Book Study Week 2: Soul Fever

Oct 10, 2011   //   by Traci McGrath   //   Simple Parenting, Soul Fever, Uncategorized  //  11 Comments

Thank you to all who are participating in the Simplicity Parenting book study!  If you are just finding us this week, you are welcome to join in the discussion in the comments below.   I am enjoying the thoughtfulness of your comments and the opportunity to learn from others’ experiences!

This week’s reading, Chapter 2, was on “Soul Fever” – Soul Fever is what Kim describes as the emotional equivalent of a physical fever.  When small (or large) stresses accumulate, you may find your child with a soul fever…They are “out of sorts”,  not at their best (and quite possibly at their worst) – and they may seem stuck in that frustrated state.  Kim suggests that we notice this and take it as seriously as a physical fever – slowing down, drawing the child near, suspending normal routine in order to give the child the calm and safe space to untangle their “emotional knot” – to return to their best, most balanced self.

How do you know when your child is overwhelmed?  Some children may become sullen, others hyperactive.  Some may become more irritable, or have less patience with siblings.  As Kim described in the book, when a child is overwhelmed with cumulative stress,  it is almost as though your child becomes a caricature of his normal self, with all the “quirks” intensified.

This chapter came at an opportune time for me, as in our own home we’ve been busier than usual, with a pending move to a new town.  I’ve seen the stress of that creeping up on my boys.  Recently, I had planned to end a busy week by taking them out to a festival at our local nature center.  It was a great event, but I hadn’t considered that we had already been over-scheduled for the week.  It was as we were getting dressed to leave that my 4 year old (sometimes quite the sage!) pointed out his own soul fever.  “Mommy, all I really want is for us to stay home and for you to help me dig for bugs in the yard.”  So we did.  It ended up being just what he needed and one of my favorite, most connected experiences as his mom.  For my son, time exploring in nature is a sure tonic to soul fever, to too much busyness in our schedule.  An uninterrupted morning digging under our tree in the back yard can have him calmed, back to his best self, truly present and free of some of those hyperactive little boy “quirks” that pop up with stress.

This chapter certainly helps me remember to have a good supply of compassion when I see my own little ones acting out due to stress.  I loved the words quoted in this chapter, “When your child seems to deserve affection least, that’s when they need it most.”  When the quirks are showing, when the behavior is most embarrassing, Kim makes the point that that is the time for us to draw them close, to dial back on daily routine, to have a quiet day at home – for many children this is all they need to come back to their best, to “reset.’

Some food for thought for this week (We have our discussion in the Comments section below):

When is it that your child is at his or her best?  What activities are calm and centering? 

How can you use this knowledge to care for your child next time you notice a soul fever?  (Are there any obstacles you may need to overcome to make this possible?)

What was a new idea in this week’s reading you found interesting, or would like the group to discuss?


  • When is my child at his best?
    I would say when he is deeply involved in his play. I can tell when the shift occurs, because he gets so involved that he seems immune to things going on around him. He also babbles when he plays and seems to be in dialogue with and about his toys. He is also in his element when he’s in nature. I can hear him take deep sighs when he’s in the carrier and we are walking in the woods. He’s taking everything in at such a peaceful pace. I also notice that he is very quiet when we’re in nature. It’s almost as though he wants all his senses available to him. Another calming activity is breastfeeding for my son. When he feels overwhelmed he will often tug on my sleeve, asking to nurse. I will drop what I am doing and nurse him. It’s a time of quiet contemplation when he nurses and it slows us both down. I benefit from the nursing as much as he does. We might gaze into each others eyes or he might reach for face gently. He shuts out his environment and gets centered. My son also has a very special relationship with books and will often ask to be read to when he wants to slow things down. I read to him him several times a day.

    How can I use this knowledge about my son to care for him next time he develops a soul fever? I believe this knowledge helps me recognize symptoms of a soul fever and provide opportunities to slow the pace down. I have canceled planned activities numerous times to slow down and make the day about providing the above mentioned activities. I also know that my son is ever changing and so are his centering processes, so I must remain open to noticing new ways of coping that are helpful to him.

