I think it goes without saying that our children are not growing up in simple times. The pace is frenetic, the stuff is plentiful, the schedules are cluttered. Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids is a practical book exploring both the why and how of creating a simplified environment and lifestyle for children.
Kim John Payne begins the book by making a compelling argument for the need for a simplified life. He says, “ Too much stuff leads to too little time and too little depth in the way kids see and explore their worlds.” He goes on to share examples from his years in education and counseling where simplified environments and schedules alleviated problems when other methods failed. Of all the things he writes in Simplicity Parenting, this is perhaps the most important reason to take action: “Simplification establishes an unspoken emphasis on relationship.”
And in the end, it’s our relationship with our kids that we most want to cultivate.
With that in mind, he argues for simplifying in four different areas: environment, rhythm, schedules and filtering out the adult world. The following are a few tips adapted from the book.
Reduce the toy selection. Payne argues for removing toys that don’t have staying power. This includes broken toys, developmentally inappropriate toys (that you’re waiting for them to grow into or that they’ve grown out of), high stimulation toys and toys that can not be adapted for creative play.
If you can’t bear to get rid of more toys, rotate some in and out by storing a box or two at a time. I’ve personally found this increases the novelty of toys, and thus, the interest in them.
Increase rhythm. Structure is simplifying. Children like to know what happens next, and if things are predictable, they are more likely to adjust through each day’s natural transitions smoothly. A set, predictable rhythm can simplify things for the whole family. Letting each parent have specific roles on a daily basis allows children to know what to expect and creates a break for other parent. For example, in our house Dada is designated tubby giver, which is part of their daily nighttime routine. (Payne suggests that many sleeping and eating issues are a result of a child wielding control where they can. He argues that making life more predictable and controlled will result in the child letting go of control with these often difficult issues.)
Balance schedules. Looking at a wider picture of time, it’s important to create a balance. Payne suggests that if a child has a busy day or two, then the following day or two should be very unstructured and calm, a normal day at home with increased rest. Ultimately, he argues for more down-time, suggesting that children need to learn the skill of working through – and in – boredom.
Stop the flow of unobstructed influence. Payne’s primary call for filtering out the adult world is for reduced screen time. While I don’t think all television or tablet or smart phone use is bad, I think it’s a good idea to be actively aware of what kids are being exposed to, even if the exposure seems passive.
Overall, Simplicity Parenting is a call to be countercultural, to resist the urge that more is better or that our kids need a plethora of programs to get an edge in this upward-mobility obsessed culture. If you take a few of his suggestions or all of them, I believe that simplifying our lives for our children will create more room for a blooming relationship with them.
And that’s really what matters.