by Kim John Payne
Parents across the country know something is wrong. All the hovering, anxiety, medicating, and overscheduling is giving voice to that parental instinct that knows when our kids and family life are in trouble. And it’s true, our kids are in crisis, victims of an undeclared war on childhood, drowning in a sensory tsunami, and because we love them so much, we worry, and we search for solutions, ignoring the voice in our heads telling us that something’s off when we greet our kids every morning with a pill to fix them. Indeed, something is wrong. But it’s not our kids. Our kids are as beautiful, feisty, gifted, and quirky as they have always been. What’s changed is their environment, and the levels of stimulation and stress we expect them to integrate.
In my decades of working with families around the world, I have seen thousands of children’s brilliant personalities — their funny, odd, remarkable, special talents, railroaded by stress, so much so that I came up with this simple equation: Quirk + Stress = Disorder, or what I call a soul or emotion-fever. And every parent already knows how to heal their child from regular, physical fever just as every parent knows how to heal their children’s soul fever. We don’t need to learn anything, or see a specialist or download an app. We apply our parental wisdom to our children’s hearts and minds; we do what we do naturally, when fever arises. Just as cumulative stress can lead to problems, even disorders, cumulative simplicity and balance can move the quirk in the direction of a child’s gift. Quirk + Simplicity = Gift.
Here are three stages of awareness and healing both kinds of fevers:
- We Notice Something is Off
Some parents swear they can literally smell their children’s fevers as they come on, or they can sense that their child’s particularly fussy or whiny behavior is fever-induced. So, too, with soul fever. When a child gets stressed, on the brink of soul fever, their quirks become inflamed. They may feel emotionally stretched, or brittle or fresh. While it is natural and often wise to check out such behaviors with “experts,” we can also check in with ourselves and our children, the way we do with a fever we understand.
- We Quiet Things Down
As soon as the thermometer validates our hunch, we know what to do. We close the blinds, make a bed on the couch, make some simple soup, clear our child’s calendar. What a relief. The entire family benefits from slowing down. To gauge our child’s soul fever, we need to pay very close attention to our internal thermometer, the one that tells us when our child is not him or herself. And the medicine is the same. Take it easy, simplify your child’s life, and in the process, allow the family to rest from all the stresses we think we can’t live without: all-out media assault, tight schedules, sugary, processed foods. We wouldn’t expect our child to heal from an illness by going about their daily lives, yet we are hesitant to make changes in the home that can benefit our overwhelmed kids. Why?
- We Stay Close
Most parents don’t have to be told to stay close to their sick children. The desire to be near is instinctive. Unfortunately, in our culture, when our children are telling us they are hurting in other ways, we have learned to outsource the problem. Once we have ruled out any serious medical issues, soul-fevered kids don’t need second opinions or professional help; they need us. They need to rest in a natural state of bonding with their parents. It might take longer to heal a soul fever than the flu, but the end result will be the same: restored health, and an invigorated connection. By staying close to our feverish kids, we are learning about them and what they need, and boosting our entire family’s immunity to the diseases of an over-stimulated, fevered pitched world.
Seeing our kids suffer is painful and confusing, no doubt about it. It is because we care so much that we panic and look outside of ourselves for help. But treating soul fever at home, instead of a disorder in someone’s office leads to a greater connection between parents and kids and fewer reasons to become anxious and medicate. After all, the jury is still out on the long-term effects of these drugs. And my own research, a pilot study I conducted in 2000 testing a simplicity regime with children diagnosed with ADHD, found that 68 percent of the children went from clinically dysfunctional to clinically functional in four months.
Ultimately, it comes down to a choice. Parents need to decide whether they believe childhood is a fast-paced enrichment opportunity or a slowly unfolding experience. Can we unplug from the viral world for long enough to allow their kids’ disorders to flow back into their innate gifts, ready to be offered to the world in their own time, in their own way? I hope so. We need all the help we can get and this kind of help does not involve “adding” anything more, it is about “doing” less.
Kim John Payne is the author of Simplicity Parenting. To learn more about him and his work, visit simplicityparenting.com. Kim has been a school counsellor, adult educator, consultant, researcher, educator and a private family counsellor for 27 years. He has worked extensively with the North American and UK Waldorf educational movements. Kim strives to deepen understanding and give practical tools for life that arise out of the burning social issues of our time.