Thursday, December 3, 2009

I'm reading a GREAT Parenting Book - Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

The full title is Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids.

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.


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Oma said...

Great post, Mud Mama!

Anonymous said...

Does he talk about the teen years at all? It sounds like a very though-provoking book. The best think I ever read about parenting is to allow yourself to get in touch with your instincts and to follow those. Every child is different and you're the only one who knows/feels best on what that particular child needs most. People can make blanket statements about what's best for "children", but that doesn't always necessarily apply to your child. It's always nice to read someone who validates your instincts though.

Nicole said...

I'm also curious about what he has to say about older kids.

My guys were always world savvy. Both of their teachers commented this week in our interviews on how compassionate the boys are about this. So, now that they're older, I'm curious to know how I can balance their intake of the grim perspective of media with their thirst to do right by the universe.

I love the part about too many toys. I've always felt that kids can't appreciate and enjoy their things (especially at Christmas) when there's too many.

Sounds like an interesting read.

Mud Mama said...

He does talk about older kids - often in the context of making sure they slow down when they need to and making sure that their schedules continue to give them space to be alone with themselves as they grow older. He feels our modelling matters even more as kids get older because they have the critical ability to see where we don't act on our beliefs.

Nicole I've been searching everywhere for that book on household arts "by a lady" and can't find it. Do you have your own copy? I'm wondering if you could photocopy the under clothing parts?

Nature Girl is RIPE for learning to sew - she wants doll clothes this year for Christmas, her first knitting project is a scarf for her 16" doll - I'm making it a matching sweater. I'm going to encourage her to do a simple hat next.

red fraggle said...

This inspired me to cull the toys again - none of big kids' stuff, just Willow's. They honestly never want to get rid of ANYTHING when they are here. : ) any tricks?

I feel calmer now and Willow is playing with almost everything now.

Mud Mama said...

I do not involve them in culls. I pack things into three boxes - the get rid of it box contains anything broken, anything that has lost enough pieces to render it useless, anything I've had sitting there to mend for more than 6 months The second box is good stuff, but just too much stuff. I put it in a rubbermaid box and they can get things from it if they make a trade. Want the train set out? Okay put away the farm animals for a week...and now...a third box with anything that comes in multiples unless it is absolutely 100% open ended. I'll keep it as well and I'm waiting to see what they ask for from it - in 6 months out it goes.

Payne says if it takes longer than 5 minutes to clean up the toys you have too many. We're there (finally) and ABSOLUTELY NO COMPLAINTS - NONE. NOT A ONE.

Now, because I have been pretty strict about the toys coming into the house for years they're used to MAKING a lot of toys too - there's a whole viking long house that rivals any monster kit by playmobil - entirely made of plastercine in Nature Girl's room (which is the close the door on the Sprout room - only Nature Girl and Wild Thing can play in there) right now. When it deteriorates into plastercine blobs on the floor I'll make them collect it all in a big ball but the permission to set it up and leave it matters way more than any "toy"

My next thing to tackle with them is "clean up the paper cutting scraps"

red fraggle said...

Sounds good - I great at the put toys away and bring them out of storage thing - it makes them special and the play less chaotic. with the bigger kids though I have that step mom/ older kid thing where I really reallydon't want them to feel that I am invading in their space or taking special things away.

I will cull broken things though. Tommorow morning's job..

Mud Mama said...

Try culling out the multiples too. Put them in a marked box and then they're there if they notice.

The other thing that has worked well for us is to have clearly defined spaces for storage - like Nature Girl keeps all her Polly Pockets and little petshops in one SMALL zippered case. Any more and she can't keep it tidy and it ends up either not getting played with or lost in clutter, or broken anyhow so the little travel case it is.

I'm going to photo document ALL the toys and games etc this week. Sort of as an accountability thing.

red fraggle said...

Mmm. good idea ( and mm.. I'm eating chocolate.) . I'll box some trucks tomorrow I think. Little plastic pieces drive me mad. Arrow is really good at storing her special things most of the time now though. ;)

Heather said...

I'm definitely with you on the permission thing. Anaximander has a long attention span, so leaving the trains out where he set them up was very important, as opposed to a certain friend (and a Waldorf kid at that!) whose mother always insisted on things getting put away. But that's also either laziness or lack of structure (or both) on my part, or (my excuse) the fact that I need to put my energy into working. He's worldly-wise, though, and growing up in a household of adults has made it rather impossible to keep him in an enchanted kidsworld. He really wants to know.

Curious about the limited stories idea. My father, who grew up an immigrant child during the depression, had very few, but (consequently) much treasured books. He ended up with quite a narrow (but intense) range of interests, it seemed to me, but was that because of his upbringing or personality or both? Was it good or bad? Right or wrong? He led a good life. I have a very broad range of interests, and it can hinder me from spending enough time on one thing to accomplish my ambitions. But I'm more ADD and my father was not; he was more the obsessive type. Anaximander has lots of books, but no ADD; he has more the obsessive temperament of my father. We shall see if temperament trumps environment or not! It just might, actually, IMHO.

So I'm fairly relaxed about these things. But there's definitely too much stuff, and he's too attached to it to do the culling himself.

red fraggle said...

I think that it is a mix- you have your temperament yes, absolutely - but the environment that your temperament exists in is important. I think that different environments work for different temperaments - but overall, less choas is good. but that could be my bias...

I also think that it is okay to be relaxed - there is no one rightest way to do things. I read free range kids - also recommended by mud mama and I laughed and let go of some of my anxiety about "ruining" my kids.

Nicole said...

I have always culled the toys & books regularly, and in their absence. I donate anything that hasn't been touched for a long time. They've never noticed, so I guess I was right that they were done with the stuff I got rid of.

"The Workwoman's Guide" is not so easy to find. The link I sent you for Indigo is the only place I've seen it. I don't have a copy myself, but would love one.

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