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?
Photos by Amanda Lee