Why it’s good to ignore your kids
I don’t know why or when it happened but there’s been a massive shift in parenting styles over the last 30 odd years. Growing up in the late 1970s and 1980s I clearly recall my friends and I being left to our own devices by our parents. Don’t get me wrong, our parents were present but they weren’t constantly hovering over us. There was no helicopter parenting in my day!
I know I’m not alone. I’ve discussed this with numerous friends who grew up around the same time, and we all have these same memories. We played. Alone. With siblings. With friends. We got bored. We were told to read a book, go and ride our bikes, play with a sibling, go and call for a friend.
I have no recollection of telling my mum I was bored and of her dropping what she was doing to entertain me. In fact the idea of that just makes me laugh.
So why, now, do parents insist on being so present in their children’s entertainment? I think the main reason is that we’re having children later. Modern day parents have had a successful career, and now they tell themselves they’ll be successful parents too. So they entertain their kids to within an inch of their lives.
But the thing is, kids need to be bored. They need to understand boredom and learn to draw on their own resources. As they get older there isn’t always going to be someone there to entertain them. So it’s important for them to learn to amuse themselves.
Now obviously I’m not talking about neglect, you can’t just ignore your children permanently. But I strongly believe that from a young age they should be left to play, to discover their own little world.
I’m convinced I’m such an avid bookworm now because whenever I complained that I was bored as a child I was told to read a book. And I see this repeating itself with my kids; there are books for them to read in several rooms of the house and I constantly find them curled up, nose in a book.
One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is that of boredom; that’s when children withdraw into their imagination and become our future J.K.Rowlings. You can’t learn to use your imagination and to develop your creative side if you’ve got an adult constantly breathing down your neck.
So, from what age should a child be left to their own devices?
In my opinion, and experience, from a very young age, maybe even around 3 months old. We got playpens for our two girls when they were about this age and not only did they love being in this playful environment, but it also gave me a much needed break. Win-win.
I know playpens aren’t very common in the UK, but I urge all new mums to get one – your child is in a safe, fun place where they can develop and you can get on with cooking/online shopping/cleaning/washing or even taking a much needed 5 minute break with your feet up and a book.
When children are used to entertaining themselves I find they develop better relationships with siblings and friends, as they have to figure it all out for themselves. Who they are. How to react to/with the other person. Of course you need to be present with younger children, but sit back and watch them interact. (You may need to step in as the terrible twos hit and so does your child!)
I am convinced that the bond our daughters have formed is very much down to the time they spend together, just the two of them. They’ve always shared a bedroom, despite the 6 year age gap, and at the weekend L, our eldest, will climb into C’s cot, and they’ll play together, without any adult supervision or direction.
Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m not saying to not spend time with your children, or that you shouldn’t play with them. That is really important. Just not all the time. Let them play independently, that’s all.
Now I’m no parenting expert but I have watched my children develop separately and together since L was a baby, nearly 8 years ago. Of course, you should do what works best for you, but I’m convinced that the more rounded adults, and those with great imaginations and a creative mind are those who were ignored as children. And In case you’re wondering, I don’t think this has a negative effect on your relationship with your children; my daughters are both very cuddly and affectionate, despite us frequently leaving them to entertain themselves.
What do you think? To ignore or not to ignore, that is the question. Are you a hands-on parent who completely disagrees with this? Or do you think that we should leave kids to their own devices?
The lovely Sarah from Grenglish referred me to a blog post by Christine Mosler of Thinly Spread, guest posting on Dorky Mum’s blog, that puts this far more eloquently than I do. I urge you to read it too: The Gift of Self
Disclaimer: Whilst I think it’s good to leave your children to entertain themselves from time to time, this doesn’t mean leaving them where they aren’t safe, nor does it mean doing the above too often. Children also need love, affection and attention. It’s all about balance. In my opinion. For what it’s worth.