The other morning, Jack wandered over to me as he would any other morning, looked at me, and said, “mummy, I’m a bit bored.’ I didn’t even know that 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. I wanted 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’ kid RUN everywhere?) and was engaged again in play.
But since that morning I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of boredom; what it means to him and to me and why I’ve concluded that being bored is something I’m more than OK with for him. If you’re interested in this idea (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. For reference, Jack is turning 4 next month.
I see my role as a mum to create a safe, warm space for our kids to be in, and then to just essentially let them get on with it. It’s not that I ignore him; I just don’t actively engage with him. If he asks me to play with him, I gently tell him he can play alone and sure enough, he usually trots 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 the capacity to sit quietly, concentrate 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 often 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.
The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. The child who concentrates is immensely happy – Maria Montessori
There are not many rules in our home and there isn’t much the kids aren’t allowed to do or touch. It is a slight problem when they play with the dishwasher – we have a kind landlord, but not that kind – but if they want to sit on the table, stand on the sofa or jump on the bed, so long as they don’t do it when out of the house (which I would never let them do), I’m OK with it. I try not to tell them off or give too many instructions as I want our home to be a place for them to explore and have fun in.
3. Trust vs. risk
As parents, I believe we have step back to a certain degree and let children take risks in order for them to get to know themselves, their abilities and limits. Parenthood is a constant assessing of a situation – I am always tossing up : IF something were to go wrong, how bad would it be? If Jack jumps off that sofa, what are the chances he will fall and break his leg? And as long as it’s not anything serious (though I do get slightly concerned about sofa batterings), I would rather let them experience it over continually firing rules at them.
4. Few toys
I don’t think the kids have that many toys and 90% of what they do have are non battery operated. It is the wooden train tracks, books and jigsaw puzzles that are the firm favourites and are always all over the floor. I try to keep their toys simple with the thinking that the more simple the toy, the more they have to use their creative minds in the process of play. Both boys play with wooden 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 their freight. We also put some toys away for a good few weeks and bring them out again at a later date – they feel like new and this way they’re never overwhelmed with too many toys at one go.
5. Under schedule
I try not to over-schedule our lives rushing from playdate to the park and way prefer living by the rule that ‘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 out at home and enjoying a slow pace. We also don’t have a 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. 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, zero plans and just let the kids choose whether we go ‘left’ or ‘right’. (the fun comes when they choose opposite directions)
I really try to limit how much TV the kids watch and generally want them to steer clear of technology as much as possible because there’s no doubt about it, when Jack in particular watches TV (and he definitely does), he becomes totally engrossed in it, looses all mode of communication and gets 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. This is an amazing way for kids to learn but also allows them the space to balance whatever is going on in their heads with the outside world that often times can feel all sorts of overwhelming (for kids and adults alike). There can be so much distraction in life, so much noise, that its’ easy to overlook the simple every day things.
Kids being bored is a gift; doing less and simplifying our lives makes them more creative, adaptable in new situations and crucially (for us parents!) low maintenance.
Kids being bored is a gift; doing less and simplifying our lives makes them more creative, adaptable in new situations and crucially (for us parents!) low maintenance. I want to start them off from the basis that it’s a beautiful world, I don’t want them to feel overwhelmed and I want them to know that it’s all there for them to explore, slowly and carefully.
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?
P.S Let your kids play alone and It Takes a Village – Here’s Mine
Photos by Amanda Lee
Love this read and totally agree with letting children have space and playing on tbeir own. As to screen time I didn’t really limit it and at one point I was worried he was watching a little too much but now he has just turned 3 and the last 6 months I have noticed he is watching a lot less then he ever was and it’s amazing he would rather go and play…. for me not making a issue out of screen time has helped and now he is over it himself….. not saying this works for all children. Have a lovely day ?
love this and totally agree – sometimes the issue just goes away without us adults even needing to intercept (the best way!)x
I have an 8 month old son and like a couple of the other parents mention above, I have the guilt when I’m not actively engaging with his ‘play’ (which currently consists of a lot of banging things together)! I try to step back and leave him to it and minimise distractions during the times he is ‘concentrating’. So I find these tips a helpful guide/reminder of some ways that I can encourage my son to have an active imagination! I worry that it will not be as easy in the future, once he becomes an active toddler and as a first time Mum the next ‘phase’ always seems to take me by surprise! So I will keep my eyes peeled for other helpful advice and in the meantime I will fight the urge to intervene! Keep the posts coming!
Ps I have just ordered a balancing cactus toy since that looked so much fun in your youtube toys video!
Hey Victoria, yes i know there is that feeling you want and should be right there with them. But I believe strongly that the space is nothing but a good thing for your child (and for you) and that that’s where all the juicy expansive growing occurs. Also, yay re the cactus! xxx
I’m new to your blog and as first time Mum to a 5 month old I’m ravenously working through all your posts! I love a low rules household and wonder how you differentiate with the boys around what’s acceptable at home but not out of the house (like jumping on the sofa etc.) it’s something my husband and I were discussing the other day at a family gathering where one of the children there was throwing all the cushions off the sofa!
