My guest this week is Kim John Payne, a consultant, and trainer to over 230 U.S. independent and public schools. Formerly serving as a school counselor, adult educator, consultant, researcher, and educator for nearly 30 years, Kim regularly gives key-note addresses at international conferences for educators, parents, and therapists and runs workshops and training sessions around the world. In each role, he has been helping children, adolescents and families explore issues such as social difficulties with siblings and classmates, attention and behavioral issues at home and school emotional issues such as defiance, aggression, addiction, and low self-esteem. As a partner of the Alliance for Childhood in Washington D.C, he has consulted for educational associations around the world and has run a private family counseling practice for more than 15 years.
In this episode, Kim and I discuss the principles and impact of simplicity parenting to help lessen stress and overwhelm within families. While many of us are experiencing new lifestyles and schedules at home it is extremely important to maintain or find a new working rhythm to your family’s day-to-day routine. By dialing down our normal busyness we have the opportunity to evaluate daily aggravators that induce stress and anxiety in our children, especially those struggling with behavioral and neurodevelopmental disorders. Kim provides clear, effective and manageable ways parents can begin to approach and implement simplicity parenting to find an optimal daily rhythm for their unique family needs. To learn more about Kim John Payne click here.
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Behavior and Brain Function
- The demands that are children face now are entirely different than what parents experienced in their childhood
- Behavioral and developmental issues become exacerbated when demanded too much of, our children need to slow down
4 Ways To Show Children They Are Safe
- Declutter the home
- Start with your space as a parent and then tackle the pantry and the living space
- Move into children’s bedroom/toy room and declutter there
- This signals to a child that here in our home we have space and order, not chaos
- Keeping a daily rhythm/schedule
- Give children a practical schedule for them to follow
- Some of the academic expectations for parents who are working and schooling from home have created extreme overwhelm
- Limit the academic time to what is necessary for each age to avoid overwhelm
- Structure the day to move from head to heart activities, from cognition to creativity to action
- Giving kids the gift of boredom, with no screen time involved
- Out of boredom comes self-creativity and self-motivation
- They need this time to become creative and enter into deep creative play which allows them to digest the world and cleanse themselves from anxiety
- Limit screen time and media + filtering out the adult information
- We must be careful of what we say in front of our children and what we allow them to see
- Is this kind? Is this securing? Is it true to my values? Is it necessary to be said right now?
- If you can’t answer yes to all four, it is best not to say anything at all
Where to learn more about Kim John Payne…
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Kim’s Story … 00:04:30
Stress and Disorders … 00:08:35
Behavior and Brain Function … 00:14:47
4 Ways To Show Children They Are Safe … 00:20:30
Simplicity Works … 00:39:05
Episode Wrap Up … 00:43:35
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Hi everyone, welcome to the show, I am Dr. Nicole, and today we’re going to be talking about how simplifying life for our children and our families can make a significant difference in our children’s development, relationships, and overall behavior. The world has gotten more and more complex over time. In many ways, expectations have increased dramatically, even for young children, and I am finding that many parents are more overwhelmed than ever before. This impacts not only us as parents, but also our children. We’ve got higher rates of things like anxiety issues, mood problems, behavior issues in children and adults for that matter than ever before. And so it really begs the question of whether we need to step back, slow down, look at how to simplify our lives to better support our children, and given the current situation that we have going on in the world right now with the pandemic that we’re facing, I feel like there has never been a better time to look at these issues and to really use this situation that we’re all going through right now as an opportunity to step back, to reevaluate, to reprioritize to develop, really, some better ways of being with our kids, being with each other as families and building a strong foundation that will allow our families to come out of this crisis situation doing even better than they were before, and I do believe that’s possible.
My guest on the show today is going to help us think about all of that. Kim John Payne is here to talk with us about why simplifying is really important and how we can accomplish that. So let me tell you a little bit about him. A consultant and trainer to more than 60 U.S. independent and public schools, Kim John Payne has been a school counselor, adult educator, consultant, researcher, and educator for nearly 30 years, and a private family counselor for more than 15 years. He regularly gives key-note addresses at international conferences for educators, parents, and therapists and runs workshops and training sessions around the world. In each role, he has been helping children, adolescents and families explore issues such as social difficulties with siblings and classmates, attention and behavioral issues at home and school and emotional issues such as defiance, aggression, addiction and low self-esteem. He is a partner of the Alliance for Childhood in Washington D.C, he has consulted for educational associations around the world. He’s been a project director of the Waldorf Collaborative Counseling Program at Antioch University New England and many, many other things that he has done to support educators and families and children. He has a wife and two children of his own and, I believe, lives on a farm and maybe he’ll tell us a bit more about that, has a book titled Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids. It’s a wonderful book, I’ve been very much looking forward to this conversation. Welcome to the show, Kim.
