I have seen Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids recommended in every online parenting group I am a part of – regardless of the group’s philosophy. I put it on my reading list and was thrilled to find it in a local library. I took it along on our road trip and managed to finish it up shortly thereafter.
Kim John Payne offers a lot of ways to simplify family life and let kids just be kids. Some things I had heard before, like “Get rid of most of the toys.” But some really made me think. He explains the “less is more” principle, that you can’t appreciate something (a toy, for example, or even a book) when it’s buried under a mound of similar items. This extends beyond physical items though and into scheduling and information intake. So many kids today are over-scheduled and don’t have time to just…play, and be kids. (Which, by the way, is SUPER IMPORTANT from a development standpoint. Parents put their kids in all kids of sports, activities, and lessons with the goal of challenging kids, or giving them some kind of academic edge – when the absolute best thing you can do from a brain development standpoint is give your kids plenty of unstructured free time for self-directed play.)
Environment: Payne starts by recommending several toy purges, which is probably good for most families. Including ours. This is what I want our playroom to look like:
But this is more like it:
I had already removed quite a few toys from our play area but after reading this book I am determined to move more out. We still have more things available to play with than the kids can keep tidied up (apparently), which means we have too many. We’ll just keep taking stuff out til they can keep it reasonably tidy on their own. (Don’t worry, while some of it is getting donated, we’ll have plenty of things to rotate in and out.) Payne also included books in the environment category, which gave me pause. I always thought you could never have to many books, but he pointed out that having a ton of books can be sensory overload for kids. I pared down what is out/available (once again, we will be rotating) so now there are a few spots in the house with around 10 kid books. We’ll switch them out to keep things fresh and interesting. Clothes are up next. We are doing pretty well on this front, at least with The Boy. I don’t think The Girl has too much, necessarily, but she definitely has more than The Boy – because she has all his hand-me-downs plus the girl-specific things people buy for her. There is also a short section about scent and lighting, so that your home’s overall environment is peaceful.
Rhythm: This section is about having routines and rituals. Babies and children really thrive on predictable routines. I think we are doing all right in this area, although we perhaps could use a little more structure in our daily rhythm. I thought this chapter could be particularly beneficial to very busy families because Payne has a lot of ideas on how routines can be worked into hectic, busy lives. He gives examples of families he has worked with who have very busy, stressful schedules and ideas they have come up with to provide predictability for their kids. He also uses this section to discuss simplifying tastes (eliminating processed, sugary foods) as well as healthy sleep habits.
Schedules: Here Payne discusses the activities a child may be involved in (and how fewer activities are better than lots). Boredom is fertile ground in which the seeds of creativity flourish. Fewer activities means more anticipation surrounding the ones you do select, and greater enjoyment of those activities. Lots of activities just leads to stress. He recommends planning calm, regular days around busy ones, and I have seen how much better my own kids do when we don’t have busy days stacked next to each other. He also has a very thought-provoking section about organized sports. We haven’t gotten there yet but The Husband has started talking about getting The Boy started in sports, so I found this part very interesting. He goes in-depth with the differences between organized sports and free play, both brain development as well as physical. Free play (including neighborhood pick-up games) involves problem-solving, rule-making, negotiating, creativity, and tends to be more varied; organized sports is about learning pre-determined rules and specialized skills. He also describes the rise in overuse injuries among children and adolescents, due in large part to beginning organized sports at a young age and spending so much time training for a particular sport. He says children under 8 should be involved in free play rather than organized sports.
Filtering Out the Adult World: Since we don’t have a TV, I wasn’t expecting to glean a lot from this section. Payne does talk about reducing (or better, eliminating) TV and screen time here and how kids benefit. Then, he shares a story of a workshop he gave and a parent asked him, “Why did Laura and Mary do what Pa said?” I HAVE ALWAYS WONDERED THIS. Payne’s answer: Pa didn’t say too much. Payne says there’s no need for parents to talk as much as so many of us do – no need to expound upon the child’s own observation, no reason to make every moment into an opportunity to teach or even something “special.” Often, quiet attentiveness is enough. (For example, I turned around to the backseat last week and saw that my kids were holding hands. Rather than gushing about how sweet it was, I let them enjoy their moment together. And I took several pictures on my phone that they know nothing about.) Not narrating every moment of every day makes the things you do say more weighty, which hopefully provides some benefits in the discipline department. Next up is filtering out adult topics. Most parents don’t discuss their sex lives in front of their kids; that is not what Payne means – he is referring more to adult emotional problems, like such as disliking a co-worker or other adult interpersonal problems, worries over money – things a child isn’t really capable of understanding. I do think we’ve let a bit too much of this in, in the hope of being honest or authentic with our kids. Payne points out that it’s not “sharing” when the other party (in this case, a child) isn’t capable of equal and mutual exchange. I am hoping we can find a balance between being honest and sparing our children adult worries.
I think Simplicity Parenting is a GREAT book and I have added it to the Parenting section of the store on my resource page. I loved and agreed with many of the things Kim John Payne had to say in this book and I highly recommend it.