Hey Jessie – ah congrats on recently becoming a mama, hope you and your LO are both doing well ? Great qq! I think it comes down to communication and them really understanding the difference between home rules (or non rules) but how we need to be mindful when out. I always clamp down quickly on bad behaviour when out and will just take one of the boys out of the area if they’re playing up. I think social etiquette is super important. But yes, it’s not always easy! Thanks for reading and for being here x
I have just come across your account today (as Susie Verrill had mentioned you!) and just read this!
I think it’s brilliant – and so important. As a teacher of (currently) reception children, it’s getting more and more difficult to engage the children when they rely so heavily on screen time at home (and a lot of them are lacking imagination and independence sadly).
I have 14 month old and am trying really hard not to over stimulate her or bombard the house with toys, and I step back a lot! It’s so lovely when I do and watch her work things out independently. Thanks for the tips!
hey lo – good to have you here ! so glad you enjoyed the post and totally love the idea of stepping back and giving kids the space and time for them to work things (life) out themselves. thanks for commenting too x
Some people think it’s their special parenting skills however it does depend on the child’s personality too! I could try everything you said above but my child wouldn’t behave the same as yours as he is just a different personality! Your article makes it sound like it’s the parents fault if a child doesn’t want to play on their own!
oh gosh yes TOTALLY. i’ve just actually amended the post slightly to include your point on this – very valid – thank you x
Feel like you have totally validated my idea of parenting – and how it has developed. Although I musy admit that with a 18 mnth old I do sometimes use CBEEBIES as a Nanny while I get breakfast ready / go to the loo / put a load of washing on etc!
hey faye, thanks for reading and for commenting. and as for Cbeebies as and when, FOR SURE – I call it the digital nanny!
Ahh this post has made me feel so much better about my own situation! I’m a first time Mum with a 10 month old and my baby is quite happy to just play by himself and keep himself busy, but I constantly feel guilty that I’m not always getting involved! I always sit in the same room as him or quickly pop to put the kettle on but I literally just end up sitting feeling bad for not playing with him, even though often when I do try to join in he just crawls off and does his own thing. We don’t have any of the fancy, all singing all dancing toys but he seems perfectly happy, people are always commenting on how happy he is actually. I just feel like I’m doing something wrong by not being in his face all of the time! Sorry, bit of a rambling comment ha but it’s just nice to know I’m not the only one! Just need to learn to not feel so guilty now ?
hey laura – first up, thanks for reading the post for commenting. to me it sounds like you are doing a STELLA job parenting, following all your instincts, letting your little one just ‘BE’ which imho is so important. why would anyone want someone in their face all the time?! get rid of those feelings of guilt, your babe is one lucky little monkey 🙂 p.s love a rambling comment!
This was a really helpful article. My son is only 8 months old but I hope to use this sort of technique to encourage his creativity and overall contentment with the simple things/moments in life. As a first time mom, I read so much about how you should be constantly engaging with your baby and teaching them but I think that a bit of space is so much more important for them. I hope I can achieve what you have with your little boy, for both himself and for my own sanity as a person who needs my own space too! ❤
yes i totally agree with everything you’re saying here kirsten – personal space for them and for *you* is SO important and i think, beneficial for everyone 🙂 good luck mama and thanks for reading x
Omg I felt like I wrote this post. It’s l9vely to find a kindred parenting spirit! The only thing different is I do rely a bit on cbeebies…half the time Charlie runs off exploring and I’m left watching Justin and his friends! I will try to to turn it off and maybe replace with music!
Loving your #saynotostuff journey also…somthing I’m interested in doing. Can I ask (sorry if I’ve missed it) if you have a food diary style post for you and the boys? Maybe a thrifty food tip type post?
Thanks for another awesome post.
@Babywilkes on Instagram x
ah yes for sure i rely on some TV as and when – i cant imagine not having tv on hand for those really tough moments! thanks re my #saynotostuff journey – im giving it my best shot as i feel we just have SO MUCH stuff and it is doing my head in 🙁 re the food diary style post, no i havent ever done anything quite like this but i love the idea of it! that, and a thrify food type post, is a great idea… will have a think…currently exploring veganism so that is probably my next ‘foodie’ type of post but going to def have a think about your ideas. thanks so much for reading and for commenting 🙂 x
I totally agree with you. I was like this as a child, and although now my brain is totally wired to social media (hang up of the job I do!) I see a huge difference in how my little nephew self-soothes and how I did as a child — all due to the constant tv and stimulation he gets, and therefore needs.
Although, my bump is still a bump….so let’s see how I play this one when it’s screaming and I just want some peace and quiet!
ah so agree with you – the TV can definitely cause problems and all the buzzing noisy toys do my head in as i just see them so overstimulate the kids! hope you are feeling well lovely – when are you due? X