Kim John Payne:
Yeah, thanks Nicole, lovely to be here, thanks for the invitation.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So when we scheduled this several months ago, neither of us could have anticipated that the world would be quite in this place when we sat down to have this conversation, but really, I don’t think the timing could be better, actually to be talking about these concepts in the ways that we can be supporting families at this time. So I’d love to start by having you talk a bit about this idea of simplicity, one of the things that you say in the book that really stood out to me is: Many parents are building their families on the four pillars of too much: Too much stuff, too many choice, too much information and too fast. And that really resonates with me in the work that I do with families and what I’m seeing, so let’s start out talking a bit about that.
Kim John Payne:
Yeah, this came up for me years ago when I was, as a younger guy, working in refugee camps in South East Asia, just at the end of the Vietnam war. I was working in Jakarta, working in the Thai-Cambodian refugee camps and I came to see stressed kids very personally, every single day. And prior to that I had been working in group homes back in my birth country of Australia, for very stressed kids, abused kids. Imagine my surprise when that was over, when my time in the refugee camps was over, I came to study more, I wanted to do postgrad work and I moved to London in the U.K and I set up. Little family counseling practice on the side of my studies and there I was seeing wartime kids. They were nervous, jumpy, hypervigilant, just like the kids that I had left behind in Cambodia. It was kind of the same, it was like we were living in an undeclared war on childhood. And yet, I’d look at these kids’ lives and they were relatively normal, so to speak. They didn’t have war trauma. What they had was unrelenting, under-the-radar new normal of too much, too soon, too sexy, too young. And that was building up a cumulative charge of stress. It wasn’t wartime stress, so to speak, with very large, very scary events, but the brain and the social and emotional reality of that on these children’s beings was that they looked just like wartime kids, and they were from regular families, they were from different racial backgrounds, different socio-economic backgrounds, and that started a lifelong puzzle for me.
It was a huge puzzle, it was a big surprise because I thought I was now going to have this lovely little country practice, I had James Harriet in mind, I thought I’m going to have some little rascals come through the door, and through the door came these kids who were pretty much the same, reacting — not same, but in a similar way to the kids who had gone through war. One of the things that they had in common when I started really looking into this and it took a little bit of courage, perhaps, I don’t know, I was a bit worried about it, I thought this can’t be the case because that’s just too weird, but when I started looking into it, I Started realizing it was this new normal, this ubiquitous nature of stress and how life is sped up so much, slowly, relatively slowly over the last 20 or 30 years. And we look around our neighborhood and our neighbors are living in the same way. We look at kids at school, they’re living in the same way, so we sort of make the presumption, it’s going to be okay, right? That’s just the way things are. So that’s where this journey began, it’s trying to figure out what was going on and then what to do about it.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Such a fascinating awareness there about that, that the kids that you were seeing out of really obvious traumatic war-torn situations were responding in much the same way that kids in our communities are now and that idea of just too much coming at them all the time. And we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of kids diagnosed with things like ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, behavioral disorders, all of that and it does beg the question of how much of that is related to just the environment that kids are in and just how much is coming at them all the time and their ability to make sense of that and to respond to that appropriately.
Kim John Payne:
Well, one of the things that I did because of postgraduate studies and because I like to sort of obviously move beyond one’s own opinions, right? So we did some studies into this and with various populations of kids, kids with ADHD for example, which I never mentioned attention deficit as such a silly name to call it, it’s not a deficit, it’s an excess but it’s misprioritized, just to say real quick. But we did studies into this and the long and short of it, what I came to realize is that all kids are quirky, but they all have their quirks, it’s what makes them so lovable and kind of infuriating too, sometimes. But they all have their quirks. If we add cumulative stress, the new normal of too-muchness to their lives, that little quirk becomes problematic, it becomes a little bit fevered and then it can, if it continues on too long, it can become a disorder. But like an example would be a child who is just a busy child, very busy, they’re always on the go, but you add a lot of stress to that child, and in a sense, neurologically, you are saying to him or her or them that, “You are under threat.” That’s what this life is doing, that we’ve gotten so used to in some ways, but what’s happening is the amygdala, the fight or flight, freeze or flock brain is started to actually grow, for the first time in human evolution, the actual size of the amygdala is now starting to grow and not shrink. It’s remarkable. Truly, truly, remarkable.
