In one of my previous posts, I’ve introduced you to Kim John Payne’s Simplicity Parenting book and its main idea: simplifying your home and life truly benefits your children. One of the aspects of the simplification, and in fact the easiest one, is decluttering your physical environment. Payne examines the ways to get rid of the piles of toys, books, and clothes, and shows you how less choice results in your child’s developing stronger connections, more creativity and patience in the long run. But simplification doesn’t end here. What else can you do after purging your flat and playroom? Let’s have a look at it!
Avoiding overscheduling your children’s life.
Nowadays, when all extracurricular activities, just like toys, sell with the promise of raising Little Einsteins or Little Maradonas, it’s really hard not to overschedule our children’s life. There’s a huge temptation, or even pressure to squeeze in sports, music, extra languages and what-nots into our little one’s life. The main reason is that we’re terrified that otherwise they’ll drop behind in this fierce competition. And what’s even worse, it’ll be all our fault: they won’t be successful in life because we didn’t give them absolutely everything that we could. So quite unfortunately, we tend to consider these activities as ways to enhance their performance, hence we work them into competing, performing and excelling already quite early on.
But the reality is, with all the good intention we have again, at some point we even start causing them harm. It’s not only that, by nature, young children are simply can’t handle jam-packed, hurried days. (Can adults, really?) But this way they’re also robbed of the possibility of true engagement, or passion for doing something for the sake of pure pleasure. Payne argues that it’s not organised activities that help our kids grow, but boredom and free play. Yes, it’s great to have some extra activity in our children’s life that they can benefit from, but free time is the thing they need the most for their development as well as their well-being. Kids need unstructured time to run their imagination wild: to get creative with their toys, to daydream in the grass and to climb trees, to discover the world around them, and to enjoy some family time close to us. Also, aren’t all of our happiest childhood memories come from such moments of true freedom?
As we discovered after LittleMK’s birth, there are already myriad of extracurricular activities for little babies: you can take them for swimming, early movement development, rhyme time classes, or you can even start English as a foreign language as early as three months. And while they are all nice and undoubtedly beneficial in one way or another, your baby most probably doesn’t need them all. But in this conscience game, how I like to call it, it’s really hard to say no. For example, I was obsessed by fear for months that LittleMK would skip crawling and bear its consequences for the rest of his life, only because I didn’t take him to early movement development. In retrospect, I know it’s funny, but back then it did give me sleepless nights.
Anyway, the book made us more aware about our choices and reasons to participate in such activities with him. And while we do attend to such things once in a while (baby swimming or rhyme time classes, for instance), but we only do it for our own entertainment. When we all feel like doing it as a family, or when we see that the activity or the company of other children gives LittleMK pleasure.
Using the following questions, I’ll also try to test the necessity of such activities later on in his life, when the temptation will be even bigger to enrol him to different classes:
- Does it really fit into our daily and weekly rhythm?
- Does LittleMK enjoy being there? Does he have a great time?
- Do we, me and my husband, like it as well? If we participate, do we all have fun?
- Or if we’re just being MummyCab or DaddyCab, is the logistics easy? Or we need to make too much sacrifice for it?
Create daily rhythm for your family.
Another point the author makes is that children thrive on rhythm in their life. Consistency gives them a sense of security. If they know what’s coming their way and when, they feel safe and assured.
In the beginning, nobody told me when people talked about rhythm, what they really meant was schedule. (Maybe thanks to parenting books like Gina Ford’s The New Contented Little Baby Book, which I could hardly resist burning 12 weeks postpartum!) Questions like ‘What time exactly he has his afternoon nap?’ or ‘What will you be doing tomorrow at 3 o’clock?’ made me feel like the worst mom in the block, especially in the first months. We did eating, sleeping, playing on demand, for which I was criticised a lot. But somehow this is what came naturally, I just couldn’t do it any differently.
But rhythm, so the sequence of things was fixed quite early on, even without me realising it. And the good news is that by now it has also brought us much more predictability into our life timewise as well. And yes, we absolutely have extraordinary days: as you know, we love going around with our baby. But when we do so, we try to pay attention to have the same rhythm and rituals on the road. We also bring along familiar things for him – scented oil we massage him before bath, or the relaxation music we play to him before getting ready for bed. We also acknowledge that these extraordinary days can be hard on him, and without fail, he needs some time to readjust again in our usual family environment afterwards. So I always embrace ordinary days in return after such adventures.
Simplify the information reaching your children, filter out the adult world.
No, it’s not good to discuss politics, natural catastrophes or the neighbour’s illness around the dinner table. Even if you think you educate your child with such conversations, the fact is, he’s not ready to cope with all this information. It just simply doesn’t fit in his little world yet, and you’re causing him unnecessary worries and stress. So wait to discuss the adult gossip after they’re tucked into bed, and turn the radio away when news interrupt your singalong.
According to Payne, it’s not only adult conversations, though, that you need to be careful about. Another thing you should limit is screen time. Not controlling television, internet and other media for your children, is like letting a total stranger move into your house and teach (what I really mean: brainwash) your children what they should make of the world. And controlling means: totally banishing it in the first years, and later educating your kiddos of wise consumption. You’re surely aware of the staggering statistics and consequences too much screen time has on present generations, so I’m not going to bore you with it. But if you need reasons why be limit it, read the book or google “children AND screen time”.
Now, the television will be the easier part for us, because even though we have a device, it’s not in use – our subscription was cancelled long ago, because we hardly ever turned it on. What we are caught guilty though, is being glued to our phones all the time. Even though sometimes I feel that’s my only mean to survive some of the days at home, I still feel incredibly guilty about. It’s not a good example I’m showing LittleMK, and by example they learn the most, so that’s something I really need to (and I’m really trying to) work on.
Less hovering and less talk.
Finally, avoid helicopter parenting. It just won’t benefit your child if you meddle too much in his life. Rather back off, and let him fail. And fail again. Because that’s his way to build up his own confidence and eventually succeed on his own. Backing off also means less talk. While quality talking in the first years can influence your little one’s speech and cognitive development, there are occasions when you’d rather stay silent. For example, when your kiddo is in deep concentration, it’s really unnecessary to comment “Oh, you’re concentrating so well!“.
Talking is again something we need to be more conscious about with my husband. Raising a trilingual kid makes us automatically talk, talk and talk sometimes. Actually that was the most important advice we got before his birth: just keep talking to him. So when we’re together we repeat things to him sometimes even in two languages. And while there are many studies to make us confident why it’ll benefit him, I think we should still pay more attention when it’s really necessary to talk. I guess we just need to find a healthy balance.
What do you think about these ideas? Do they resonate with you? How are you trying to implement simplicity in your life?
Also, if you’re similarly interested in parenting books, check my list of suggestions which ones I find worthy to read and which ones I would rather avoid. What are your recommendations?
And the usual parenting post disclaimer: We are first time parents. So most of the time we have no idea what we are doing. We read and learn, follow our instinct and try to do our best. Which is not necessarily THE best, or maybe even good enough. There are different children, different families and different circumstances. Everyone should do their way, as it suits them and make them happy. So I only talk about our experience in my parenting posts, and all things stated are my personal opinion only. And even when I sound sure about myself and our decisions, it doesn’t mean I think other ways, even the opposite ones can’t work for others and be their best ways, and I don’t think they are brilliant parents. I don’t like when people believe in absolute ways, especially when it’s about parenting. It’s not like maths, there is no universal truth and instant rules of raising children. Parenting is an art, the art of love. And that’s the beauty of it.