A common rookie parenting mistake is to give a young child too many choices or fill their proverbial dance card with too many activities. The well-intentioned strategy seems like it should be a positive parenting technique that will help kids know their own minds, or become mature and knowledgeable about the world around them while never missing out on a single educational or extracurricular opportunity. But experts are finding that the increasing complications of childhood can backfire in a big way. With rising rates of social and behavioral issues including ADD, not to mention increasing amounts of stress and anxiety about the world around them, advocating for and adopting a simplified childhood may be the best lifestyle medicine. So, what does simplifying childhood actually look like? Read on to find out.
According to a new book by Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting, this type of childhood looks a lot like what previous generations experienced. Payne uses the idea of the Four Pillars of Excess to describe today’s childhood:
*too much stuff
*too many choices
*too much speed
*too much information
Basically, kids have too many toys (the average in the country is 150 toys per kid!) so they have less incentive to actually delve deep into creative play with them, instead flitting around for a few minutes and then being overwhelmed, while simultaneously complaining there is nothing to play with. As for too many choices, kids are given the freedom to choose widely in multiple areas in most households, from their after school activities to their wardrobe choices to the 400 television channels available.
Childhood has become much more fast-paced. Between all those activities and homework, kids are losing a valuable opportunity for unstructured, free play which also simultaneously helps them relax and boosts their creativity. As for the information piece, there’s simply so much available on so many different types of media — and increased screen time means that kids have access to this news more than ever. Although it’s important for kids to be aware of what’s going on in the world and have a sense of themselves as global citizens, in some cases they are simply too young to understand and absorb the issues that are scary and make little ones feel helpless or worried.
The simplified childhood solution creates space for kids to be kids. It doesn’t mean shunning all social and educational opportunities, but rather observes the benefit of giving fewer options, delaying (and potentially eliminating) the stress, worry, and mental health issues that plague so many adults, and leaving time for kids to explore creatively and even be bored, which is surprisingly beneficial in that it helps kids learn to find or rediscover their interests and make their own learning decisions. One of Payne’s studies involved simplifying the lives of children with Attention Deficit Disorder. Within four months, 68% of the children went from being clinically dysfunctional to clinically functional with the added benefit of a 37% increase in academic and cognitive aptitude. But a child doesn’t need a clinical diagnosis to benefit from a simplified childhood. Opting out of non-essential activities that don’t put the wind in anyone’s sails, waiting to discuss family finances until little ears aren’t listening, or simply resisting the urge to sign your child up for yet another activity that claims to boost their academic outcomes are all ways to incrementally simplify your child’s life. Your own life could probably benefit from the break in rushing around too.