So there’s this underlying threat that I am not coping, a child’s system, nervous system is just not coping with what they’re being asked to do. Very, very few of us as adults were ever asked to cope with what our kids are coping with now, just the pace of what they’re being asked to cope with. And so what happens is that busy kid, for example, becomes problematic and then even so-called ADHD, the child who just likes to have things orderly, the orderly child, becomes a bit rigid, stuck, stubborn, but if the unrelenting new normal of the supersized family life continues, they become OCD, obsessive-compulsive. If the child is just a bit feisty, it’s this great. He or she or they is just a bit feisty, if their amygdala starts firing an adrenaline and cortisol starts pumping through their systems at a higher level, they’re going to not just be fiesty, but they’re going to fight you back, they’re going to make things problematic for you. Everything becomes hard as a parent, but if it continues on, their quirk not only becomes problematic, it because opposition-defiance disorder, or even conduct disorder.
Now the remarkable thing — and Nicole, this is where this was so uplifting, because all that was very depressing, I’m told I’m good at that. So that’s pretty depressing, but, and real significance here is that as we simplify children’s lives in our studies, and as now this is going even further because we have over 1200 simplicity parenting coaches and group leaders around the world, so we’ve got a lot of experience in this over the last couple of decades. What happens is that that same thing that is a disorder slides back along a spectrum and just becomes their quirk again. As we bring cumulative simplicity, not cumulative stress, but as we dial back life, slow it down so that their nervous systems can cope, they just become quirky, like funny little boy or girl, there they are, there’s their quirk again. But the remarkable thing, the moving thing happens is that once parents realize that they see things like that all the time, like, I feel like I’ve got my little girl back, I feel like I’ve got my little boy back, they’re back! It’s remarkable, we didn’t have to do anything, we didn’t have to read any books, we didn’t have to do, learn anything. We just had to do less. It’s so easy to do less in some ways. But as they keep doing less, because this is very much when you realize that doing less you get your kid back, they hold true to that, the very same thing that was their disorder is actually their gift. It’s their gift. The very busy child who has ADHD, their gift is that they’re movers and shakers in the world. The very feisty kid who was oppositional-defiant disordered when they were stressed, when the brain was pumping out adrenaline and cortisol, when the brain is calmer, now what they’re doing is that they’re the warriors. They’re the kids who stand up for the weak. They’re the kids who are not — they’ll stand up alright, but in the past, they were standing up for themselves and pushing back and fighting back. We reduce that need for them to fight back and now what they’re going to do is they’re still going to stand up, but they stand up for others and it’s beautiful to see these gifts start coming.
And what’s so uplifting is that the choice is ours. I’m not denying that there’s ADD, ODD, PDD OCD, there’s no shortage of D’s. What I’m suggesting though is that through giving children a childhood, which is embarrassing to even say — that shouldn’t be a radical suggestion, giving children a childhood shouldn’t be radical. But it is, and doing that, the gift is revealed.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
It’s such a wonderful way to think about that, and really, very hopeful and very empowering because what you’re saying is that you found in the research that you did and in applying this now is that parents really do have the power to shift these things in a positive direction for kids, and that, obviously is what I believe as well, but it does stand somewhat in opposition to a lot of the mainstream information out there. Which is, these are brain-based, chemically-based disorders. If your child has this, there is nothing you can do except these, standard treatments and some medication, and this is what it is. And what we’re saying is, no, actually there are a lot of things that we have the power to shift to support children to develop in a way that can have these things then be strengths, or at least not have them go down the path of becoming significant disabilities or problems for them.
