I‘m not sure how or where I heard about the book Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, but I’m sure glad it came into my life. Sometimes you read a book and just find yourself nodding all the way through. It just makes sense. And if you read with your highly sensitive child in mind things click perfectly into place.
At least that’s how I experienced this book.
I cannot tell you how much I love this book. With the exception of one topic, which I will come to later, I embrace all the arguments and methods to simplify not only our children’s lives, but our family lives too.
Clutter in Our Home
Hands up whose child doesn’t have an overload of toys. Hands up those whose house is not filled with plastic, brightly coloured, noisy toys. Probably not many hands leaping into the air. My children’s bedrooms are chock full of ‘things’, many of them gifts from family who do not live on the doorstep, or from Father Christmas.
Some of it is the result of the fact that my children are hoarders and don’t give things away lightly. Two years worth of art work hang on an art line and every plea to clear it out and make way for new pieces is met with protest and tears. There’s emotion attached to so much for them. But it is out of control. And it’s been bugging me for many months. Clutter doesn’t do my emotional state any good (and I’m not alone!). So I read the chapter of clearing out toys with glee. And it made me determined to take action.
So far three dustbin sacks of toys have made their way to the secondhand centre (kringloop) and another two sacks have been filled with rubbish. My youngest son stayed by my side and willingly gave stuff up – I was incredibly proud of him. Round two will be without him there….. I still have my eldest son’s room to go through – and my husband is also on my decluttering radar.
How can my children’s minds be calm and still when their bedroom looks like an exploded toy bomb? With reduced choices about what to play with life becomes easier and calmer for them; there is less overwhelm. Reading about this topic alone, about the why and the how, was worth the investment in this book!
When your child has a fever you press the pause button and life quietens until the fever and illness has passed. It should be the same with a soul fever too. I love this phrase: soul fever. It’s when you’re feeling emotionally off kilter. When you are just not feeling right mentally. And when you’re the parent of a highly sensitive child this will ring bells for sure. Feeling an emotional overload is common for a HSC – or in the words of Payne, seeing our children with a soul fever is not unusual.
What to do when our children experience a soul fever? We should do the same as we do when our children have a physical fever. Press the pause button. It’s the logic behind our instinct to give our children a mental health day and keep them home from school. A day or two to help them recover from their soul fever.
Much of the book has reinforced my own intuitive way of parenting my highly sensitive children. In no other chapter was this more clear to me than in the section about our children’s schedules.
“What Sarah realized was that these big family holidays were too crazy, too arousing for Emily if they weren’t balanced with some more calming activities.” Payne goes on to say, “Sarah began to bring this awareness – the arousing/calming balance – more generally to Emily’s schedule.”
This translates to building in a calm day after an active or arousing day. It’s the bucket fillers and bucket emptiers idea in a nutshell. My children need calm and quiet at the end of their school day and if I propped their schedule full with after school activities I know it would be a disaster. Sometimes when I look around me it feels like I am the only one who feels this way so it was nice to read a viewpoint that children do need to live a lot more ‘unscheduled’ than many of them currently do.
Perhaps scheduling more time with us would serve them better – after all most children crave their parent’s attention, dedicated attention without any distraction.
Payne advocates for simplifying our food choices too, sheltering children from the marketing that is directed at them to eat crap they just don’t need. Makes sense right?
This is where I did start diverging from Payne’s views – screens. Or more specifically television time. I limit my sons’ (aged 9, 6 and 4) time in front of the TV. It absolutely has a bucket filling effect on my eldest. My youngest is easily scared by images he sees, even in programs that are rated suitable for all ages. So yes, time sat watching TV is limited. Payne states that children under the age of seven shouldn’t watch TV. The effect of what they see is too great on them. There are, of course, many reasons why children shouldn’t be plonked in front of a screen hour after hour, but I find Payne’s views extreme. We find a middle way through and I couldn’t imagine banning the television completely until my children are seven.
I also severely restrict the use of the Wii, the DS and the IPad. As I write there has just been a major meltdown after being on the Wii. The effect on my kids is overwhelming and not worth the fun they have whilst on it.
Media and the Adult World
Our children, those with media and internet access, are bombarded with the adult world. As adults we have access to more information that we could ever possibly need – the bad stuff too. Parenting from a base of fear is more common these days that a generation or two ago because when something awful happens we are blasted on all sides with every tiny detail. But we can also choose not to drown in the details, to stay away from all the media surrounding us. It’s a conscious decision I made a couple of years ago – I decided I didn’t need to know about every local house break in, act of violence and crime committed in my neighbourhood. My husband, as part of a community watch team, gets newsletters about incidents in the area, which he kept forwarding to me. I asked him to stop. I know about the big stuff. I watch the news once a day. I see breaking stories, but I don’t need to know every single detail. I don’t want to parent from a base of fear.
Payne advocates for less screen time, less exposure to the adult world for our kids. I couldn’t agree more. In other words, let’s make sure that our kids see the world through the eyes of a child, and not through ours.
What I particularly love about this book is that it reinforces the instinctive way I am parenting my three highly sensitive boys. I have never set out to simplify my children’s lives, nor our family life, merely to create the calm my children (and I) need, but the result is the same.
We need to take parenting back to the basics. Keep it simple.
This book made me think of highly sensitive children as canaries. Canaries were taken into the mines to save the lives of the miners. The birds are more sensitive to the deadly gases in the mines than humans, and so if the birds keeled over it was time for the men to get the hell out. So if our highly sensitive children are struggling in our modern society, then perhaps other children are struggling too albeit less visibly.
My copy of this book is staying in my bedside cupboard as a reminder to keep it simple!
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Over to You: Have you read Simplicity Parenting? What did you get out of reading it?