Book Review: Simplicity Parenting



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

In a well-written book, Kim John Payne and Lisa Ross use practical ideas and checklists to propose inspiring ideas to make parenting simpler.

The principle idea of Simplicity Parenting is that life should not be overwhelming. The book is about eliminating distractions, clutter and stress.

Simplicity Parenting argues that in today’s busy and fast society, there’s too much stuff and too many choices.

The book suggests that less leads to more: parents should adopt simplified parenting if they want their children’s individuality to flourish and if their objective is to raise calmer and happier children.

The book offers clear strategies on how to simplify around issues such as food, sleep and rest.

The concept of food

According to Payne & Ross, food should be simplified. The authors advocate natural food stuffs and argue that parents’ first priority should be to wean their children off of high processed snacks:

– the purpose of food is to nourish, not entertain
– food should be grown, not designed
– food should not be unnecessarily complex

Simplicity Parenting argues that once parents simplify food, children become less and less picky.

The book gives tips on how this can be achieved – for instance, by setting limits at home and limiting the choices given to young children who are yet to develop their own good judgement.

One of the ideas my family has borrowed from the book Simplicity Parenting is making meals predictable. Payne & Ross suggest that families should choose one theme for each day of the week and stick to it weekly (pasta night, soup night, etc.). They argue that although teenagers might complain (it is indeed their job to do so!) adopting such traditions provides children with roots. Moreover, predictable meals are easier to prepare (less demanding).

The concept of sleep

Simplicity Parenting suggests that many low self-esteem issues are tied to a lack of sleep.

Payne & Ross contend that sleep builds resilience. According to them, children under eleven need approximately 11 hours of sleep. They argue that to provide a smooth transition to bedtime, children require a sense of rhythm and a feeling of connectedness with their parents. Predictability at bed time is an important element and gives children an occasion to process their day.

Payne & Ross identify bedtime stories as one of the ways that are effective in ensuring a good transition to sleep. They encourage parents to create stories in which their children and the simple events they encounter everyday are placed at the centre of the story (making their children the main characters).

According to Payne & Ross, stories can also be used to help children process difficult periods in their lives “Most of the answers a young child is looking for can be found in a story. This is a good example of the difference between our worlds as children and adults.”

The concept of rest

Payne & Ross suggest that children need a daily quiet time that allows them to rest: “A quiet rest time during the day is something to hold on to for as long as possible”. Although schooled children can take advantage of weekends and the summer, an after-school transition ritual is also an opportunity to help children unwind. The authors propose several activities that include work, an after-school snack, a nap or ongoing projects.

A key idea in the book Simplicity Parenting is that the more time and energy families save, the more time they have to participate in more meaningful activities such as family time together, play and relaxation.

A summary of the Key concepts from Simplicity Parenting

1) Less is more

Payne & Ross claim that less (less toys, less books, less clutter, less sounds, less light) will help parents “gain time, connectivity, security, and ease”. According to them, “Just as too many toys may stifle creativity, too many scheduled activities may limit a child’s ability to direct themselves, to fill their own time, to find and follow their own path.”

2) The power of routines

According to Simplicity Parenting, rituals are important as they provide children with important roots. The authors suggest that everyday family life should be guided by rhythms and rituals which help ease daily tensions. They argue that “Where well-established rhythms exist, there is much less parental verbiage, less effort, and fewer problems around transitions.

3) Rest

Payne & Ross suggest that children need adequate rest from constant activity and that parents also “need to relax”. According to them “sleep is the ultimate rhythm”: “Most children between two and six need eleven hours of sleep. From ages six to eleven, some kids can do well with ten hours, but that number will go up again – to eleven or even twelve hours – during adolescence.

4) Start small

According to Payne & Ross, parents should be more reflexive and should “introduce small, doable changes”.

5) Keep things simple

Payne & Ross claim that simple things are best. For instance, they advocate “non complex food” and simple toys. They also urge parents to teach their children to learn to appreciate the simple pleasures that can be found in ordinary days and to avoid striving to make every day extraordinary.

6) Stop overparenting

According to Simplicity Parenting, children need unstructured time. Unstructured time (and boredom) facilitates creativity and resourcefulness. The authors advise parents to reduce their parental involvement and stop over-monitoring and over-involving.

7) Let kids be kids

Payne & Ross argue that children are exposed to too much information about the adult world and suggest that parents should “filter out the adult world” by limiting the information and stimulation their children are exposed to. They also advise parents to speak less and to question whether what they are about to say is true, kind and necessary.

Simplicity Parenting: The cons

One of the key points I disagree with is the authors’ discouragement of emotional regulation.

The authors state “Children under nine certainly have feelings, but much of the time those feelings are unconscious, undifferentiated. In any kind of conflict or upset, if asked how they feel, most kids will say, very honestly, ‘Bad.’ They feel bad. To dissect and parse that, to push and push, imagining that they are hiding a much more subtle and nuanced feeling or reply, is invasive. It is also usually unproductive, except perhaps in making a child nervous. While young children have feelings, they only slowly become aware of them. Until the age of ten or so, their emotional consciousness and vocabulary are too premature to stand up to what we ask of them in our emotional monitoring and hovering”.

While I agree that dealing with young children’s emotions is indeed a sensitive issue, I disagree with the notion that children are unable to deal with their emotions. Indeed, there is strong evidence, (much of which has been reported in the book The Whole-Brain Child) to suggest that the manner in which parents discuss their children’s emotions can help them manage big emotions.

Although Simplicity Parenting is filled with great ideas, the book is somewhat wordy. I believe that some ideas could have been expressed more simply.

In sum, Simplicity Parenting provides a wealth of information for parents seeking to simplify parenting by eliminating distractions.