I think I am really a very lucky person. Managed to get my hands on so many good books lately! I wonder where all these books were hiding the past few years… But maybe, I wasn’t ready then to be a peaceful parent… or to stop yelling… or to be a simple parent…
“Based on Payne’s twenty years’ experience successfully counselling busy families, Simplicity Parenting teaches parents how to worry and hover less – and how to enjoy more. For those who want to slow their children’s lives down but don’t know how to start, Payne offers both inspiration and a blueprint for change.”
The author, Kim John Payne, is a family consultant who advocates “less is more”. He postulates that too much stuff, too many choices, and too little time cause anxiety and behavioural problems in children.
Even at the Introduction, I was already ooh-ing and ah-ing and nodding my head vigorously in agreement. (And smiling to myself too, actually. Shucks, does that make me sound like a nutcase??) So what did the author say?
That children look at our tasks and busyness and see what the parents deem important. They see that with our time and presence we give love.
That children are so clearly happiest when they have the time and space to explore their worlds, at play.
“The primary reason is that it will provide your child with greater ease and well-being. Islands of being, in the mad torrent of constant doing. With fewer distractions their attention expands, their focus can deepen, and they have more mental and physical space to explore the world in the manner their destiny demands.”
An analogy was given – ‘nothing much’ seems to be happening while we sleep, yet mental and emotional clarification and improvement of motor skills take place as we sleep. We know that we fall sick more easily without sleep, and that lack of sleep impairs speech, memory, and innovative, flexible thinking. We might not know exactly what the purpose of sleep is, but we see what happens when we are deprived of it. Similarly, we might not fully understand the mysterious process of childhood, but it surely has its purpose.
The author came up with a formula: quirk + stress = disorder. That is, most children have some idiosyncrasies, which quickly slide along the spectrum to disorder when they experience high levels of stress. Examples given: dreamy child + stress = inattentive, ADHD; active in physical play + stress = hyperactive; feisty + stress = oppositional defiance disorder; child with a favourite stamp collection + stress = obsessive compulsive disorder.
Makes sense to me. I can imagine Kor Kor being slapped with all sorts of labels if he’s going to school. *shivers*
Four areas of simplification are recommended: Environment, Rhythm, Schedules, and Filtering out the Adult World.
Too. Much. Stuff. Including toys, books, clothes, and other things in the house, e.g. a cluttered dining table (Anyone went ‘oops’?)
“As you decrease the quantity of your child’s toys and clutter, you increase their attention and their capacity for deep play.”
I confess, my kids have a lot a lot of toys and books. And the main contributor is me. I like to buy educational toys and puzzles and games and whatnot. Mummy friends have suggested I rent out some toys, but I want my kids to have access to the toys WHEN they want. Toy rotation sounded like a better idea, but I thought I would be too lazy or would forget to take out new toys. I thought that my house was big enough anyway (145 square meters, which is considered very big for a flat in Singapore), and the toys were quite neatly arranged – mostly on shelves, not dumped in toy boxes.
So, I wasn’t really motivated to do anything about the kids’ environment. But one day while we were hanging out in the boys’ room, I saw two storage boxes of toys. I was using the boxes more as ‘tabletops’ and there was an easel on one of the box. (That’s all, just one easel.) The boxes contained ‘baby toys’ which I had kept aside for Meimei. As I looked at the toys, I thought, why not clear them out since the boys were not playing with them? Even Didi hardly played with those toys when he was younger, because he preferred to play with whatever Kor Kor was playing with anyway. Similarly, I doubt Meimei would be attracted to her brothers’ ‘rejects’.
So, I removed the two boxes. In their place, I put a playmat instead. Then I dunno what got into me – maybe the book, maybe springcleaning mood due to Chinese New Year coming soon – I started tidying and dusting the rest of the toys and shelves in the boys’ room. And ended up keeping away quite a few of the toys from the shelves and toy rack. (Now I have three big boxes of toys for rotation.)
I thought the room didn’t look that much different. But I noticed Kor Kor spending significantly more time in his room since then! Didi started playing more with the magnetic wooden blocks which have been on the toy rack forever. (There used to be urmm, at least five types of blocks in the toy rack :P)
The book also mentioned that because of children’s ‘well-developed sense of fairness’, the simplified child’s room would not last if the rest of the house is cluttered.
Inspired, I looked critically at the rest of the house. Was glad to see that there weren’t actually that many toys. Other than some baby toys in Meimei’s playyard (which I am looking forward to removing once she is older), there are only Lego Duplo, a few emergency vehicles, and wooden trains and tracks. Kor Kor loves Thomas and Friends and spends a lot of time in his Sodor Island (our balcony). Actually, I am quite selective of the kids’ toys. Almost none of the toys they received for birthdays and Christmas made it… I kept them back in the storeroom after a few days’ play… or they never made it out of the storeroom.. Sorry, Uncles and Aunties!
