Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids

An eloquent guide to help parents reclaim for their children the space and freedom to flourish.

Home » Book Summaries » Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids

Karsen: From the Parents Club, I’m Karsen Kolnicki. This is your briefing.


Karsen: Today, we’re discussing Simplicity Parenting. Written by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross.

In this title, internationally renowned family consultant Kim John Payne helps parents reclaim, for their children, the space and freedom that all kids need for their attention to deepen and their individuality to flourish.

Karsen: Vincent Phamvan on the key takeaways [pause] and what you need to know.


Karsen: Vincent, raising children in today’s world can be really challenging. What do the authors say about making parenting easier?

Vincent: Kim John Payne is a family consultant and he argues that parenting today has gotten too complicated. Even something a simple as picking toys has become challenging. What kind of toys should you buy? Do you encourage your kids to play sports? Or study music? Or do both?

While there’s no single right answer to the questions, there’s one thing that everyone would agree is good… and that’s simplicity. That’s what this book is all about. The authors say that Simplicity gives children the room to grow and learn at their own pace.

Karsen: So by detoxifying their lives and environment, the authors believe that this can help children be successful?

Vincent: Yes, the authors say that giving children a clear daily rhythm, balancing their schedules with predictability is the key to learning. A lot of people live overloaded lives, they say. Many of us, and I know I consider myself to be part of this group, are constantly staring at our phones and computers.

If we look up or step outside, we’re bombarded with advertisements on billboards and on buses and buildings. It’s a really hectic world that we live in.

The authors talk about how for children, this stress can cause a lot of stimuli.

Karsen: I think there’s a name for that—cumulative stress reaction.

Vincent: Yes, CSR for short. So Payne in his private work as a teacher and private consultant saw a lot of children in states of acute stress, anxiety, and nervousness. These are the different symptoms of cumulative stress reaction.

Karsen: But, could a child’s life be completely stress-free? Probably not, right?

Vincent: No, you can’t prevent children from experiencing stress and trauma. At some point, they’re going to fall out of a tree or get into a fight with one of their friends. And to be honest, these experiences will build resilience, improve their understanding of the world, and teach them how to behave.

However, if children are constantly stressed, their resilience doesn’t improve. Instead, it declines and results in the symptoms of CSR—acute stress, anxiety, and nervousness.

Karsen: What happens to a child with CSR in the long-run?

Vincent: The author gave an example of James, whose parents had reached out because of his anxiety getting worse over time.

His parents were educated and enjoyed engaging in debate. They stayed up to date with current events, and CNN was on in the house all the time. However, being constantly involved in the adult world was having an effect on James.

Over time, he became highly nervous and controlling. He even delayed learning how to ride a bike until he was 8 years old because he was so afraid of falling off the bike.

Karsen: Wow, so how can simplifying your life help with this?

Vincent: The authors argue that to maintain your child’s well-being, it’s important to simplify his or her life as much as possible.

One way of doing this is children actually don’t need a lot of toys. One study showed that the average American child receives, on average, 70 new toys per year. But children really don’t need to be showered with new things to play with every day. They need time and space to explore and grow.

When you give them too many toys in their play area, you’re giving them too much choice. And the author says this actually prevents them from growing up at a normal, natural pace because they’ll become demanding and insist on having more and more.

Playtime may begin to center around material objects rather than free, imaginative play.

Karsen: It sounds like that could really backfire. How can you prevent that from happening?

Vincent: To prevent this from happening, you can cut the number of toys your child has by halving the current amount twice or even three times.

There’s no definite number of toys they should have, but the goal is just to reduce the quantity.

Karsen: An easy way to get started might be to get rid of toys that are defective.

Vincent: That’s a great idea.

Karsen: Or maybe dispose of the ones that no longer appeal to your child’s imagination.

Vincent: Yes, there sometimes are toys that children will disassemble because they may be too “fixed” to begin with. A barbie doll that may end up with its legs and arms removed because your child found it too unchangeable and boring to play with.

Sometimes these can be disposed of or donated. If you can’t bear parting with a toy, you can store them away in a basement or attic for now.

Karsen: So the goal is to only save the toys that you know your child would really want to keep. What else does the author say that you can do to simplify your life?

Vincent: Precisely. The other area the author mentions is how parents can often struggle to maintain a daily rhythm for their children. Keeping a consistent schedule is hard enough for yourself… when you add together the schedule for the entire family, it’s even harder.

When most families are asked what their typical day is like, most respond that there is no typical day.

It’s vitally important that children have a structure in their days. They need predictability and regularity in their everyday lives.

Karsen: How can parents build structure in their children’s everyday lives?

Vincent: Payne says that the best way to do this is to create repetition with mealtime, playtime, bath time, and bedtime. By following a strict routine every day, the days will become more predictable for your child.

Over time, they’ll start thinking to themselves: “Oh, I just woke up, it must be time to eat breakfast soon.” Or “Oh, before I go to sleep, it’s time to read a book.”

