Parenting - - Contents -

Sim­pli­fy­ing and de­clut­ter­ing

IFam­ily Coach, Jenny Hale, takes a look at the stun­ning im­pli­ca­tions of weav­ing sim­plic­ity and play­ful­ness back into fam­ily life.

grew up on a quar­ter-acre sec­tion, close to a cliff, a small or­chard of trees, a veg­gie gar­den and grandma a 10 minute walk away. Most of my clothes were hand-sewn and my jumpers were knit­ted. When I or my sib­lings grew out of them, they got handed on.

We had one car, so if we did an af­ter-school ac­tiv­ity we had to be able to walk or bus there. We all walked to the lo­cal pri­mary school and we sat at the kitchen ta­ble for din­ner – the spe­cial din­ing room ta­ble was for im­por­tant oc­ca­sions. I had two sig­nif­i­cant birth­day par­ties that I can re­mem­ber – and they were spe­cial. We never had pocket money, but we did get a chance to earn ex­tra dol­lars for spe­cial things like the movies or the Easter show.

I know we had a play­room but I can only re­call there be­ing chalk and a black­board, books, ta­ble tennis, mar­bles, knuck­le­bones and board games. We spent most of our time out­side with balls, bats and our imag­i­na­tion. Tree-climb­ing, run­ning races, and hide-and- go-seek were favourites, and in my horsey phase, so was mak­ing the dog jump hur­dles. Mum was amaz­ing at pro­vid­ing breaks for re­fresh­ments which kept us go­ing and changed the pace so we could recharge the bat­ter­ies.

That was a long time ago, and ways of do­ing things change – but weav­ing some of the sim­plic­ity and play­ful­ness of that time into to­day’s fam­ily life could re­ally help. My role as a Fam­ily Coach of­fers the priv­i­lege of work­ing along­side fam­i­lies through­out New Zealand. I sit with amaz­ing par­ents who care deeply about their chil­dren. It con­cerns me when I hear of the out of con­trol be­hav­iour and anx­i­ety in chil­dren’s lives. Par­ents are ex­hausted and wor­ried. They have tried lots of par­ent­ing strate­gies but feel their chil­dren are be­hav­ing in ways they would not have dreamed of do­ing them­selves. It makes me won­der if we have got­ten our­selves too busy and too stressed.

Are par­ents feel­ing that good par­ent­ing has to be ex­haust­ing and fran­tic, with lots of toys and ex­pe­ri­ences? Are we feel­ing guilty that we're not avail­able enough so we buy more gear or add an­other ac­tiv­ity into the sched­ule? On my own jour­ney, I have been in­spired by in­ter­na­tion­ally-renowned author, Kim John Payne, who wrote Sim­plic­ity Par­ent­ing. He says that to­day’s busier, faster so­ci­ety is wag­ing an un­de­clared war on child­hood. With too much stuff, too many choices, and too lit­tle time, chil­dren can be­come anx­ious, have trou­ble with friends and school, or even be di­ag­nosed with be­havioural prob­lems. Now he is help­ing par­ents re­claim for their chil­dren the space and free­dom that all kids need for their at­ten­tion to deepen and their in­di­vid­u­al­ity to flour­ish. So how do we get child­hood back? We want our kids to have ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence what life has to of­fer and not miss out on a chance to get bet­ter at some­thing. We are very in­flu­enced by what oth­ers are do­ing and it can hugely mod­ify what we do with our own kids. It can be a lonely place to be do­ing things dif­fer­ently to ev­ery­one else. Maybe a good place to start is to pause be­fore we say, "Yes!" to more ac­tiv­ity or stuff. We need to ask our­selves a few good ques­tions to keep things in bal­ance. Will this add more pres­sure, or will it give us more time to be re­laxed? Am I do­ing this be­cause I think it's what oth­ers ex­pect me to do, or be­cause I want to? Am I do­ing this be­cause my child is pres­sur­ing me, or be­cause I be­lieve it's good for our fam­ily?

Once you have grounded your­self with these ques­tions, give your­self so me free­dom to beat your own drum and do what works for your fam­ily. Not easy – but pos­si­ble. Chil­dren play with more imag­i­na­tion and re­source­ful­ness when they have fewer toys to choose from. It in­vites deeper think­ing and stirs up pos­si­bil­i­ties. A good idea is to box up toys and cir­cu­late