    New idea in Chapter 2 that I found interesting?
    I think before reading this book, I was very focused on providing variety. I wanted my son to be exposed to many things and with that came the idea that he needed a variety of choices. I think I associated variety with providing my son the opportunity to be very well-rounded. KJP talks about how a smaller quantity of items allows a child to engage deeply and helps to activate creativity. He talks about removing the complexity of having so many choices and providing a simpler and developmentally appropriate amount of options. I appreciated his discussion about “fixed toys” because being trained as an art/play therapist I was taught about the importance of toys you can project onto. I have really tried to be more mindful of what I provide my son as a result. Additionally, I think what was very beneficial for me from the chapter was the discussion about books. I guess I justified books because they are educational and can encourage creativity. However, once I simplified my son’s collection, he now has a very deep relationship with a handful of books and is able to identify them by title. He is able to pick the book he wants to hear instead of experiencing overload by large quantities.

  • Well, my 4 year old has a “soul fever” and is recovering from a real fever. When she’s in the throws of illness, she’s so sweet. Now that she’s getting better but not 100% she is a bear! Whining and attitude, both of which are not typical of her. We have a 1 month old which, of course, changes the dynamic of things. We have tried to keep Zoe’s schedule as much as possible, still going to preschool, maintaining her bed time and routine. I also started her in dance class on Saturdays which I bring her to and spend some time afterwards with her. In trying to keep things as normal as possible for her I’ve also pulling back a bit to slow things down…example..I kept Zoe home today (again) to just let her relax. She actually started the day off with a yoga DVD! LOL I’m working on trying to get into a “rhythm” in our family…and with that, the baby needs me. 🙂

  • My 4 year old daughter can get very centered in pretend play with her dolls (as long as her 1 year old brother doesn’t “mess up” her plan. I believe I also see her true self come out in her singing. She often makes up songs & just sings whatever thoughts are in her head. My son, the 1 year old, calms himself playing with cars & trains. He can sit and push them and line them up for a very long time.

    The next time I see a “soul fever” I can pause, read some books (which always inspire creativity) and then play dolls. For my son, I can take the time to create a new train track or help him discover a new place to drive his cars.

    I loved KJP’s recommendation to call on extended family or friends to remind myself of all of the wonderful things about my kids when it’s been one of “those” days or even weeks.I have struggled with having good “lovey” feelings towards my daughter when I’m in the throes of dealing with anger and temper tantrums while her younger brother is still in the sweet cute baby stage. Remembering the great things she has done has helped bring me back into balance.

  • I think this is a hard chapter because it has to do with acting up. My daughter had one of those nights tonight, yelling and screaming and slamming doors. I very calmly told her she would be going to bed early and would not be permitted back downstairs for the night. I read her her books and sang her songs but did not go back on my word and she was very upset bc she missed some fun night time routines down stairs. I do not like to do this but gave her many chances to calm down before I felt I had to give a consequences (she is almost 5)
    Was this too harsh? Should I just have treated her like she was sick and let her rest on the couch? She tends to have fits regularly almost like a pressure cooker. We are not too busy and I have simplified. Is there still a place for consequences with trying to do simplistic parenting? I let her know she can tell me her feelings but that she may not slam doors and/or kick them. She is usually ap retty happy go lucky sweet little girl. SHe is thriving in the local Waldorf preschool nearbye. ANy comments would be appreciated.

  • Colleen….My 4 year old and your daughter sound similar. Usualklky she is super sweet and loving. Lately, though, she’s been a challenge. We do have a 1 month old but I don’t think too much of her behavior is related to that. I was home all summer (I’m a teacher) and we had a wonderful time. She was a dream. Once September rolled around, we started sending her back to the woman who watches her during the day (like an in-home preschool) so we could keep her routine since the baby was due. I think more of her attitude is from getting up between 6-6:30am and going all day long at Jacquie’s moreso than the new baby. She also has had bronchitis and whenever she’s under the weather she can be not so much fun. We’re dealing with whining, back talk, raising her hands to us, and uncooperativeness….not all the time but it’s like a Jekyl and Hyde thing. I can identify hunger and tiredness as triggers for such behaviors some of the time. So one would say “feed her and let her rest”. HA! Both become battles and with a newborn and limited sleep on my part, my patience is short. Some things that I try to do consistently (not always with success) are…have her ride the tantrum out in her room followed up with a hug and discussion when she calms down (this used to work brilliantly); taking a toy away (this usually works well); if I’m in the right mindset I sit and speak with her calmly; and complimenting positive actions and words. One thing I find to be critical is that my husband and I are consistent with the language we use with her and with the consequences. We also do not offer a consequence that we don’t follow through on. Should be easier, right? LOL

