August 30, 2012

Simplicity Parenting

As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Beware the barrenness of a busy life.   ~Socrates

I recently attended a lecture by Kim John Payne, M.Ed promoting his philosophy (and book), Simplicity Parenting.    The gist of his approach is appropriately simple:  simplify our children’s lives so that their development can naturally unfold.  The premise was born out of years of work and research across the world in a multitude of settings, from rural London to the refugee camps in Cambodia and Jakarta.  What he began to see in many of the kids in the “normal” Western lives astounded him- they manifest many of the same symptoms of PTSD that the refugee kids borne into tremendous stress and witnessing incredible horrors were showing- hypervigilance, nervousness, anxiousness, lack of resiliency, lack of impulse control, lack of empathy, lack of perspective taking.   Although these suburban kids had not faced any kind of direct trauma, they were essentially being traumatized on a daily basis by their busy lives in an “undeclared war on childhood,” as he put it.   The same stress reaction – that fight, flight, fright, or freeze response –  was being triggered in the chaos of their frenetic upbringing- the chaos of having too much, too fast,  too many choices, too many toys, too many activities, too much on-the-go time, too much media, too much of the adult world of fears, drives, ambitions and speed- all of it was coming in unchecked.    He characterized the reaction to these accumulated stresses as Cumulative Stress Reaction (CSR), what has now evolved in the psychological world as complex PTSD.

To treat these kids and families, he began to evaluate their frantic world and to simplify it, to remove the cause of the “soul fever,” as he dubbed it.  ”By simplifying,  we protect the environment for childhood’s slow, essential unfolding of self,” and allow for  the development of identity, well-being, and resiliency.

The process consists essentially of five steps:

1. Recognize the “soul fever” and  quiet things down (i.e. cancel programs, “ground” them, have a sick day), and bring the child close, just like if they had a “real” fever.

2. Simplify the environment; remove the excesses- toys, clothes, books, lighting, sounds, smells, etc.  ”As you decrease the quantity of your child’s toys and clutter, you increase their attention and their capacity for deep play.”

3. Get rhythm and ritual in your life (like a family dinner)-  which creates predictability, cooperation, connection, and security.

4. Simplify the schedule and allow time for boredom and free-play.

5. Filter out the adult world, especially screen-time.

The process is appropriately simple….

In the preliminary research on simplifying the child’s environment, “68 percent of the children whose parents and teachers adhered to the protocol went from clinically dysfunctional to clinically functional in four months.”  That’s astounding. And no prescriptions were required, only trash-bags to remove the excesses.

To put it another way,  ”Stress can push children along the behavioral spectrum. When you simplify a child’s life on a number of levels, back they come.”