It goes against your natural instincts as a mum, but sometimes we just need to back off.
Letting your child be bored, plus the brain-drain whinging that accompanies it, seems like bad parenting, like you’re neglecting your child. In fact studies show your children need to be bored to let their imaginations go wild and nurture creativity. Taking a step back and allowing your child to come up with their own little games and encouraging them to get lost in their own thoughts actually benefits them now and in later life.
In the first year with my now-toddler I felt I had to entertain her every minute of the day. We spent hours reading, I was constantly looking for new places to take her and I talked to her all the time about what was in the room, park, shop or outside the car window.
I felt guilty if I didn’t fill all the hours with stimulating activities (more on my mum guilt here). In the end when I went back to work I finally started to let go a little. I made the most of the hours after she came home from nursery but at weekends began to be more laid back. I let her potter around with her toys on her own for an hour. I encouraged her to pick up something different and sometimes I just ignored her. After a couple of minutes of “mummy, read this” or “mummy what’s that”, followed by a bit of grumbling she would become distracted by something and focus on that instead.
Part of me still wonders if this is incredibly selfish. I chose to be a parent after all, doesn’t that mean sacrificing all of my free time to do things for my children.
But in fact not only is it good for you to enjoy a bit of time reading a book, catching up on the news or racing round getting the chores done, it’s actually really good for your child to be forced to entertain themselves.
Numerous studies have found that it’s when children have very little stimulation from adults that they get creative and that is great for their brain.
This is from Teresa Belton, of the University of East Angelia, who has researched the subject and says children need time to daydream.
She writes: “Parents often feel guilty if children complain of boredom. But it’s actually more constructive to see boredom as an opportunity rather than a deficit. Parents do have a role, but rushing in with ready-made solutions is not helpful. Rather, children need the adults around them to understand that creating their own pastimes requires space, time and the possibility of making a mess (within limits – and to be cleared up afterwards by the children themselves).”
That’s not to say you should be ignoring your child altogether. You can still praise and encourage or suggest something else they could do. I often set my toddler little challenges to carry out in the garden on her own and she loves it. Even if it’s something simple like find an ant.
A study by the University of Lancashire gave subjects boring tasks like copying numbers from a phone book then tested their creative thinking. The conclusion was these subjects often came up with more creative ideas.
So switching off the smartphone or tablet can be a good thing for us as parents too.
We live in such a busy world and we’re constantly on the go with a to do list that’s a mile long and growing by the second. Slowing down for even a moment can seem like we’re dropping the ball and doing the “wrong thing”.
Actually slowing down could be the best thing you do. Because once everything speeds up again your brain will be better rested to cope with the chaos.
Taking your foot off the accelerator doesn’t have to be a bad thing.