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 Kids, authors 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.
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.