Book review/notes: Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne & Lisa M Ross

Title: Simplicity Parenting: using the extraordinary power of less to raise calmer, happier and more secure kids
Author: Kim John Payne, Lisa M. Ross
Edition: Ballantine, 2009

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This is a book that everyone in the developed world, who is living an abundant life characterised by wants rather than needs, should read. It is a short read, a delightfully light and handy book that is tightly composed of consistent parenting principles. The stance is clear, the logic is smooth; it is designed to inspire and guide.

The author identifies the bulk of behavioural problems that are increasingly common today as a condition similar to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) — he coins his own term as “cumulative stress reaction” (p.9). We are all born with some quirk; it is cute and individualistic, until we are put under stress, then it manifests as a disorder.

quirk + stress = disorder (p.24)

Another well-known psychological effect is the stress-regress cycle. (p.178) Stress makes too much cortisol in the brain which limits higher mental processes and regulation.

The goal of the beginning chapters is to establish a common understanding among parents — that we are chiefly concerned about our children’s character-building.

“Building character and emotional resiliency is a lot like developing a healthy immune system. We know that our children need to be exposed to a variety of bugs and viruses in life.” (p.26) We don’t shield or overprotect; we don’t allow them to be permanently dirty either. We keep hygienic practices and take care of our bodies. We need safe and stable contexts to center ourselves.

Coincidentally, as a medical doctor, Maria Montessori brought physical hygiene to children in her care. She taught them how to wash their hands thoroughly. Then, children showed her something new — they were indulging in the activity, washing their hands over and over again, as if they were taking care of ‘psychical hygiene’!

The author is a Waldorf educator, so he may not exactly know of this Montessori antedote; yet, he also acknowledges that deep, uninterrupted play has the same effect as meditation — exactly what the handwashing children needed and did.

This book offers plenty of guidelines on how to achieve psychical hygiene, which in turn builds character and emotional resiliency. Let me summarise them:

Why simplification?

“I sometimes think of simplification as a powerful anti-inflammatory for families. Inflammation is our body’s ‘red alert’, its way of responding to harmful stimuli and irritants… [S]implification can break the cycle of inflammation — the itch for ‘more’, and craving for greater and greater stimulation — that threatens to overwhelm a family’s ‘system’.” (p.214)

Reduce speed, reduce stuff, increase connection. Parent-child and spousal relationships cannot thrive without connection. “With fewer choices, there is freedom to appreciate things — and one another — more deeply.” (p.214)

What is simplification?

Simplify = move away from excess towards balance.

The 4 levels of simplification (p.19)
i. environment (visual)
ii. rhythm (predictability, order)
iii. schedules (becoming unbusy)
iv. filtering out the adult world

How to simplify?

1. Provide deep, uninterrupted and spontaneous play. Self-directed, unstructured play is more important than organised sports (p.157)

Requirements:
– few toys (slash the quantity; quality is irrelevant, p.28)
– open-ended toys (vs over-designed, ‘fixed’ toys, p.65)
– discard toys that don’t fit the 10-point checklist on p.69/below
– do not disturb deep play (p.140)
– reference: the 4 play stages on p.64

10-point checklist of toys without ‘staying power’
i. broken toys
ii. developmental inappropriate toys
iii. conceptually ‘fixed’ toys
iv. toys that ‘do too much’ and break too easily
v. very high stimulation toys
vi. annoying or offensive toys
vii. toys that claim to give your child a developmental edge
viii. toys you are pressured to buy
ix. toys that inspire corrosive play
x. toy multiples

2. A cozy and calming environment, using: damp acoustic and quietness, no smell, beautiful candles, small rituals.

3. Simple tastes, natural foods. Food for nourishment, not for excitement. (p.118)

4. Reject the television. (p.167-175) TV sucks energy, brain development doesn’t happen passively; content contributes to neural hyperstimulation, desensitisation, and affects self-concept.

5. Reject fast-paced novelty. Neural hyperstimulation resulting from the brain focusing on the unfamiliar until it determines safe. (orienting reflex p.171)

6. Reject choice overload. Revisit real needs rather than wants and rising expectations.

7. Reject hyperparenting (p.183).

4 types of overinvolved parents:
i. sportscaster (nonstop illustration)
ii. corporate type (result-driven)
iii. little buddy parent / best friend parent (no boundaries, reflects own loneliness, pushes children to maturity)
iv. clown parent (constant carnival leads to exhaustion and disappointment)

8. Talk less. “The more you say, the less you are listening.” (p.186) “Just notice… quietly bear witness.” (p.187) Children ask for connection, not critique or compliment.

9. Talk right — avoid adult topics and negative talk.

– Do not involve children in every single thing. Do not let adulthood spill over to them. “[R]espect requires some distance and separation.” (p.188) “Too much information does not ‘prepare’ a child for a complicated world; it paralyzes them.” (p.190)
– Do not discuss about feelings until age 10 because children do not have the emotional consciousness and vocabulary to describe and dissect them just yet. End emotional monitoring and hovering. (p.199)

Bottomline

1. “Before you say something, ask yourself these questions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” Necessary means it really is more important than silence. Child’s inner voice can only develop with silence.

2. Protect childhood from “too much, too soon, too fast” (p.160). “[O]nce we cross our kids’ names off the “Race of Childhood” sign-up form, time opens right up. Time for rest and creativity to balance activity; time for contemplation and stimulation, moments of calm in busy days, energies conserved and expended; time for free, unscheduled play, for ordinary days, for interests that deepen over time; time for boredom; and time for the joy and infinite passion of anticipation.” (p.161)

Other parenting suggestions

1. Give strength and hope through stories and tales

2. Read books. Internal imaging gives rise to creative imagination. This is an active, higher form of learning.

3. Choose engagement over stimulation, and activity over passivity. (p.174)

4. Cherish things, anticipate events. You can only do so with Iess. (p.149)

5. Pay attention to the emotions behind your words. Project a general sense of optimism, sometimes by talking less. (p.191)

6. Balance parenting responsibilities by involving the less-involved partner in the kitchen or the bathtub. (p.196)

7. Meals are of prime importance for relationship building. Share meals, rituals, conversations, duties and time at the table.

8. Schedule 2-3 pressure valves at different times each day. Examples of pressure valves: nap, rest time, projects, play, hobbies, sports

9. Create a balanced schedule (p.139)
– Rest –> creativity –> activity –> rest
– If the child had 1 active/crazy day, balance it with 2 calm days (p.145)

10. Embrace boredom. This is where children will find deep inner wells of creativity and resourcefulness. (p.174) This helps them for life.

11. There is a fine line between helpful parenting and hyperconscious parenting. Anxiety is a result of over-watching our children’s development and achievement. (p.201) A lot of it is fuelled by society. Reject them.

12. Trust is the theme of childhood. (p.190)

13. Remind yourself each evening of who your child is, rather than what’s next to achieve. (p.202)