Kim John Payne:
Yeah, probably — beautifully put, actually. I think what you and I can both agree on is that it is chemically-based, it is brain-based, there is no denying that there is a reality to that, but if it’s biochemistry, if it’s brain-based and if it’s the hormones and the chemicals that the body produces, the obvious question is: Why is the body producing them? And my experience over long periods of time now with hundreds of thousands of kids is that we can be empowered, because those — particularly adrenaline and cortisol, and now we have a new third customer and that’s dopamine, high levels of dopamine caused by the gaming and online activity, pleasure and reward. Kids get addicted to pleasure and reward, where everything has to be pleasurable and rewarding, very easily.
But all those tendencies, we can have a good hand in keeping that secretion of those hormones, of those biochemicals into the brain by giving a child more space, more grace, more time to decompress and then the child’s not being flooded. It’s a little bit like this, the way I look at it is that — it’s a metaphor if I may. Our children, they have this sort of vessel within their being. Think of it as just the vessel of their being, in that sense, and there’s a tap above it. And that tap is just filling the cup beautifully, that’s just life, it’s all the friends they have, it’s the things they do, the school work they do, it’s the playing with siblings, it’s the bedtime stories, it’s the helping prepare food, and that’s all just filling the cup and it’s allowing the child to have that water of life, so to speak, it’s a lovely thing, it’s what they need.
But when there’s too much of that lovely thing, too much of that great stuff, because we’ve all got so much access in the west, particularly, the great stuff. When there’s too much of that great stuff, the tap is just pouring too much and it’s spilling out over the edge. It’s filling up and it’s spilling and there’s spillage. Now, that spillage is overwhelming, the child’s vessel to hold all this, and that spillage is what we call behavior. Behavior, bad behavior, so-called, is just communication. Behavior is communication, no more, no less, our child is trying to communicate to us is that “It’s too much, mom. It’s too much, I can’t do all this.” I sit at the table and some kid’s just weeping with the amount of homework that they’ve got to do after an 8-hour day, for example. Our decision as parents is — do we spend our life mopping up, dealing with difficult behavior, with push-back behavior, with even disorderly behavior? Do we spend our life mopping up or do we put our hand on the tap and turn it down? That’s all. And it’s a decision. It’s been remarkable how many countless numbers of people have had this gut feeling that something is not right, something is off with this. And what the simplicity parenting movement has done amongst others is given permission to parents to turn down the tap, simple as that. And then, the child is getting the right amount of nutrients to go through each day and not building up this rather toxic charge of nervous system overwhelm.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
It’s exactly the same way that I talk to parents about that too. Their cup is overflowing, and yeah, we need to turn down the flow, especially if parents have a child with neurodevelopmental issues, where they are slower to take in and make sense of the things going on around them in the first place. The faster that tap is turned up, the more they’re going to struggle and the quicker they’re going to get overwhelmed. So such an important way for people to think about it. And right now, with what we’re all living through with our children and our families with this pandemic and most families sheltering in place and kids being out of school and all of that, you and I were talking before we started the interview about how many parents are feeling even more overwhelmed right now because they have had a lifestyle and they built their family and managed their kids around lots of busyness, lots of externally-driven kinds of activities and now those are taken away and these families are really struggling. Let’s talk a bit about what you’re seeing with that, and that then will, I think, lead us into some things that families can start to do even right now to help.
Kim John Payne:
There are really four major things that I’m seeing that families can do, because I have been working with families now for about 6-8 weeks with this pandemic, because I work with families in Asia. China, Taiwan and so on. So it’s not exhaustive, in terms of my own experience, so I don’t claim this in any way to be the last word. But what I’ve seen in the last couple of months, two and a half months has been that the first thing to do when the world outside is disorderly, everything is changing, there are a few things we can do to give a child the message that “You know what? You’re secure and you’re safe here at home.” And I want to go over four of them just sort of headlining each one of these. The first one that many parents have found is to declutter the home. Is to start with the pantry, the kitchen, start with your space first as a parent so that a child doesn’t feel you’re invading their bedrooms and so on, but to declutter, tidy up, get everything in order, and then go into the lounge room, and then from the lounge room, have the children help as much as they can depending on their age, but even if they’re helping in a tiny little way for just a few short minutes, they’re taking part and just start to become orderly. And then move into the child’s bedroom and really look at the amount of toys, the amount of clothes, the amount of books. The average American child has 150 toys per child, that means a 3000-piece lego set counts as one.
