoon, you’re undermining them. And maybe it’s time for a readjustment.

What do you think? Does your family have a central place where you hang out? Where is it?

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