"As a parent and clinical psychologist, I frequently am asked for parenting book recommendations, and I have always found this a difficult task. For one, I haven’t met many books that I find useful enough to be a go-to general recommendation. Another issue is that many parenting books seem to offer lots of strategies and tips in a very general way, which doesn’t help you tune in to your parenting instinct. Or they espouse a great philosophy of parenting with no or very vague ideas about what this philosophy would look like on the front lines, so to speak.
Well, at very long last I have found a book that I am willing to recommend to anyone who asks. Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross is, in my opinion, the perfect blend of philosophy, instinct, and how-to, and it’s all backed by the kind of research and developmental information that makes you go, “Hmm.”
What the authors have crafted is a book that takes a good hard look at what it is to live in our world today with its busy-ness, overstimulation, and “more, bigger, faster” mentality, and brought it back to basics. Many parents are going to cringe at their instruction to throw out more than half of the toys your children own, or have difficulty considering modifying how their family relates to screen time, but the arguments the authors make are so aptly put that instead of an admonishment it feels like inspiration. When the authors ask the reader to remember back to what your dream was of how your family would be at this stage and compare it to current reality, I firmly believe any parent would be hard pressed not to find some way that they can recreate that dream.
The authors talk about four areas for simplifying: Environment (e.g., toys and books), Rhythm, Schedules, and Filtering Out the Adult World. I felt good about the parts I have worked really hard to preserve on my own because it felt inherently right to me. My kids (and I) are rather routine oriented, and I realized that what I have instinctively been doing is grounding their days for them, and that our schedules are important to us, but not inflexible. However, what I had long been ignoring was the little voice saying “it’s too much.” Too much screen time, and for sure, too many toys. I’ll be the first to admit that I felt defeated by the pressures of long distance grandparenting, which makes up for absence with stuff. This book seemed to give me permission to make changes that my kids have and will continue to protest for a while longer, that the grandparents may have a hard time reconciling, but that my husband and I feel are really, truly important for our children.
In our house, we have a plan for reducing our toys in the very near future, and we’ve already made substantial changes in the amount of screen time our kids get. While I’m certain we were nowhere near the national averages for screen time, we were feeling it was interfering with family and free play time, and had the behavioral and emotional issues to show for it. A few weeks into our simplicity plan, we are noticing that bedtime is an easier transition for our 8-year-old, and he and his 5-year-old brother have put away the Pokemon video game in favor of inventing, drawing, and cataloging their own characters. Perfection? I think not. Simpler and more peacful? Oh, yes.
As I said earlier, the authors don’t just impose of list of “shoulds and shouldn’ts.” They offer really compelling reasons for why it is important to preserve and protect the work of childhood. Kids need room to figure out who they are in relation to the world and others, and they can’t do that if they are bombarded by too much, too fast, too young, whether it be in the form of information, toys, or sports. This book is so worth the read, and I am positive that many of us trying to raise kids into good, happy people will find within its pages the strength to listen to the whispers of our instincts. Even if you can’t see yourself implementing every strategy (which I, admittedly, am not), the final words of the book are almost awe-inspiring in their simplicity. Just do one thing. Begin."
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