fam­ily mat­ters

them so that at any one time, there are lim­ited choices. Ev­ery week or so, ro­tate the toys with a fresh box or two. At any one time you might have the Du­plo out, the puz­zles, the cars, the book box, the dolls and the crayons and pa­per. The other lovely toys are stored away, wait­ing their turn for a ro­ta­tion. When a child does not have ex­actly what they are af­ter, like a phone – watch them cre­atively adapt a block or even their hand and turn it into one. If a child has just started school, wait at least six months be­fore en­rolling them in some­thing else. They will be tired from school and need lots of down time. As par­ents, you can de­cide when it's time for some­thing else and then go for one ac­tiv­ity per term. There are ap­prox­i­mately 12 years of school, so let your chil­dren look for­ward to try­ing new things – just not all at once. Kim Payne re­minds us that the busier you are, the more your chil­dren need, and will ben­e­fit from, the es­tab­lish­ing of a sense of rhythm. What things do you do ev­ery day that are pre­dictable, cer­tain and so reg­u­lar they just tick over? It might be the fam­ily break­fast, the sys­tem­atic tran­si­tion be­tween ac­tiv­i­ties – like get­ting up, mak­ing the bed, eat­ing break­fast, pack­ing a school bag and clean­ing teeth. Young chil­dren are helped by see­ing pho­tos of the ac­tiv­i­ties that need do­ing. If you have an­chors in your day, your chil­dren will slip into the reg­u­lar­ity of them with a lot less fuss than if you do them now and then. Af­ter­noon tea is a great time to re­con­nect, sit and pause to­gether over some nour­ish­ment. Sit at the ta­ble and be present with your chil­dren.

Other an­chors could be Fri­day fam­ily nights, fort­nightly fam­ily meet­ings, go­ing to the grand­par­ents’ house for din­ner, sum­mer pic­nics in the park, win­ter marsh­mal­low toast­ing, movie nights, and board game nights. Chil­dren love to know that the lovely ac­tiv­i­ties in the fam­ily are on re­peat. Maybe de­cide that your child’s par­ties can be held ev­ery sec­ond year. On the al­ter­nate years, they can have one or two friends for din­ner. Keep birth­day presents sim­pler and more af­ford­able. A box of crayons, a book, or some plas­ticine are great gifts. Our kids are over­loaded with gifts at par­ties and it seems the more they get, the more they want.

fam­ily mat­ters

Sleep­overs and play dates are such a treat. Chil­dren are an­tic­i­pa­tors and they love to know that some­thing good is com­ing up. For ex­am­ple, “Let’s look for­ward to that. We can talk about it around your sev­enth birth­day.” There are mul­ti­ple pos­i­tive ben­e­fits from hav­ing fre­quent fam­ily meals. Eat­ing to­gether im­pacts the qual­ity of what chil­dren eat, fam­ily dy­nam­ics and even re­duces the like­li­hood of al­co­hol and drug abuse. If din­ner is hard to do, try dessert or break­fast time. Morn­ing and af­ter­noon teas can also add to fam­ily close­ness and im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Have sys­tems in place – the ta­ble is set, ev­ery­one starts to­gether, ev­ery­one pitches in with clear­ing up. The key to suc­cess is rou­tine – do it of­ten enough so that chil­dren know the drill and it’s easy. Keep it light and fun by hav­ing a few good talk trig­gers that ev­ery­one can re­spond to. It’s tempt­ing to en­ter­tain chil­dren con­stantly or de­fault to a screen be­fore giv­ing them time to re­ally think about what to do next. When chil­dren say they're bored, this of­ten means they can’t think of what to do next. Leave a gap – let them come up with some of their own ideas. You might re­fer them to the list of ac­tiv­i­ties on the fridge and just em­pathise with their feel­ings and wait.

Chil­dren don’t al­ways know how to reg­u­late their rest and play. Hav­ing a reg­u­lar ‘read on the bed’ time is a good way to change the tempo, help­ing chil­dren recharge their bat­ter­ies and also giv­ing ev­ery­one a break from each other. This is not a pun­ish­ment and is an­other lovely rhythm to in­clude.

Bush or beach walks are re­fresh­ing and restora­tive. The senses are en­gaged in new ways when you smell the sea salt, touch the coarse sand, find where crabs hide out and get your hair blown about. Chil­dren will find things to do and get a new bal­ance. We can over­dose on prais­ing chil­dren and set them up to feel de­pen­dent on what other peo­ple think and say about their work and play. In­stead of com­pli­ment­ing and cri­tiquing their ex­pe­ri­ences, let the ex­pe­ri­ence have its own joy. Chil­dren love to be no­ticed and it is more sat­is­fy­ing to have some­one come along­side you and men­tion that you have been busy draw­ing lots of trees, than it is to hear that your trees are the best.

It can take time to get into new rhythms. With any change there is of­ten an un­easy feel­ing while you get used to it. Your chil­dren may com­plain ini­tially be­cause they still want to do bal­let, gui­tar, soc­cer and karate each week. They may also dis­like hav­ing din­ner at the ta­ble each night in­stead of on their lap. Bring them on board with a new vi­sion of how you are gath­er­ing more time to­gether as a fam­ily to en­joy each other and be more peace­ful. They will come on board and given time, your fam­ily can find a new pace and a whole lot less stress.

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