Aug 5, 2009

Boredom Parenting

The key to parenting is boredom. Well, simplicity really, but that title's already been taken. Simplicity Parenting by Dr. Kim John Payne doesn't even hit the bookstores until Aug.25, but I'd already call it a must-read based on talks I've seen him do, and the miraculous influence he's had on our family.

Clutter, he proposes, is a root evil in our lives and parenting. When called into a family to help with an A.D.D. child, he offers two choices - years of intensive therapy, or 2 garbage bags a week. He'll walk into your playroom and haul away 2 garbage bags of excess toys, books and gadgets. Then come back the next week and do the same thing, and in other rooms too. Eventually you'll have 5 books on the shelf (and others in book rotation), a few select toys in designated places on the shelves (again with more in rotation), and a noticeable absence of electronic gizmos and screens.

Our experience has been the re-emergence of our children. Rather than being overwhelmed by too much stimulation, bouncing from one distraction to another and leaving a trail of barely-used and little-respected toys in their destructive wake, the boys are able to select one item and take their time to enjoy it. They find new ways of playing with it (and each other), new ways of integrating it into play with other items from the shelf, and stay immersed in their play for much much longer. That is, the opposite of A.D.D.

Surprisingly, we parents are another form of clutter. When we over-organize our children's lives with creative activities, play dates, and entertaining them, we're another form of distraction they come to rely on. Not that we shouldn't be with our children, but there need to be times when they are just left alone to be kids. On a morning like right now, the kids have come to me several times already and I've just sent them back into the living room. Pretty soon they'll give up on me being their entertainment and they'll come up with something on their own that will engage them for at least 30 minutes to one hour.

A third form of clutter is busy schedules. Children thrive on routine and regularity - the security of knowing when dinner will be and what it will be frees them up to play. The times in our lives when we've maintained regular mealtimes and menus (Monday is soup night, Tuesday is fish...), regular bedtimes and rituals, regular chores, regular regular regular... have been the times when we function best as a family. Everyone knows the boundaries, no-one wastes energy wondering when anything is going to happen or who's going to wipe the table, so that same energy can go into our creative play.

I could write a whole book about this, but Kim John Payne beat me to it. And has a lot more experience with thousands of families. So this is just a too-brief testimonial of how well his ideas have worked in our family, and how we're looking forward to his book.

Darn, the kids only lasted 15 minutes on their own, now are demanding breakfast. Guess it's not quite the silver bullet, or hunger is more powerful than boredom.

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