Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and more Secure Kids
by Kim John Payne
& Lisa M. Ross
Here’s another book that is not overtly related to home economics at first glance. But I found a lot to chew on here.
The premise of the book is this: by simplifying our childrens’ environment, we slow down their childhood to allow for the “essential unfolding of self… of identity, well-being, and resiliency.”
How to do this? Payne recommends four areas of our modern lives that need to be examined: Environment, Rhythm, Schedules, and Filtering out the Adult World. Let’s look at each one individually.
Providing children with endless choices, endless sensory stimulation, is actually harming them by making them feel [sometimes] overwhelmed and [sometimes] entitled. The fix? Reduce the number of toys in your house. Not just by half. Most families, Payne asserts, can reduce their numbers by at least 75% before the kids will even notice. He also provides a 10-step-guide to you, the parent, in deciding which toys to keep.
But he also recommends simplifying their wardrobes, and even simplifying your home. I bet you can see where this is going, but he saves “screen-time” issues for part four.
Creating predictable rhythms and routines that kids can count on increases their sense of security and well-being. One example of this is creating rhythms around simple, healthy foods. He gives a creative reason for avoiding junk food: aside from the obvious health implications, giving a child “big-hit” flavors such as Doritoes, on a daily basis, can skew their perspective on what normal food ought to taste like.
My favorite idea from this section was creating one or two predictable food nights per week, for example, Friday Night Pizza, or Wednesday Night Soup. If you’re a person who feels anxiety around meal-planning, you might even extend it to five nights a week. Adam grew up with Sunday Night Tacos at his house. It’s something simple for the whole family to plan on.
Here’s another thing we all know is out of control: too many scheduled activities. In his private practice, Payne likes to write a prescription for parents who overschedule their kids: “Boredom. To be allowed three times a day, preferably before meals.”
Payne calls boredom a gift, and not just because it forces kids to come up with creative ways to entertain themselves. In the short term, yes, this is a benefit. But over the long term (and this was where, for me, the book started getting really interesting), boredom gives us another gift that he feels is missing from many kids’ lives: anticipation.
“When we open up our child’s schedules we make room for anticipation. Just as it’s hard to cherish a toy that’s buried in the middle of a pile, it is hard to anticipate something when we’re always busy, or when we’re trying to do everything now … Anticipating gratification, rather than expecting or demanding it, strengthens a child’s will. Impulsivity, wanting everything now, leaves the will weak….”
He even goes so far as to say that too much activity — too much planned, scheduled, directed activity — can create a reliance on outer stimulation, a culture of compulsion and instant gratification; i.e. addictive behaviors.
Whoa. Hold on there. So signing my kid up for soccer after school means they’re going to grow up to be some kind of addict? Nah. He is making a point: downtime is good for a kid. And frankly, it’s good for parents too. Frees up more time for you to bake bread!
He also talks a bit about how youth sports have changed, and admonishes parents who want their kid to be the next Tiger Woods: emotional intelligence should top our list of hopes and dreams for our children.
Filtering Out the Adult World
You knew this was coming, right? Payne’s final section revolves around limiting a child’s screen time. But he wants parents to cut back too, and for good reason: worry is now defining daily life for many parents, driving them to helicopter around their kids in fear of both real and perceived dangers. And kids feed off those emotions.
He also warns against “too much information” — for example, maybe your small children don’t need to know many details about global warming. Payne asks, “do you love the times you live in?” For me, honestly, the answer is often no. Do I need to complain about politics or other adult concerns incessantly in front of my kids? Definitely not.
My favorite bit of advice in the entire book was this:
“When your children are young, let the world of doing be their domain.”
We already follow a good bit of the advice in this book with our own kids — to me it just makes sense. It was also how both Adam and I were raised, at least to some extent. Here’s the thing though: it’s super easy to do this now, when they haven’t gone off to school yet, or even daycare (we have a nanny when Adam is at work). Outside influences are limited in our lives right now.
All of these suggestions are probably much harder when you have school-age children. But I don’t think that Payne is suggesting that everyone follow all of this perfectly, step-by-step. In his private practice, he does some radical transformations with families who are having lots of problems (I picture a minimalist version of SuperNanny). Some of the anecdotes in the book are pretty powerful. But for most of us, we can pick and choose which areas of our family life need the most help, and concentrate on them.
If this stuff interests you, there are some excerpts from the book and other information on Payne’s website, SimplicityParenting.com.
So I guess I’ll have to think twice before I enroll the kids in the Junior Master Gardener program…