And then if you’ve got two or three kids, you’re pushing 400-500 toys. Just decluttering, a sort of a pretty radical declutter. What that does is that it signals to a child, “Here in our home, we have space, here in our home we have order. Here in our home we do not have chaos.” Out there, a lot is going on and kids know it, even if they don’t know a lot, if we’ve been successful in keeping the news away from them, things have changed, and they’re aware of it, of course, they’re home. And giving that space — one parent said to me recently, “It’s almost like we can breathe now.” See, in the west, and particularly in North America, we tend to be a very verbal culture, and we’ll say to children, “You are safe, you are safe, you are safe.” The more we say that to a child, the more they don’t feel safe, because why is my mom saying that? Right? But if we can show them through four simple ways, they are, and this is one of them, we actually show it to them in their environment, because children are very plugged into their environment. So we can show them that the environment is orderly. That’s saying, “You are safe” without saying the words. It’s actually saying it to their bodies, to their whole somatic being.
The second way that we’ve noticed is to have more predictability and rhythm at home. That’s immediately saying to a child, “You’re safe.” If they wake up and they know that in the morning, for maybe 35-40 minutes, I would add maximum, they do their school work. Some schools are being really good about this and they’re not overwhelming kids, but I’ve got to say, Nicole, I’ve been speaking to — actually it was three families in a row yesterday in my private practice, and these were from different countries, because I have this video-based family practice all over the world, so it’s not just U.S-centric. And all three of them, two moms and a dad were tearing up at just the overwhelm of what the school was doing. Just throwing stuff at them. One mom said, “I’ve run out of ink because I’ve had to print out 45 pages this morning.” And this was for a third-grader, right? A 9-10 year old, and it’s just outrageous, what the schools are doing. The schools are not meaning to add to the family’s stress, because there are some parents who want that sort of support, particularly stay at home parents. But what about most of us who are working parents? How on earth do we actually do that? What do we do? Because now we’re working remotely from home, and so how does all that — so my advice is to get much more rhythm in-home, and limit, really strictly limit the amount of school work that you do, the amount of more academic book-based work. You can choose what you do. Our first loyalty is to our kids.
And if the schools want to do that, okay, they can do it but it’s our choice of how much we do. And I’ve been in contact with a number of administrators and school teachers and said look, “Is it okay if the parents just pick and choose?”, and they said, “Of course.” I said, “Well, please tell them that, because they feel they have to do everything, all of this.” So that’s one point. So to go from allowing 45-minutes, depending on a child’s age in the morning, an hour if they’re a little older, if they’re in high school maybe, 2-3 hours, but that’s it. That’s it. So for a 10-year-old, something like they get up in the morning and they know how they’re going to get up, the breakfast is the same way, they clean up in the same way.
They then sit down at the kitchen table in the same way, as much as possible, within reason and then they have a snack in the same way. Then in midmorning, that’s when they move from more cognitive thinking working into more — I call this project-based work or artistic work. They can draw, they can paint, they can model, they can get a project out. One little boy had completely deconstructed his mother’s vacuum cleaner because he wanted to figure out how it worked. Then he put it back together again, it took a whole week, and he made all these new nozzles out of ice-cream containers — he was that type of child. That took him a full week, and the mom said he did it from about 10 o’clock through to about 12:30, every single day, he did that project. There are all kinds of projects that we can do with our kids.
By the way, just a little tip, I like to have project boards, a piece of plywood, about 2 foot by 3 foot so that the project doesn’t have to be cleaned up, the board can just get picked up and put under a bed. The board can just go away, so the project can come out the next day and then we don’t have to do a complete restart, we don’t have to think. As parents, we’re not educators. We don’t have to think of a new idea everyday. There can be ideas that carry from day to day. If you have a board to put things on, then they can go away and come back out again like an old friend coming back. A day is a long time for a child, and when it comes back out, it’s lovely. And then lunch, maybe just a bit of quiet time, and then the afternoon, we move more into activity: Riding bikes, if that’s possible, if you’re in a sort of suburban or country environment, going for walks in the park, but doing something active. It might even be building a fort, it might be playing basketball out in the drive — whatever it is.