  • Colleen – wow does that sound familiar! We’ve only had a few doors slammed, but lots of “stupid/mean mommy” and hitting. I’m not an expert, but I do believe that there is a place for consequences within simple parenting. I think that there are some actions that are never acceptable, regardless of the reason behind them. Rude/mean talk (including name calling), hitting kicking, door slamming can not be permitted. I have learned a lot about giving grace through the amazing book “Ministry of Motherhood” by Sally Clarkson, but I’m still not sure of the best way to handle these angry outbursts. We do time outs, but she often throws things, and I’m nervous she’ll break something &/or hurt someone. We also practice learning appropriate scripture verses. As much as possible I also praise her for good behavior. Maybe those are the right things & it just takes a long time to sink in, or maybe I’m missing something. I’d love any advice as well!

  • my 3.5 year old is at his best when he is outside exploring, playing, hiking. we have had a very busy summer adjusting to a new baby, and my 3 year old told me the other day, “you and papa keep forgetting to take me on hikes.” so sad, and yet i was so amazed that he was able to ask us for what he needed. i find he mirrors my stress level quite amazingly, and lately i have been very stressed trying to keep up pumping for the baby as i return to work, as well as keep the house picked up, keep healthy meals on the table and deal with a kitchen remodel. i let the stress build and i know now that both of my children cling to me more when i’m not fully there – when i’m thinking about what needs to be done next around the house instead of just being there with them…. they are telling me to slow down, to go outside, to just be in the moment. i’m trying…. i need to give myself a break i think!

  • Colleen, I think your question is a great one and a common one (I know I have asked it!) Once you learn to find the roots of misbehavior in environment or over-stimulation, or choice overload, you do begin to wonder about the most appropriate way to deal with it!

    This is an area where I am still learning, but there are a couple of things that do work well with my son. One is that when he is acting out, I try to see what underlying need he is wanting to have met (attention, personal space, etc.) and I tell him an appropriate way to meet it, something he CAN do. Sometimes this works.

    Other times, if he’s not able to listen, if his behavior is just hyper/wild or I’m concerned he is going to injure himself or his brother, we do a ‘time in’ – he stays in the room with us, but I have him sit in a particular chair (for his safety and baby brothers’!) and I give him a chance to get his energy under control. I find giving him a book really helps him calm down so that we can then talk about it and move on. I’m hoping, rather than simply feeling punished, he is learning constructive ways to manage his own energy for other real-world situations.

    So far that is the best I have, but as I said, we are still learning. I’d love to hear any other ideas on this topic, too!

  • I have seen evidence of soul fever in my own children and in some of the children I teach. Being able to recognize this for what it is, allows me to better enable my children(and the ones I teach) to center and calm. Sometimes,though, it’s not the kids, it’s me who needs the regrouping. Loved this chapter of the book.

  • […] My little girl had soul fever.  Soul Fever is what Kim John Payne describes as “the emotional equivalent of a physical fever.  When small (or large) stresses accumulate, you may find your child with a soul fever…They are ‘out of sorts’,  not at their best (and quite possibly at their worst) – and they may seem stuck in that frustrated state.  Kim suggests that we notice this and take it as seriously as a physical fever – slowing down, drawing the child near, suspending normal routine in order to give the child the calm and safe space to untangle their ’emotional knot’ – to return to their best, most balanced self.”  Simplicity Parenting Website […]

  • […] times that our children’s challenges seem to flare up. Kim Payne calls these moments “soul fever” and suggests that we respond in these moments in a similar way as when our child has a […]


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