Want Happier, Calmer Kids? Simplify Their World

Most of kids’ behavioral problems today are a result of having too much stuff and too busy a schedule, author of Simplicity Parenting says

“Many of today’s behavioral issues come from children having too much stuff and living a life that is too fast,” says Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids.

Over the last several decades, most families have gradually increased the speed of their lives and the number of their activities, and unconsciously dragged their children along in the rat race, Payne, a Waldorf educator, observes in his book.

“Looking around, there always seems to be another family that does everything you do, and more, managing to squeeze in skiing, or Space Camp, or French horn lessons on top of everything else,” Payne says.

But childhood should not be “a race to accumulate all of the consumer goods and stresses of adulthood in record time,” he argues.

We are subjecting our children to sensory overload — “too many trinkets, too many choices, too much information.” It’s stressing them out and causing them to lash out, he says.

Payne, who also works as a family counselor and public school trainer, emphasizes two main areas we can simplify our children’s lives — their environment and their schedules:

Clearing the clutter

“As you decrease the quantity of your child’s toys and clutter, you increase their attention and their capacity for deep play,” Payne says. “Too much stuff leads to too little time and too little depth in the way kids see and explore their worlds.”

When deciding what to keep, focus on toys that keep your child plays with for long periods of time, Payne recommends. Often, these are simple, classic toys without lots of bells and whistles – stuffed animals, dolls, building toys such as Legos, trains and cars, dress-up clothes, and arts and crafts materials.

Leave only a handful of the child’s current favorite books within reach, and keep the rest in a “library” where they can be rotated in and out.

Leave out a box or basket of fabric, string or pillows for creating forts and playhouses, then give your child time to adjust and create his own imaginary world from the simplified selection of toys.

“Children need time to become themselves–through play and social interaction,” Payne says. “If you overwhelm a child with stuff–with choices and pseudochoices–before they are ready, they will only know one emotional gesture: More!”

Clearing the calendar

Simplifying a child’s schedule can reduce the frantic feeling of always being on the go.

Between school, homework, sports, screen-time and other extracurricular activities, children lack the free time needed for creative play and exploration… and rest!

“Rest nurtures creativity,” Payne says. “A half hour or an hour of quiet, restful solitary time during the day is restorative at any age.”

Clearing the clutter and the calendar establishes an “unspoken emphasis on relationship,” Payne adds.

“In the tapestry of childhood, what stands out is not the splashy trips to Disneyland, but the common threads that run throughout and repeat: the family dinners, nature walks, reading together at bedtime, Saturday morning pancakes.”

“As parents we also define ourselves by what we bring our attention and presence to,”  By eliminating some of the clutter in our lives we can concentrate on what we really value.

For more tips on how to simplify your child’s world, check out Payne’s book Simplicity Parenting







One response to “Want Happier, Calmer Kids? Simplify Their World”

  1. Sarah Avatar

    I don’t have children yet, but I become frustrated with parents who tell me I have to run our future family’s life like the rest of American families do. They tell me it’s unavoidable. I’d much rather our family be out turning over creek stones looking for crawdads or hiking together than my son or daughter be a young star athlete/best violinist/insert whatever societal aspiration I’m supposed to live through my children.

    You know how I know it can happen? Because that was the life my parents had us live and today I’m grateful for it. I remember fondly catching bull frogs with my dad, climbing the trees around my parents’ yard, hiking (and complaining) at Hawk Mountain, raising wild baby birds, and so much more. These are fonder memories than the memories of extracurricular activities, although I do cherish the memories of feeling like a team with the other girls (even though I was a terrible at the sport and just played for fun). Sure, I never received a scholarship for college and had to pay all on my own, but I’m not suffering today for using my brain and finding affordable colleges.