So we move from our head to our heart, to the creativity, to our hands in the afternoon. From cognition to creativity to action, and that’s generally the three steps of rhythm, but if we can keep a strong rhythm — even if we have rhythms like we are going to eat at a certain time, we’re just going to do that now, we’re going to go to bed in a certain way, we’re going to have this be very, very rhythmical and even if a family is rhythmical now, step up the rhythms. And if the day gets a bit weird, like one mom I was speaking to yesterday — she has meetings, video meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays morning, so she can’t be at the kitchen table with children doing the school-based work. So she just brings the project-based work back into the morning time, so the children are doing their work and their project, she doesn’t need to supervise that, not so heavily at all, then she is on her meeting. She finishes her meeting, and then in the midmorning, they do their school work.
I think within reason, it needs to shift, and we can give our kids a heads up the evening before. We can say, “Hey guys, tomorrow, here is the rhythm of the day.” You might even want to write it down. Here at simplicity parenting, we provide rhythm, a daily rhythm clock with lots of little icons for little children, so they can see what’s coming next. They actually go to this little picture-based clock that doesn’t have numbers on it, it’s just pictures, and they look, and it’s really amazing, they just look, and they say, “Okay, snack coming next, it’s snack!” And it’s like anxiety arnica, it just soothes them to know what’s coming next. So that’s rhythm. They’re the first two.
The third one is just allowing kids to be bored. It’s giving kids the gift of boredom, and I know this almost is counter-culture, but it’s okay they’re bored. It’s because out of boredom comes creativity, but if kids are bored and you’ve got two or three kids at home, separate them because they’ll take out their boredom on each other. So separate them for a few minutes, just 15-20 minutes. Separate them so they don’t start going at each other. Resist the urge to turn the screen on, to turn the iPad on, because that’s very short term entertainment. Let them be bored for a while and if a child comes to me and says, well, actually one mom had a great response, her child was saying, “There’s nothing to do!” And the mom said, “Oh, something to do is just around the corner.” Such a great response, right?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love that!
Kim John Payne:
Personally, when my kids come to me and say, “There’s nothing to do!” My response is, “Oh, dear.” That’s it. “Oh, dear.” But that’s it. Let them be bored, because out of boredom comes creativity, self-creativity, self-motivation. It’s not turning on a screen and watching someone else’s creativity because that is someone else’s creativity, it’s not the child’s. And the reason I think children need to be bored is that they need to be creative, because creativity, deep creative play and projects is how children digest the world, it’s how the children digest what’s going on around them, again it’s just anxiety cleansing, when we let children be bored, the next step is — well, the first step is antsiness, but the next step is deep creative play, and out of deep creative play comes the ability to just let go of the nervousness, the anxiousness, the stuff that’s going on around them more than ever, children need to be allowed boredom so they can go into deep creative play and therefore, just digest things, play it out, there’s a saying of playing it out. That’s what they’re doing.
Many kids now are playing out corona games, they’ve got them, they’re playing them out, they’re playing fevers and doctors and nurses as little kids, they’re playing out all this stuff, they’re just playing their hearts out, I remember my daughter coming back when she was younger, I’ve got two kids and when she was coming back, and she’d been to a place where there wasn’t — a home where the children on playdates weren’t allowed to be on computers and TVs, and we used to like our kids going there because they play, they really play. Anyway, she got in the car and I said, “How did it go, love?” And she said, “Oh, daddy, we played really hard today!” And I thought, “Yeah, exactly, right?” She played so hard! They really got down into deep, deep creativity. Now, more than ever, kids need to do that.
And if I may, just the fourth thing, Nicole. The fourth is that of filtering out the adult information. Just got to be really, really careful what we’re saying in front of kids these days and what we’re allowing them to see and hear. Before I say anything in front of my kids, all their lives, I’ve asked myself four very simple, little questions. Number one is: Is this kind? Am I about to speak something or about someone that is kind. And if it’s unkind or got a sarcastic edge to it or a critical edge, just don’t want to say it. I don’t want my child to be sarcastic or critical. I’ve got to model that. Number two: Is this going to help them feel secure? Or is this going to scare them? So kind, securing — is this actually true to my family values? Do I want to be scaring my kids with this information? Telling them stuff they have no power to change, and number four is: Is this absolutely necessary? Do I have to say this now? So is it kind, is it securing, is it true to my values and is it necessary? And unless I can answer yes to all four of those questions, don’t say it. Just simply don’t say it.
