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Reading 2012: Simplicity Parenting

April 3, 2012

Having worked with children from war-torn regions of Asia who were dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Kim John Payne was surprised to see many of the same external markers and symptoms in children of fast-paced, Western cultures.

In Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kidsauthors Kim John Payne and Lisa Ross look at how the ever growing push for too much, too fast, too soon is ultimately working to cripple today’s children, rather than give them the “step ahead” that many of today’s frenetic, busy parents hope for.


The authors break the book up into six main chapters:

  • One: Why Simplify?
  • Two: Soul Fever
  • Three: Environment
  • Four: Rhythm
  • Five: Schedules
  • Six: Filtering Out the Adult World
In Chapter One, the authors look at a definition of simplicity. In Chapter Two, they show how living at a frenetic pace and one lacking consistency can result in what they define as “soul fever” in our children. Much like we would rearrange our schedules and change our treatment of a child who is clearly sick, we need to recognize some of the signs and symptoms of a little life suffering from a life lived constantly at full-throttle.
Chapter Three gives helpful insight into how a cluttered, stressful environment can help or hinder our children’s development, looking at both physical and emotional environments. The authors cover what items are important to keep and what is likely just adding to the growing mountain of toys and books. Chapter Four and Five are very helpful in looking at the rhythms and schedules of daily life and how that affects children. From the title, some may think that the authors are asking parents to remove their children from any stress or difficult situation; nothing could be further from the truth. Here, these helpful chapters discuss how the consistency of normal and daily family rhythms help children learn (especially in the midst of normal stress) that home is a safe place to come to, that even in the midst of difficult times they are reassured that some parts of life will continue to operate and flow.
Chapter Six covers many of the ways in which parents knowingly or unknowingly attempt to push their children to see all the adult struggles and trials of life before they are ready. The authors recommend that parents be discerning in what they share with their children, be it through television, adult conversations, or books with too much violence or emotional struggle. They see the importance of emotional intelligence and the need for children to develop such intelligence at a healthy pace.
The authors look at both cluttered spaces and cluttered schedules in a variety of areas and show how too much can overwhelm children (and adults), and then give practical wisdom on how to cut back on the excess in our lives. The book also looks at how too many choices can actually make it harder to make the best decisions (especially in childhood, when this skill has not had time to naturally develop), and how fewer  choices generally leave us more confident, satisfied with the choices we make, and tend to keep us from wanting more, more, more.
My Considerations
By far, this book is now one of my top picks for books on parenting. While there were a few things in which I’d take a different stance or approach, overall I thoroughly enjoyed and agreed with the vast majority of the book. It is one I’d recommend to anyone raising a child in a Western culture. This is definitely a book we will return to again as we flow from season to season and the rhythms of our family change.
The book aspect was affirming in many of the choices our family is already making and the direction we’ve begun to head of the past few years. Simultaneously, it was also challenging and helpful to consider areas in which we may be overwhelming ourselves and our children and has given us a good number of practical tools by which to measure the flow of too much, too fast, too soon.
I realized over the past year or so that our girls had far too many choices in toys and then clothes, but this helped me see how even books can become cluttered and overwhelming (or anything we think “they can never have too much of that good thing”). I was also helped to see some advice in simplifying menu plans. We also try to involve our girls in some of the household work, but this encouraged me to let our girls take a more active role. One area that we’ve worked on more since reading the book is having our girls be more involved with meal prep, setting the table, and cleaning up afterwards. I was rather taken aback with how much it helped the transition to mealtime because they felt ownership and involvement in this area.
While not written for or from a Christian perspective, I was certainly drawn to many familiar Biblical principles behind much of what this book was promoting. In a culture of affluence, I think it’s very easy to see we have a problem. The book was helpful in seeing some of the long-term effects of such affluence, both on us as parents, and as children. It’s also easy to allow workaholism to wear the mask of “good Christian work ethic,” and to forget the discipline of rest — an area in which it is easy to think that God’s fame and success depend on us, rather than specifically making effort to rest — showing both our trust in God and a recognition of our human frailty. Additionally, this is a reminder that as parents, we can use our parental power/authority to empower our children to make their own wise choices and actions, and this book has many helpful insights as how to do so appropriately within a culture that pushes the opposite.

The book is rich, and there is far too much to share here without making this review seem overwhelming and lacking simplicity. It is highly likely that this take on simplicity will flow into many other realms of my life as well, and into aspects I may share on simplifying our home.


