What parent doesn’t want calmer, happier, more secure kids? Internationally renowned family consultant Kim John Payne believes parents can use the extraordinary power of less to achieve just such a task. The key, according to his book Simplicity Parenting, is no longer building your family on the “four pillars of ‘too much’: too much stuff, too many choices, too much information and too fast.”
Payne writes, “If we’re overwhelmed as adults, imagine how our children feel! Whichever came first – too many choices or too much stuff – the end result of both is not happiness.” Essentially, Simplicity Parenting argues that until parents recognize that “the pace of our daily lives is increasingly misaligned with the pace of childhood” our children will fall victim to this war that’s been waged on their childhood.
While one traumatic event can’t be pinpointed for most children’s anxiety, Payne believes “that there were enough of the little stresses, a consistent baseline of stress and insecurity, to add up. These little stresses accrue to the point that it makes psychological ‘sense’ for kids to acquire and adopt compensatory behaviors.”
Payne explains, “Home used to be a parochial outpost, and the outside world ‘the big unknown’…Today, ‘the real world,’ in all of its graphic reality, is available for view anytime, anyplace, via the Internet. Our responsibility as gatekeepers is becoming exponentially more difficult even as it’s becoming more critical.” Simplicity Parenting insinuates that modern day parents have forgotten that children come with a destiny that needs to be honored, yet Payne recognizes this is easy to do when “daily life feels more like triage.”
Using the example of children begging parents to read their favorite book over and over again, Payne makes a persuasive case for the “slow planet” that children live on. He argues that when they are being rushed along by too much stuff, speed, or stress, it results in a “soul fever” and that parents must treat this emotional malady much in the same way they would treat a physical one. Give your child time to recover. I thought this was a wonderful idea and agree with Payne who believes, “Most children, no matter what their age, can reset their emotional given two or three quiet days.”
As far as Payne is concerned, “Simplification gives children the ease they need to realign with their true selves, their real age, and with their own world rather than the stress and pressures of the adult world.” His convincing theory is that “too much stuff leads to too many choices” and that “all of these choices are distractions from the natural – and exponential – growth of early childhood.”
Therefore, Payne maintains, parents must start to restore the space and freedom kids need to be kids by streamlining their home environment. “A smaller, more manageable quantity of toys invites deeper play and engagement. An avalanche of toys invites emotional disconnect and a sense of overwhelming.” So both with (and without) your child, clean out their room, focusing on the simple toys that are most likely to endure. Payne suggests you think in terms of “How many toys can your child (depending on their age) put away, by themselves, in five minutes?” This is the amount you should leave easily accessible but not in plain sight.
If your kids’ rooms are at all like mine, even after we’ve thrown out the broken toys and donated the developmentally inappropriate ones, you’re still left with a mountain of stuff. I loved Payne’s suggestion to store the toys that remain in the attic or basement. He says they can become a “sort of toy ‘library’ that the family could draw from provided they replaced one before taking another.” Payne even goes so far as to suggest that you label storage boxes with the name of the gift giver for easy retrieval when grandparents, for example, come to visit.
Simplicity Parenting was so effective in arguing the need to diminish sensory overload I went out today and bought two large storage bins. Although my daughters have done a wonderful job of cleaning out their rooms this summer, the reality is that we are still left with an inordinate amount of clutter. Since my children associate positive memories with these items and I hardly think their tears over giving them away will create more serenity in our home, I’m going to pack them away to limit their distractions.
I’m anxious to see how it goes and look forward to reading more about Payne’s ideas for simplifying parenting – establishing rhythms and rituals; scheduling breaks in our schedule; and scaling back both media and parental involvement. But in the spirit of less is more, those are all blogs for another day.
Read my other blog Befriending Forty.