I think that’s more now than ever that needs to be the case. We’ve got to really watch what our kids are hearing directly from us and we’ve got to watch what they’re seeing and what they’re hearing and what they’re hearing on-screen media. Again, it’s crucial now because you know this, Nicole, and many of the listeners will know this, but if a child hears a report about a death toll in Italy, and oh, I heard one today about, in Italy, I know this is a shocking thing to say, but it was on the news that they’re using ice skating rinks as morgues, and it was like a body blow when I heard that, it really affected me when I heard that. But then I heard it 15 minutes later, and then I heard it again, and over a couple of hour period, I heard that four or five or six times, I kept hearing it. Now the way the brain works is that it hears it once and it’s scared. There’s a fight or flight reaction. You hear it a second time and you get the same adrenaline and cortisol, only now it’s a confirmation of the scariness. So every time we hear the same thing, even if it’s the same, it makes us more and more and more scared. We don’t actually develop this fatigue nearly as quickly as people think.
So children, right now, I think if what we can do is just turn on the TV, turn on the radio in the morning when the kids aren’t around, get our information because maybe we need that, okay get that. And then that’s it. Not a lot is going to change in the day. Really. And the next day, turn it on, get our information, better still, read a newspaper, even online, and then put it away so we don’t scare ourselves because it’s the same for us. If we keep hearing this stuff over and over, what happens is that, as you know, Nicole, our levels of anxiety rise and our children know it and they pick it up and they’ve got no where as a safe harbor anymore, because they sense our nervous system is in a high alert and we’re no longer a safe harbor. The children can’t co-regulate with us anymore. And so, if we limit the amount of news, if we ourselves as adults get exercise, do the things we love to do, journal, paint, do yoga, there are a lot of people talking about this now, even if it’s very brief. With the kids at home it might be just five minutes of stretching, honestly, it’s just really, really brief.
But if we’re doing that, and we’re doing that for ourselves, our kids can co-regulate, but we’ve also got to radically filter the amount of screen media that our kids are being exposed to, because they’re home more, it’s really tempting just to turn the television on or put an iPad in their hand, and that is going to — the result of that will be scary for them, just straight up, it will, I don’t say ‘will’ very often in my life because who knows, but that will scare them. Then they go on to high alert, then the result of that is that their quirk becomes inflamed, and all of a sudden, their behavior is becoming much, much more problematic. So if we want our kids to have a time of connection and closeness and fun in these coming weeks and months ahead, we will radically limit the amount of screen media and information that they’re receiving, because otherwise, their behavior is going to become problematic. So it’s so simple to have their behavior not move along that spectrum into problem or disorder is to follow these four, really simple things: Declutter, increase rhythm, allow them time to decompress and be bored and then limit screen media and adult information. Those four things will see us coming out of this in pretty good shape as parents, as families.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more, and you know, people may be listening and thinking, “Well, my child has all of these significant problems” we tend to think about all the reasons that even simple things won’t work, and yet, what you and I know from working with families so long is these are exactly the things that do work, and so I want to really encourage people: Don’t think that something is so simple that it can’t have a profound effect, because these things actually do. These are the foundations of supporting children in all aspects of their development, but particularly, as you’re talking about, the reduction in anxiety and stress that everybody is experiencing right now by sort of cocooning a bit like this and focusing on these simple things. It has just a profound effect on their brain, on their behavior. Just so important.
Kim John Payne:
It’s a nice term you’ve used, Nicole, I haven’t thought of that before, is cocooning, because out of a cocoon comes a beautiful butterfly, if I can extend that metaphor, and my hope is that when this pandemic starts to quieten down, if we’ve followed these four simple protocols, if we have managed to declutter, if we have managed to just have more rhythm and predictability in a child’s life, if we have managed just to give them the gift of boredom and limited the amount of adult information that they’re getting through screens, particularly, if we manage to do that, when this pandemic starts to quieten down, whenever it does, we’re going to come out into so much closer and better shape. We’re actually going to come out stronger as a family, more connected as a family and more in love as a family. And then, my secret hope for this is that more parents may say, “You know what? That was a really lovely way to be, and we’re going to continue doing this. We’re not going to buy back into the weirdness of that new normal. This is who we are now, and we’re going to keep to this as much as possible.” That’s my secret hope, not so secret now.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, I was going to say, let’s just make that a public hope! That that’s what happens. And I do see families reprioritizing, thinking about these things, making those shifts and then the goal is to think about how that can continue, because I think ultimately, many children, especially children with neurodevelopmental challenges, mental health challenges will be better off for this period of slowing down. And let’s not push them back into the chaos and the overwhelm that just exacerbates their issues, let’s continue that then so that they can really do better long term.