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  • Anonymous April 3, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    “empower” your kids? Huh. That’s definitely a new one on me. You might try looking at the Bible instead of secular parenting books. But clearly you decided to leave the Bible out of your parenting when you made it known to the world that you don’t believe the Bible commands you to spank your kids. But for the sake of the rest of those wishing to do right by your children, may I remind everything that the ultimate foundation of christian patenting is the establishment of authority roles in the home. This begin on day one and is the ultimate form of truly simple parenting. Your in charge. Kids aren’t. Pretty simple, huh?! You don’t have to spank on day one to do this, but you better find a way to start training babies in this while they are just days and weeks old. And when they seem to resist, the spanking and lessons through pain had better start fast and furious. There is a reason the Bible commands painful discipline–it works and it cleanses us.

    I am do sick of this junk passed off as wisdom.

    • Keren April 4, 2012 at 2:41 pm

      Authority is certainly a part of parenting, but it is by no means the core component. Nor is there anything to indicate that this is the aspect of parenting that needs to be emphasized at the expense of all others.

      I think I’ve mentioned this before, but the Bible doesn’t always give us the exact, specifics and how-to’s of parenting that we sometimes are tempted to read into it. This is part of the sufficiency of Scripture and the fact that God has given us His Word in a way that can apply to all people, of all places, of all times. Thus, I don’t see the Bible as teaching many of the things you claim it to.

      I by no means have a full picture of the parenting spectrum, nor do I know what it is like to go through the various ages and stages. (I’m not trying to give specific advice, either–things that may sound good now may be lended some perspective of the fuller picture years from now.) There are so, so many areas in which I must plead for God’s daily wisdom and guidance (and rescue!) on a daily basis. But there are still aspects of teaching out there for which even non-parents can evaluate and hold up to Scripture–and saying that painful discipline “cleanses us” is one that brings me concern. Only Christ can fully cleanse us.

      • Janelle April 5, 2012 at 3:34 pm

        I appreciate your explanation on this. I know you’ve gotten a lot of comments on the subject, and some have been deleted and some you respond to.

        But, in regards to your response, I have to share this excerpt from Shepherding a Child’s Heart:

        “The disobedient child has moved outside the place of covenant blessing. The parent must quickly restore the child to the proper relationship with God and the parent. As the child returns to the circle of blessing, things go well for him. He enjoys long life.” (page 135)

        Also, on page 115, Ted Tripp says this: “The rod returns the child to the place of blessing.”

        In looking through your posts, I’m not seeing you writing much about this or even writing that you don’t spank, but curious as to what you would say to this. Aren’t these kind of indicating that a parent can temporarily cleanse a child through the use of spanking?

        Also, I don’t agree with the above commenter’s tone, but don’t you think that authority is a primary part of parenting, and the most important thing for the youngest children to learn? Ted Tripp seems to think so, too.

        He says ” “The most important lesson for the child to learn in this period is that he is an individual living under authority.”

        • Erika April 5, 2012 at 7:53 pm

          Janelle, you might want to just sit back and look at the quotes you shared. It’s kind of scary that such an esteemed Christian expert on parenting would say those–I hope those aren’t REALLY in the book. (And if so, why aren’t people saying anything about that!!) It’s a bit scary, because they seem to be so dogmatic, yet I’ve not seen those sort of teachings in the Bible.

        • Keren April 5, 2012 at 11:05 pm

          Thanks for commenting, Janelle.

          I love the concept behind (and the title of) the book “Shepherding a Child’s Heart,” but have some major concerns with some parts of the book. The author seems to makes some logical and exegetical leaps and assumptions in various portions of the book. The quotes you shared here represent some of the major ones.

          While it has been at least 5 years since I have read the book in its entirety, here are links to a few articles online that I believe would specifically address the quotes you shared:

          1. “One Mom’s Look at Shepherding a Child’s Heart.”
          2. “Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart”
          3. “Tedd Tripp in Shepherding a Child’s Heart on the “How” of Spanking”

          Perhaps at some point in the future I’ll address my concerns with the book, but in short I’ll say I fear he is reckless in his use of Scripture and the way he spiritualizes elements that are never mentioned in Scripture. This is dangerous anytime, but particularly in within parenting books, as young parents are particularly culpable and in a more vulnerable season of life (myself included).

          “The disobedient child has moved outside the place of covenant blessing. The parent must quickly restore the child to the proper relationship with God and the parent. As the child returns to the circle of blessing, things go well for him. He enjoys long life.”

          “The rod returns the child to the place of blessing.”

          (I started to write out some thoughts on this, but the first article I’ve linked to probably does a better job on this. I do think spanking can tend to feel cathartic to some people, and thus feel like the guilt is gone. But ultimately, only Christ can cleanse us. He has already accepted our punishment. When there is discipline (which, to clarify, discipline should not be conflated with spanking) in parenting, the goal should be more toward teaching/training, not punishment. Nor is discipline only a consequence–discipline should be taking place as part of teaching/training, but that is a rabbit trail for this response, entirely.)

          “The most important lesson for the child to learn in this period is that he is an individual living under authority.”