Karsen: It sounds like limiting the number of surprises that your child gets will allow them to be able to preview what’s to come.

Vincent: Exactly. Many families live unpredictable lives, so you can’t know everything that’s going to happen every day. However, it is possible to let your child know the details that can be counted on.

Karsen: Okay, I’ve seen some parents’ crowded calendars, so as far as a child’s schedule is concerned, how many activities should be planned on their schedule?

Vincent: The author says that many parents overload their child’s schedule with activities, so if they have activities planned for most days of the week, it may be too much.

Parents want the best for their children, so they sign them up for everything: sports, school plays, clubs, auditions, karate.

Even though the child looks forward to the many different activities, by doing so many of them, their life may become focused on competitiveness and what they can achieve instead of the enjoyment and satisfaction of the activity.

The author calls this being overscheduled. This is when you have little to no time to just do nothing. If you’re unable to fully engage deeply in creative play because you don’t have free time… well, this can deprive them of creative playtime and of the opportunity to learn and grow.

Karsen: But getting children involved in sports and other positive activities can be good for them?

Vincent: Yes, it can be good for them, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of personal playtime. There should be a balance between their different activities and downtime.

Karsen: What happens when a child’s schedule is overscheduled?

Vincent: Well, the authors give an example in the book. One was Sarah, a mother who decided to have her daughter’s schedule full of activities. When Sarah’s family was over at her house for Passover, the environment was chaotic and Sarah’s daughter, Emily, became really overwhelmed and started misbehaving in a really aggressive way.

Sarah took Emily out for a bike ride. This gave Emily the time that she needed away from all the activities that were happening. The activities felt like a strict schedule that she had to follow, whereas the bike ride was just time to relax and play.

Karsen: Does the author give any other tips for simplifying life?

Vincent: One other area that Payne mentions is how many adults are under a lot of strain and anxiety, which sometimes spills over to children.

Karsen: So how can parents prevent this from happening?

Vincent: The author suggests separating children from the adult world. An easy way to do this is to curtail the constant stream of information that’s broadcast through screens and social media.

Households have a lot of different screens now… TVs, computers, phones, tablets. It’s a constant stream of empty entertainment that’s sensationalized and often violent.

Giving your child the opportunity to learn and grow naturally without being corrupted by the influx of adult information is healthy.

Karsen: That makes a lot of sense. Watching TV isn’t a replacement for being outside and interacting with others around you.

Vincent: Precisely. There was a 2005 study where neurologists looked at how to optimally develop children’s brains between the ages of zero and two. What they found is that interaction with other humans in their environment, and playing problem-solving games like peekaboo are important. So watching TV doesn’t involve these activities, so children don’t benefit from it at all.

In fact, a 1999 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that no child under the age of two should watch TV and that children above the age of two should only watch a limited amount of TV.

So limit the number of screens in the home if possible, and limit the introduction of screen time for young children for as long as you can.

Karsen: It sounds like the key takeaway from this book is that life can be stressful for many adults, but separating the anxiety so that children are not impacted by the strain can help with their development. By simplifying your child’s environment, introducing a stable schedule, and protecting them from the adult world, you can help them develop a lifetime of happy, healthy habits where they can play and flourish.


Karsen: That’s it for your briefing. I’m Karsen Kolnicki. See you next time.


From internationally renowned family consultant Kim John Payne comes an eloquent guide that seeks to help parents reclaim for their children the space and freedom that all kids need for their individuality to flourish.

Today’s busier, faster, supersized society is waging an undeclared war . . . on childhood. As the pace of life accelerates to hyperspeed–with too much stuff, too many choices and too little time–children feel the pressure. They can become anxious, have trouble with friends and school, or even be diagnosed with behavioral problems. Now, in defense of the extraordinary power of less, internationally renowned family consultant Kim John Payne helps parents reclaim for their children space and freedom that all kids need, allowing their children’s attention to focus and their individuality to flourish.

Based on Payne’s twenty year’s experience successfully counseling busy families, Simplicity Parenting teaches parents how to worry and hover less–and how to enjoy more. For those who want to slow their children’s lives down but don’t know where to start, Payne offers both inspiration and a blueprint for change.

  • Streamline your home environment. The average child has more than 150 toys. Here are tips for reducing the number of toys, books, and clutter–as well as the lights, sounds, and general sensory overload that crowd space young imaginations need in order to grow.
  • Establish rhythms and rituals. Predictability (routines) and transparency (knowing the day’s plan) are soothing pressure valves for children. Here are ways to ease daily tensions, create battle-free mealtimes and bedtimes, and tell if your child is overwhelmed.
  • Schedule a break in the schedule. Too many activities may limit children’s ability to motivate and direct themselves. Learn how to establish intervals of calm in your child’s daily torrent of constant doing–and familiarize yourself with the pros and cons of organized sports and other “enrichment” activities.
  • Scale back on media and parental involvement. Back out of hyper-parenting by managing your children’s “screen time” to limit the endless and sometimes scary deluge of information and stimulation.

Leave a Comment