Kim John Payne:
Well, kids who are not neurotypical, over the years, and now we’re talking about how hundreds of thousands of people, this isn’t just a small sample size — a really significant part of kids and families that we’ve been working with, our kids, who have various challenges and what we’ve seen without doubt, I don’t mean to be overly secure in saying that, but without doubt is there are changes, very, very positive changes in their behavior when life moves back from that overwhelm, when we turn down the tap, when we move back from that.
Now, let’s say a child still needs some form of therapy. Let’s still say they need some sensory integration treatment, or let’s just use that as an example, sensory integration or art therapy or counseling or whatever. When a child comes into sensory integration treatment, and their cup is now drained, the tap is being turned down, then there’s room for that wonderful help to actually be held. The irony of having a child come into, for example, sensory integration when there’s a sensory overwhelm, and the senses are flowing out, it means the therapy becomes a part of the problem. It becomes a part of the — getting in the car, getting the kid there, managing — it becomes a part of the breathlessness of life. But when the child’s calmer and comes into that counseling session, a teenager who is having anger issues, a teenage girl who is self-harming or having eating issues, a child who is really struggling socially and is having play therapy — whatever it is, over the — and this is many years now, countless numbers of parents and therapists, actually, have said to us: The efficacy, the effectiveness of what the therapist was able to do is dramatically at best, and somewhat at least improved because now the whole system of the child is such that this wonderful help from these wonderful therapists can now not be just spillage, a part of the spillage, but a part of the nutrient.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So well-said. You and I could continue this conversation all day. So many things to talk about, but I know that we need to wrap up and I want to make sure that people know where to find out more about you, your Simplicity Parenting work, the resources that you have to offer.
Kim John Payne:
Where can people go? Well, I know exactly what you mean by that question, Nicole, but where people can go primarily is to their instincts to protect the child, but I know what you mean. To their hearts, to their instincts, because all we’ve got to do is listen to our heart, listen to our instinct to protect our child. And we know we need to dial it back, most of us look at life and say, “Enough, already, enough.” But what we do at Simplicity Parenting, at the website simplicityparenting.com is that we have, we offer all kinds of very concise, small doable ways to simplify. We have a podcast on iTunes and also accessed, it’s called ‘The Simplicity Diaries’, and every week, I never know what is going to come up. I just take questions from the families I work with and see what is most current, what is most on their heart, and then record a five to seven, nine-minute max piece on practically what you can do about that sibling issue, we did one, we did a four-part series recently on gunplay and young boys. Why, and what can you practically do that is doable, that is really humble and doable, everything that has to go in our office has to go through the filter of doability. So @simplicityparenting, that’s a central place to go to, and then there are all kinds of very simple courses to do, home practice guides, we have these home practice guides where it’s step by step by step, walks people through and supports them in the journey to simplify and we’re actually just releasing one round about now, when we go to air with this, there will be a home practice guide for people to take a deeper dive into simplicity, and that will be right there on simplicityparenting.com, so the timing of this is actually really great if anyone wants to take a deeper dive into this.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, and your website is filled with so many resources, including some that you have gotten up there just in the last couple of weeks related to the pandemic situation for people who want to delve into that a little more, but I really want to encourage all of our listeners to check out the resources and the information that you have there, just really amazing things, and obviously, get the book as well. So Kim, I can’t thank you enough for being willing to spend the time talking with me today and talking with our listeners, this has been just wonderful information. Thank you so much.
Kim John Payne:
It’s so great you would open up this space for this to talk about — particularly in this time, Nicole. I’m very grateful to you and the community for focusing on this. Thank you so much.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Absolutely, and thank you to all of you for being here and listening today, we’ll catch you next time for our next episode of The Better Behavior Show.