But I am still not convinced there’s a need to declutter books. I want the kids to have a ready library at home. I know children like repetition and they tend to ask to be read the same few books over and over again. And I am ok with that. Ideally, they should have just a few books on hand, in the reading nooks around the house, while the remaining books are displayed on a large shelf, readily accessible should they have an interest in a particular topic. (Many of our books are non-fiction.)
Unfortunately, I do not have such a space for their books. We do have a large bookshelf, but it’s currently occupied by my books. No point switching my and their books around, right? Since they will be surrounded by books anyway, might as well surround them with their books.
Can’t be perfect…
The author provided a checklist of toys to discard:
- Broken toys
- Developmentally inappropriate toys
- Conceptually “fixed” toys
- Toys that “do too much” and break too easily
- Very high-stimulation toys
- Annoying or offensive toys
- Toys that claim to give your child a developmental edge
- Toys you are pressured to buy
- Toys that inspire corrosive play
- Toys multiples
Rhythm builds islands of consistency and security throughout the day, functioning like pressure valves. It provides consistency and predictability to the children, which they need. Seems much like what I call ‘routine’, something which I have mentioned many times in this blog (and something which I love very much!).
While it might not be possible to provide a rhythmic home life (perhaps the parents’ jobs require them to keep all sorts of hours or to travel frequently), it is necessary to at least provide predictability and transparency. This means to ‘preview’ the next day with the child, so that he know what to expect.
“Too many scheduled activities may limit a child’s ability to motivate and direct themselves.”
I like the author’s analogy of crop rotation. Sustainable farming involves rotating crops, balancing crop fields with fields that are completely fallow, and those with a legume cover crop.
“Rest nurtures creativity, which nurtures activity. Activity nurtures rest, which sustains creativity.”
The fallow field is downtime, leisure and rest, hanging out. (In Singlish, I think the best description is Zuo Bo. Can’t explain this to non-Singlish speakers though :P)
The legume is deep play, when the child is focused and in control. It is something which parents can make space for and honor, but we can’t control it.
Activity – school, classes, sports, chores, socializing (play dates? Family events?) – Is represented in the crop field. This involves normal ‘daily life’ busyness.
An interesting point – an overscheduled life can sow unexpected seeds. It can establish patterns of behaviour and expectation that become ingrained. So much activity can create a reliance on outer stimulation, a culture of compulsion and instant gratification. Compare this to the definition of addiction:
“an increasing and compulsive tendency to avoid pain or boredom and replace inner development with outer stimulation”
!!! Wow, so serious!
I think we are doing OK for Rhythm and Schedule. If anything, I wonder if we are underscheduled 😛 We have five full days from Monday to Friday of Nothing Planned. And I have recently resolved to minimize outings and any other ‘schedules’. Even on weekends, we arrange our outings around the boys’ naptimes – if they go out in the mornings, they come home for their naps before going out in the late afternoon.
Filtering out The Adult World
According to the author, parental anxiety affects the atmosphere in which the child lives. He suggested reducing our exposure to media which contribute to our fears about the child’s safety, and to minimize the child’s exposure to media, including advertisements and violent television shows and news programs.
In addition, parents need to be careful about what we say to our children. Children need to see our self-restraint, our confidence in meeting our world, NOT to hear our adult concerns (financial difficulties, reluctance to visit the in-laws, etc).
The author also suggested something which I have mentioned in an earlier post – to not speak unless I have something good to say. Of course, he puts it in nicer terms – before you say something, ask yourself whether it is true, whether it is kind, and whether it is necessary. The wise use of words!
Another interesting point – While parents have good intentions in asking our children to describe how they feel, this emotional monitoring has an unexpected effect of rushing kids along into a premature adolescence.
“Children under nine certainly have feelings, but much of the time those feelings are unconscious, undifferentiated… emotional intelligence can’t be bought or rushed. It develops with the slow emergence of identity, and the gradual accumulation of life experiences. When we push a young child toward an awareness they don’t yet have, we transpose our own emotions, and our own voice, on theirs.”
Not that this is a problem for us. But I had thought it would be good to do this ‘emotional monitoring’! Just that I wasn’t diligent or conscientious enough to remember to do it 😛 Hmm, I shall try to read up more on emotional intelligence.
Gosh, what a long post! I spent more than three hours on this, hope it’s useful to you!