Before he gets to the four pillars supporting this concept he talks about kids in such an amazing respectful way. He talks about how we're all quirky, and when you take quirky and add in stress you get a disorder. Quirks can become our strengths though.
He talks about working with kids in refugee camps who are suffering post traumatic stress disorders and compares them to the sort of things he's seeing now in western culture. It is the same thing. Childhood is a slow unfolding process of growing into our potential. Our culture hates anything slow - we hyper accelerate everything. He says there is an undeclared war on childhood going on and it is leading to a form of disorder characterized by constant stress.
He talks about the emotional highs and lows kids ride out in their work at becoming the people they will be in life. He compares the volatile highs to physical fevers - illnesses that strengthen our immune systems. He calls these emotional fevers "soul fevers" and urges us to approach them in exactly the same ways we instinctively deal with our children's physical fevers.
Then he looks at four things we can work on to make the environment more conducive to reducing the stress on children. This is about simplifying all our lives. The home environment (starting with reducing their mountains of toys, clothes, books), Rhythm and rituals that structure the day and provide a predictable flow, scheduling time when children are in complete control of how they spend their time - real unstructured play time, and finally scaling back on access to media and adult concerns - no television advertising, no tv news, no dinner time discussions of global warming.
To be honest, I felt pretty virtuous when I started reading this book because he was saying things I already believe. But the deeper I go into the book the more and more he challenges me to question assumptions I have about how to raise a happy healthy child.
I read about the average child having 150 toys and knew MY kids didn't fall into that camp! When he talked about the types of toys that make kids anxious, stifled their creativity I didn't have those types of toys, I winced a bit about the NUMBER of toys - the " if one wooden car is good 3 must be good cubed!" comment - and vowed to do a cull on the blocks and wooden cars...then he tackled the leaning tower of books many children have. Uh oh... my children have...I am a bookaholic and I tend to see having lots of books as a sign of intellectual wealth. I'm enriching their lives with stories. But Childhood isn't about enrichment, it's about unfolding. Children need repetition, its why they want the same story read every day for a week. So why have them confront a shelf with 200 choices? Why not carefully choose books that meet them where they are developmentally and only have their favorites out in view? Pack the rest away. If they look at 4 books every day for a month what can we learn from those books, what can we learn about our child? What deep need are those books feeding?
Payne says "Stories are healing, stories are powerful, and are at their most potent when we have fewer of them"
So I went and looked at the stacks of books throughout our house and the way they get treated at times, and which ones they pulled out over and over and how things went when they couldn't find that special book in the cluttered shelves. I thought about how the kids smiled and pulled out their one or two favourite books from my seasonal collections which are small and come out only when the season is upon us. I saw that joy and compared it to the anxious screeching I get at bedtime when Nature Girl needs to finish ONE MORE PAGE of a book that is in a pil of 8 other half read books. Payne talks a lot about ADD btw. I was teaching my kids a book MATERIALISM and the number of books they had to paw through to find their favourites diminished the importance of those special books, and it is making them anxious. So I'm packing up most of the books. I'm paying strict attention to what are the favorites. I'm going to work on getting Nature Girl to finish one book before she starts the next. I'm going to pay attention to which of Wild Things books get pulled out again and again and treat them with the honour they deserve.
Payne encourages you to tackle what seems manageable forst, for most people it is the home environment. So I started there. I skipped over routines and making time for unstructured play because Routine is where I need the most help and I've got unstructured time down pat. I went onto media and adult concerns and sheilding kids from them.
I am totally onboard with no television. I do not want corporations determining what my family sees and hears - I don't want the ego of the corporation telling stories to my kids, instilling their values in them. When he talks about building resilency in children to face the hard realities of our world we need to make sure they feel safe. The world is beautiful. Before you say anything to your children ask yourself three questions:
Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?
If you can't answer yes to all three, hold that thought. You shouldn't be sharing it with young children. They have all the time in the world - in their teens when the world needs to be black and white and they need to challenge everything - to learn about and understand global warming.
Wild Thing loves chickens with a tender passion that literally brings tears to my eyes. He does not need to know anything about factory farming to understand how wonderful it will be to raise our own chickens and collect their eggs each day.
I'm still processing this, and I haven't finished reading the book yet, but it is one of the most profound parenting books I've ever read (and I've read too many!)
I'd love to talk about what he has to say about toys but I'll save that for another day. He's reconfiguring how I want to approach marketing my own toys.