I’m not a big fan of parenting books. I started a few and found them quite boring. However, Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne and Lisa Ross, had me hooked since the beginning. It talks about slowing down to raise calmer and happier children.
Many of the techniques described in the book were used successfully to help children with attention deficit disorders, but I believe that they are wonderful for any child. As I read more about internationally adopted children, it becomes clear to me that children who have experienced instability and stress will benefit greatly from this approach.
I read this book almost 3 years ago and I plan on reading it again this year. These are some the key ideas that I still remember (and try to implement):
- Less is More
In these anxious and rushed times, the Simplicity Parenting proposes to slow down and go back to basics. Less activities, less schedules, less clutter, less media.
Most children, at least in the US, have way more toys than they can manage. The author recommends focusing on toys that help children build and create, as opposed to those that simply make loud sounds or might be labeled as “educational” but don’t do much to help children create.
Most importantly, he encourages parents to leave only a few toys and books available and rotate them on a weekly basis. When children have too many toys at reach, they are overwhelmed and cannot focus. In addition, new toys are always more exciting, as we all know by our kids’ reaction when we visit a friend’s house or when a lost toy appears in the most unexpected place. By hiding some toys for a couple of weeks, the child will have “new” toys every week. If you don’t have space to store some of the toys, try swaping with a neighbor or friend.
- Boredom is the Mother of Creativity
If a child’s day is organized and regulated from dawn to dusk, they miss out on creating their own games. The author mentions that many parents nowadays strive to keep their children entertained all the time. They feel that they fail if their children are bored. However, being bored is the first step to coming up with a new idea or game.
This reminded me of the summers spent in La Cruz, my friends’ Gloria and Sarah’s ranch, where we were not allowed to swim in the pool between lunch and 3 pm, and there was no TV. We were quickly bored so we made up games and contests. Some of them are among my fondest childhood memories. We probably would have spent hours stuck to Disney Channel (if it had existed at the time), but I doubt I would remember any of it 30 years later.
- Unstructured Play Time
Many American children spent long hours in school or day care, followed by homework and extra curricular activities. The book highlights the importance of unstructured play time, be it at the playground, in the street or in friend’s houses. This is when children learn how to create their own games with their own rules and socialize, without having an adult giving them directions all the time.
- Limit Screen Time
The book encourages parents to limit screen time, and by screen time they mean TV, computer, tablet and cell phone. I personally believe that some TV is OK, as long as the parents approve of the content, but that there must be a limit that the child must be aware of. Most of the time, though, I believe it’s better for my daughter to read a book or paint or do a puzzle or build a Lego tower with me. At a certain age, a child can be involved in the decision of when he will watch TV, and this also helps him to learn how to make choices and live with the consequences (TV now means no TV later).
- Keep it Simple
Every child loves to “help” with activities such as cooking, planting and building. Yes, it is messy to involve a toddler in baking or gardening, but it is worth it! As a bonus, for picky eaters, participating in the harvesting or preparation of the meal increases the chances of the meal been eaten.
Here’s one idea that I loved: there comes a time in every child’s life when they want to build a tent or a house. So they take sheets, towels and pillows and transform the living room or other location into a castle or a fort. Then you have to wash all those towels, sheets and pillows, which can be particularly challenging if the castle/fort was built in the garden, for example. The author recommends buying fabric for this sole purpose. There’s always something on sale at the fabric store and the child can help select the material. Add some yard and velcro and you have the foundation for hours of playing and building. You’ll save on laundry as well.
- Routines, Routines, Routines
All children benefit from routines. For some children in particular, though, a strict routine can be the difference between a relaxed child (and family) or a cranky and frustrated child (and family). Children who have more difficulty focusing will benefit from knowing ahead of time what the plan for the day it, and visualizing it every evening or every morning.
- Learn to Wait
Self-control is one of the great virtues a person can have. It’s something we all need to work on at some time in our lives. The book argues that children raised in society of instant gratification have a harder time with self-control because they’re not used to waiting. By teaching our children how to wait for a reward, instead of giving them whath they ask for immediately, we’re helping them gain self-control. Teaching a child to wait implies establishing a limit, and all we parents know how challenging that can be, but again, it’s a battle worth picking.
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