The other morning Jack wandered over to me as he would any other morning, looked at me, and uttered the words, “mummy, I’m a bit bored.’ I didn’t even know he knew the word “bored”, let alone that he could put it in what I can only assume is its correct context. I immediately felt concerned; like someone had given me a mini parenting punch in the stomach and my reaction was to want to sweep him up in my arms and start engaging him in an activity together to expel the dreaded ‘b’ word and ‘have fun’! I didn’t, and sure enough he soon ran off (anyone elses’ toddler RUN everywhere?) and was engaged again in play.
You see, when we’re at home (when we go out it’s a different story and we take around a sack of toys / sometimes have to rely on our good friends over on the iPhone), I actually hardly see my toddler. Jack’s capacity to play alone and be creative amazes me every single day and Sonny is far more ‘work’ for me as a parent. So since that morning I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept of boredom; what it means to him and to me and why I’ve come to conclude that being bored is something I’m more than OK with for him. If you’re interested in this concept (and getting some time out from your toddler…), here’s how I think it came about. I want to add that as ever, this is what works for us. Each child (and parent!) is so different so this is really just our experience which may well be entirely unsuitable for you and yours (but hoping not!).
First and foremost, I generally just let Jack get on with things and don’t get very involved in what he is doing. It’s not that I ignore him; I just don’t actively engage with him (does that sound awful?). If he asks me to play with him, I gently tell him he can play alone and sure enough, he usually totters off happily. And if he really needs me, I will of course go over (though I won’t drop everything immediately – unless of course he is in danger). I think this mode of low intervention has led him to have an incredible capacity to sit quietly and play alone and work things out himself. When I do go over and play with him I have noticed that it actually installs a passivity in him and he will sometimes just sit back and watch me play – which apart from halting his creativity and enjoyment, also leaves me on my hands and knees playing with Percy the train which ain’t my idea of fun.
There are not many rules in our home and there isn’t really anything Jack isn’t allowed to do or touch. It is vaguely irritating when he plays with the dishwasher as it is liable to break one of these days with all the shoving of the drawers (!) but if he wants to sit on the table, stand on the sofa or jump on the bed, so long as he doesn’t do it when out of the house (which I would never let him do), I’m OK with it. I really try not to tell him off or give him many instructions as I want our home to be a place for him to explore and have fun in. When he wakes up in the morning he goes downstairs and plays alone until we / Sonny get up and soon he’ll be making himself breakfast, I am sure of it.
3. Trust and a little bit of risk
Not that we are constantly throwing our kids in the face of danger, but I do think that as parents we step back to a certain degree and let Jack take risks in order for him to get to know himself, his abilities and his limits. Parenthood is a constant ‘assessing of a situation’ isn’t it? I am always tossing up :IF something were to go wrong, how bad would it be?” and then proceeding from there. If he jumps off that sofa, what are the chances he will fall and break his leg? You are always asking yourself those questions (not just me, right?). And as long as it’s not anything serious, I would rather let him experience it over continually firing rules at him.
4. Few toys
I don’t think Jack has that many toys and 80% of what he does have are non battery operated. From my experience, he and Sonny love the all singing, flashing V-tech ones for a week or so but the novelty quickly wears off or the batteries break and they are no longer interested. It is the wooden train tracks, books and jigsaw puzzles that are the firm favourites and are always all over the floor. So I try to keep his toys simple with the thinking that the more simple the toy, the more he has to use his creative mind in the process of play. He plays with his trains for hours and hours on end, building bridges out of cans of baked beans and carrying everything from my hair grips to dummies as his freight. We also put a load of toys away in the shed for a good few weeks and bring them out again at a later date – they feel like new to him and this way he’s not overwhelmed with so many toys at one go.
This one took me a while to learn but I really try not to overschedule our lives rushing from playgroup to playdate and way prefer living by the rule that doing ‘less is more’. In general we go out either in the morning or in the afternoon and spend the rest of the time just hanging around at home and enjoying a really slow pace. I really dislike rushing the kids around (of course this has to happen some of the time) and during the week I try to avoid it as much as possible. We also don’t have any sort of routine so feeding and eating happen at different times, whenever it feels right.
We spend a lot of time outdoors exploring. Whether it’s just wandering around the block or messing about in the garden, I am convinced that nothing beats fresh air for stimulating creativity and giving kids a sense of freedom. The best is when we just walk out the house with a bag of snacks and zero plans and literally just letting Jack choose whether we go ‘left’ or ‘right’.
I really really try to limit how much TV he watches and generally want him to steer clear of technology as much as possible (Read this article if you want to know why…) because there’s no doubt about it, when Jack watches TV (and he definitely does), he becomes totally engrossed in it, looses all mode of communication and gets really upset when it comes to turning it off – all really antisocial behaviours.
8. Enjoy the simple things
Emptying the food shopping, unloading the dishwasher and playing in the shower are some of the ‘boring’ activities that we enjoy together. I think this is an amazing way to not only teach Jack but also really give him the space to balance whatever is going on in his head with the outside world that often times can feel all sorts of overwhelming (for kids and adults alike). Sometimes there’s so much distraction in life, so much noise, that its’ easy to overlook the simple every day things.
And so it is that I have come to believe that Jack being bored is a gift, that doing less and simplifying our lives is actually making him more creative, adaptive in new situations and crucially (for us parents!) low maintenance. I want to start him off from the basis that it’s a beautiful world, I don’t want him to feel overwhelmed and I want him to know that it’s all there for him to explore slowly and carefully. So that’s why I believe embracing a child’s ‘boredom’ is the biggest gift there is. And let’s not talk about the extra minutes of Instagram scrolling and faffing it buys mama…!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter – where do you stand on the boredom spectrum? Do you leave your kids to play alone or do you prefer to be by their side?