Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids

by Kim John Payne with Lisa M. Ross

A how-to book on relieving stress from families, kids and parents alike. The key to Payne’s approach is simplifying, or filtering: less stuff, fewer toys, limited electronics, limited or no television, less news and adult drama in children’s lives, a greatly reduced schedule (one competitive sport, or one musical instrument, not everything at once). Payne argues that open, unstructured time is best for kids – time for them to be in charge of creative projects, time for them to discover themselves, or time for calm family connections. He posits that when kids have fewer options, they are freed from the stress of always wanting the next big thing, and come to appreciate the connections with the things they do have. He advocates ritual and routine to remove stress: a family dinner plan, for example, so kids know what to expect about food and parents don’t have to prepare at the last minute. Finally, regarding discipline, he advocates less speech – don’t drown your kids in endless narrative, choices, or questions, but offer simple instructions, and be there as a listener in return.

This is a pretty good book for its type. It’s written in a conversational, approachable style that occasionally borders on the meandering. He’s a zealot, but he doesn’t have a hectoring tone. His advice, of course, is good, though it doubtlessly comes as a shock to many parents in our consumerist, competitive culture. I’m reminded of a Buddhist precept: accept what can’t be changed; don’t chase happiness, because once you’ve attained it you’ll just want something else to make you happy. At times, Payne’s zealotry makes him claim some rather implausible things (kids today have PTSD because of their hectic schedules? Just start going to the park, and neighborhood kids will drop their PS3s and follow you as “word gets through the neighborhood grapevine”? Really?), but it is well-intentioned. Sure, as with most of these parenting books, the advice really just boils down to “Stop trying to please your kid, and be a parent!” Stop pleading with your child, and direct him. Why anyone would want to spend an hour every evening arguing with a four year old about eating or going to sleep is beyond me, but a lot of people seem to need to be told not to. So good for Payne for that. 

three stars

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