As an aspiring minimalist and a believer in simplicity, this book was naturally on my list. Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne was just what I needed at this point in my parenting journey. It does more than just tell you to ditch the TV and minimize toys; it met me where I was at and took things a step further.
Doesn’t over-schedule or overwhelm.
Young kids are just as prone to stress and anxiety as adults. In many ways, our society forces children to grow up too fast. Kids have the opportunity as soon as they’re born to be involved in all manner of clubs, groups, sports, and so on. While these activities can be very nourishing to a degree, us parents should be careful not to schedule too much too soon. If it’s stressful for you to get them to and from the activity, chances are it’s a little stressful for the child too. Don’t be afraid to pull back and just let young kids engage in informal, unstructured play for the first several years.
Focuses on quality play.
The number of toys our children see and have access to should be dramatically reduced from what the norm is here in the US. Payne says, “As you decrease the quantity of your child’s toys and clutter, you increase their attention and their capacity for deep play.” I’ve already shared a little bit of my journey to minimalism with my boys minimal room and their (not super minimal, but I try) capsule wardrobes. The goal in both the closet and the toy bin should be no passing fads and not too many choices. Toys should be open-ended and allow for the use of imagination, not just noisy, obnoxious things that only perform one function. Blocks, toy dishes, simple dolls and cars are all good options for open-ended play. Less complexity means more attention. It sounds counterintuitive, but it works.
The best play consists of:
- Imagination / Pretending
- Purpose / Industry
- Social interaction
- Music / Art
Boredom is okay.
“I’m bored.” We’ve all heard this countless times. (Or Malachi phrases it, “What can I do?”) This isn’t a bad thing. This is a natural and important step of development! Boredom doesn’t mean you need to rush out to take them somewhere or buy them something new. It means their brain is ready for some imagination. Often after Malachi informs me that he’s bored, I look over just minutes later and he’s already created a new game. Boredom is part of the creative process. Children can harness this and learn to entertain themselves and create, not just rely on new stimulus all the time. (Us adults could all learn to be better at this too. Many of us have forgotten how to be bored thanks to modern technology!)
Days have a predictable rhythm.
There is safeness and joy in some form of daily schedule. Kids pick up on order and they enjoy predictability. This is something I’m trying to work on. Going from one to two kids is when many parents discover their need for a schedule – and that’s right where I’m at! Daily rituals are repeated because they are important. Having (even just a few) daily rituals gives meaning to your day. Kids will pick up on this. “We do this everyday because it’s important.” Even if you’re a carefree spirit like me who goes with the flow on a daily basis, you can do your young kids a favor by including them in the day. Give them choices so they can feel more in control. Cue them in on what is coming up next. Give them a rundown of what the day’s events will be. Try to have some daily markers in the day at least, like meals and naps, where the kids can let off steam and recharge. It can’t just be “go go go” all the time. If you do have a crazy day or two, attempt to bookend those days with a couple laid back, low-stimulus days. If there’s a certain part of the day that is consistently rough for you and the kids, consider making over this portion of the day with a strong and meaningful daily ritual. Personally, I need to make over the 3:00 hour after naps. I’m thinking a daily walk to the park (weather permitting) is a good place to start. Any other ideas?
Kids are included in processes.
Kids need to feel useful, not just along for the ride or a cumbersome inconvenience in an adult world. Let them join in chores. Invite them to help with cooking. If you’re cleaning the house, don’t tell them to get out of the way, give them a broom instead. I’ve started including Malachi in my dinner prep and I was amazed at how well he responded! Chopping veggies is his thing, and I think it makes him *slightly* more adventurous with what he’ll try at dinner. He’s also great at unloading the dishwasher, and an enthusiastic laundry sorter. You might find your kid is way more excited to help than to just watch or stay out of the way.
Filters out the adult world.
This means no TV. No stressful news. No discussing politics, global warming, and finances at the dinner table. No podcasts about adult topics when kids are in the car. Try hard not to burden young children with these things too soon. Cherish those carefree childhood years as long as you can. Save those adult conversations for after the kids are in bed, and have it be something special for you and your partner to look forward to. This doesn’t mean it’s all baby talk and children’s music all day long. Adults need to be adults and express themselves intellectually. I’m all about having intellectual, meaningful conversations with your kids! But there’s a line, and I think parents are fully capable of knowing where that line is, when adult issues will cause unnecessary worry and fear in the hearts of their children.
Another part of this is parents simply need to talk less. The more we talk, the less we are really paying attention. Note that this only applies to older kids. Babies need to be talked to a lot for developmental and attachment reasons. But too much talk later on can lead to “hyper-parenting,” an endless narration of everything the child does, unsolicited educational soliloquies, and unnecessary strings of compliments. It will wear you out. It will wear the kids out. You will hear them less, and they will likely tune you out as well. Kids need boundaries in order to feel safe. Attempt to quietly give them their own space with healthy boundaries to find their own voice.
What meant the most to you about your own childhood? For me it was hours of making up stories with my Barbie dolls and summer days spent in the backyard alternating between swimming and jumping on the trampoline. It wasn’t a trip to Disney. It wasn’t an organized activity. It was the simple things. Likewise, there is incredible joy in the ordinary, everyday things our children do. This book was a nice remember to slow down and just enjoy the little things that make childhood special.