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Simplicity Parenting Creator: 'Don't Read Parenting Books'

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There are plenty of parenting books out there. Each touts its own tips and tricks, "secrets" to raising the most well-rounded, best-behaved children. 

What if we told you, there is no one secret?

That's exactly the message author and educator Kim John Payne wants to spread to parents.

Payne -- the bestselling author of books like "The Soul of Discipline" -- has traveled the country preaching his "simplicity parenting" approach, a method of...well, no methods. It's an approach to life that promotes play and creativity, and letting kids be kids, rather than implementing strict rules or following a parenting "playbook."

Payne first encountered what he calls the "highly stressed kid" working in refugee camps in southeast Asia. He was shocked when he moved to the West, and saw kids with similar issues through his counseling practice. 

"These kids looked jumpy, hyper-vigilant, over-controlling...they looked just the same as the kids in the refugee camps where I [had been] working, only there was nothing in their lives that suggested trauma," Payne recalls. "That was a puzzle."

That experience set Payne on a course for the rest of his work over the past 30 years: identifying the stresses that impact modern kids, and the best approach for relieving them. 

"It's not so much a war zone our kids are living in, but they're living in the undeclared 'war on childhood,'" Payne says. "There's this sort of moderate to low grade, unrelenting stress. It's ongoing, but it's slightly under the radar. It's kind of become the new normal."

Payne sees stresses coming from four main sources: material excess, lack of rhythm, over-scheduling and too much exposure to the adult world. 

Here's where "simplicity parenting" comes in. Payne has shaped his approach to help parents minimize stress and find balance for their kids, their families and themselves. It involves putting filters in place when necessary, and determining what is essential and non-essential in day-to-day life. 

"[I'm] trying to give parents the permission to stand back and say, 'do we buy into this new normal, super-sized family life? Or do we make some decisions about this?'" 

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Credit Kim John Payne

Payne preaches four "pathways" to simplify and balance life for kids, corresponding to the four main stress patterns he's identified.

When it comes to material goods, Payne preaches decluttering. He also recommends giving kids rhythm and predictability in everyday life, as well as simplifying their schedules. Filtering out adult conversation around kids, he adds, can reduce stress and confusion.

It all boils down to defining parameters that are right for your family, Payne explains -- giving kids freedom to do what they want, but also defining the path on which they can do so. 

"We're still captain of our family ship," Payne adds. "We're still in charge of our family's values. Our kids need this down time to digest all the busyness through their lives. We can't control a lot of the busyness that goes on particularly through kids at school, but we can control what we do at home."

What simplicity parenting is not, Payne says, is one set of strict rules and regulations for being a parent. He'll leave that to all the other "how-to" books out there.

"I'm not a big fan of parenting books, and I know that's weird because I write them!" Payne chuckles. "They can easily make you feel like you're not doing so well, and you should be doing a whole lot more. And what the simplicity parenting movement is suggesting, is actually not so much: just do less. Do what is doable."

Today, the simplicity parenting movement boasts nearly 1000 coaches and parent-educators on every continent. 

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