          Without context (or taking time to look for this in my copy), I’m not sure what period this is referring to, but I do not see this emphasis laid out in Scripture or even connected with parenting. If he’s going to make such a statement in a book that claims to be Biblical parenting, clarification needs to be given parents are walking away from the book thinking this is of such grave importance.

          (Additionally, Tripp suggests that spanking should be used on infants. This is disconcerting at best, but perhaps something that many people who read the book have already become desensitized to? And, of course, there are additional areas of concern I have about the book.)

          • Keren April 5, 2012 at 11:31 pm

            (I also thought I’d add that I deleted your duplicate comment–I’m assuming this is where you were intending to comment since it was your second, and the other location didn’t seem to be in response to other commenter’s statements.)

          • Chelo April 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm

            I appreciate these links you gave.. Am definitely pondering and prayerfully reading lately. Needing God’s wisdom about this topic.

          • Naomi September 30, 2012 at 9:26 am

            “When there is discipline (which, to clarify, discipline should not be conflated with spanking) in parenting, the goal should be more toward teaching/training, not punishment. ”
            Just to clarify for those who haven’t read Tripp, I don’t think Keren means to imply that Tripp says discipline is for the purpose of punishment. He *very clearly* states that it is NOT for punishment, but rather for correction and restoration. Of various aspects of punishment, he says “What I have just described is not discipline. It is punishment. It is ungodly child abuse.” He is also careful to define discipline as an expression of love. Citing both Proverbs 13:24, and Rev. 3:19.

  • Anonymous April 3, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    And sick of all your “love” talk. That is not the hellfire and brimstone preaching our world needs right now.

    • Keren April 4, 2012 at 2:31 pm

      I have to admit, Jesus’ discourses (and other passages) on love are rather startling. If I’m sharing them frequently, perhaps it’s because this year, especially, I’m realizing how powerful His statements are and how much they are needed in my life, particularly this one in Matthew 22:37-40:

      37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    • Erika April 5, 2012 at 7:53 pm


      • Erika April 5, 2012 at 7:54 pm

        (The “wow” was in response to the anonymous comment, in case anyone was wondering.)

  • Chelo April 4, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    that is a powerful passage, Keren. I have been challenge to thing deeply on reading your posts 🙂 Thank you for sharing your thoughts and what God has been teaching you. You are an encouragement to me to be thoughtful and to keep learning. 🙂

  • Chelo April 4, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    That is a powerful passage, Keren. I have been challenge to think deeply on reading your posts 🙂 Thank you for sharing your thoughts and what God has been teaching you. You are an encouragement to me to be thoughtful and to keep learning. 🙂

  • Chelo April 4, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    Sorry. Not easy to leave a comment w/ this device 🙂

  • Johanna April 5, 2012 at 11:12 am

    I will definitely be putting this on my list “to read.” Sounds right up my ally.

    One reason we don’t do regular play dates, keep busy schedules, etc is that it actually stresses kids out more than we realize. They need simplicity.

    Also, we have very few toys, but even then, I often tell my son to go get on box (either his matchbox cars, his legos, or his trains, etc). He will usually get more focused and play for a longer period of time when he doesn’t have as many choices. He often gets overwhelmed at the choice and can’t hone in on one thing to play with. (other times he does fine, but if I see that is happening I just tell him to pick one and carry it to a room and that is all he plays with).

    In my recent research on Charlotte Mason she concluded that decision making is one of the most stressful things that we have to do. And yet, we place a lot of unneeded decision making onto our children. A choice between two outfits gives them liberty to decide but they are not overwhelmed with endless options.

    Interestingly enough, I actually have a post written in my drafts about children helping and one of the things I said was that it helps with transitions. So glad to see someone else has found the same thing.

    {and as to the above comment. wow. you were very gracious in your response.}

    • Keren April 5, 2012 at 10:00 pm

      This was yet another book I read and thought of you (and all the great stuff you’ve shared on your blog). 🙂

      And both of those things you mentioned (lots of playdates/busy schedules and too many choices) are covered in the book. They’re also areas we’ve realized create stress for our kids, too. (And me.) But I still see a lot of areas in which I give our kids too many options to choose from at their ages.

      I’ll look forward to your post. 🙂

  • Erika April 5, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    Thanks for highlighting this book. It looks very interesting, and along the lines of so many things we’ve learned in our own home.

    It sounds like it would be a good book for anyone to read, though, and not just about parenting! 🙂

    • Keren April 5, 2012 at 10:01 pm

      Yes, there is a lot about simplicity that would really apply to anyone at any age.

  • AndreA April 6, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Just wondering how either of you think this should be balanced with making sure a home is not child-centered. Doesn’t changing your level Of activity just because it stresses your child out teach them that the world revolves around them? I’ve always thought that you need to teach them to obey and not whine regardless of their environment. We can’t always be going around changing their environments.

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