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.
Love this! I’ve never played with my kids much either. Mainly I didn’t have time with other kids and work etc, but my kids have never suffered for it – in fact two of them are real high achievers. Now I see what people are putting on social media – ‘invitations to play’ after school – lots of craft activities or trains etc laid out and I beat myself up slightly wondering whether I wasn’t a good enough mum when they were younger. But I know that I was, and they are happy, rounded kids.
Sarah MumofThree World recently posted…First silverware of the season
Definitely don’t beat yourself up, I really think you did them a favour, so give yourself a pat on the back instead 🙂
I don’t think it will be a surprise to you but I am in almost total agreement with you. All except the playpen – I’ve never liked the idea of them, although from a practical sense I can see the benefit. But everything else spot on. I would say that I sometimes have a few pangs of guilt though that perhaps I should be spending hours playing with them, but when I step back and watch the games and imagination at work I think I would actually be limiting for them as I think we (adults) generally lose the ability to play creatively as we grow up. If I think about the play activities we do together they are normally the things where there is some sort of learning or instructional element e.g. reading, jigsaws, cooking, ball games. Does that make sense/ resonate?
That makes perfect sense. I can understand why people don’t like playpens but having had L in France where they are very common, I’m just so used to using them now, and love them 🙂
Hear hear Sophie! I totally agree with you. I think we can blame Pinterest and competitive parenting for the new trend in Hands On Parenting. For the most part, I let Sammy get on with his day himself. That often involves him playing independently and creating his own fun. He has a great imagination and I think that comes from his independent play and creative play time with his sister. And I did have a play pen for Ella…brilliant things!!
Karin Joyce recently posted…Right Here, Right Now- September
Yay for playpens 🙂 I daren’t look at “those” Pinterest posts, they make me palpitate a bit.
The magic of imagination! Chris Mosler wrote a guest post for Dorky Mum, which is still probably my most favourite blog post ever written EVER called the Gift of Self. Hold on, I am going to have to go and find it for you now… here you go: http://dorkymum.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/the-gift-of-self/ but every since I read the post, I have been much more aware of giving my son room to explore and play on his own. As I did not produce a sibling for him to play with, I admit that I do worry I should play with him more. But, you are right and balance is key. I won’t stop playing with him completely, but I am going to try and work on the guilt when I am not… 🙂 Great post xx
Thank you so much for sharing that fabulous blog post with me, I’ve added it to the end of my blog post as it puts it so much better than I do. Don’t worry about him not having a sibling to play with – at his age L was still an only child and only got a sibling when she was nearly 6. Ignore the guilt, if he seems happy he probably is, it’s all about balance and it’s great for them to have this time on their own 🙂 xx
I completely agree with you! I try to always leave Arthur to entertain himself especially now that he has a sister.
Love the last photo. Made me laugh!
Thanks 🙂 That photo made me laugh too, although the eldest was trying to get down and the youngest wouldn’t let her!
What a great post! I completely agree with you, it’s out of boredom creativity is born and being able to entertain yourself is such an important life skill!!
Thanks, I really do think so too, it’s the best gift we can give our kids.
Thank you! This is just what I needed to read! I have been feeling guilty for the times I am working when Baby is in the same room playing. I totally agree, everything in moderation, but like you I never remember my mum playing with me either x #BrillBlogPosts
You Baby Me Mummy recently posted…Gratitude List #18
I think we have a tendency to feel guilty for leaving our kids to get on with things, but my mum was busy cooking/cleaning/washing for a family of 7 so she couldn’t give us her full attention, I’m pretty certain she didn’t feel guilty about it either 😉
I keep telling my eldest to go play on her own or with her sister (not the safest quite yet however, her sister keeps falling over); she keeps wanting me to play shopkeeper with her and after half an hour, I am so done with the boredom of it all. I would dearly love for her to do more on her own!
Pauline recently posted…What I’m Into – September 2014
Sadly I think some kids need the adult interaction and stimulation – I’ve got a friend whose daughter can’t do anything on her own at all, and needs to be entertained constantly. Eek!
I’ve been thinking about this lots recently – feeling vaguely guilty when my 21 month old is pottering around whilst I’m getting on with editing my novel or catching up on the blog. But I’d come to entirely the same conclusion. I think boredom is way healthier than it’s given credit for, and when I catch him out of the corner of my eye trying something new to entertain himself then I feel entirely vindicated. Never did get my head round playpens though… He seems to have identified acceptable boundaries pretty quickly!
Sophie Lovett recently posted…Breastfeeding a toddler
I love my playpens, but I get the impression they’re quite Marmite – love them or hate them. I think we often feel guilty about leaving our kids to their own devices but it really is good for them 🙂
So with you on Every. Single. Word… I am the HUGEST believer in giving our girls space to play. Every day when Heidi goes down for her nap, Ava goes up to the spare room with a pile of books, puzzles and dollies, and her grow clock set for one hour. It gives me an hour break (necessary for my sanity!) and also has been a purposeful tool in teaching her to amuse herself.
Both girls play happily alone and together, and its been something I’ve proactively tried to encourage. I’ve also tried to make sure that at least one day a week we are totally at home all day long. I want them to learn to be happy at home, and how can they do that if we’re never here?!
Just love this post. There need to be more like it!
Claire @ Clarina’s Contemplations recently posted…Autumn Decorations: Savouring the Season
Thanks so much for your lovely comment and for sharing this on Facebook 🙂 I think we beat ourselves up when we really shouldn’t – time to themselves is great for kids! xx
Yey! Thanks for making me feel better about myself. I think you are right ! I nearly had a row with my Dad a while back as he complained I was sitting in the bathroom on my phone when I should have been playing with little man in the bath. He was happily playing by himself and I was having 5 mins “off” whilst keeping him safe. Not even sure what a perfect parent is ….. Well that’s probably my next blog post 😉
Louise recently posted…Pampered Chef Products You Will Use
Who knows what a perfect parent is?!? I think we’re all just trying to figure it all out 😉
Fascinating post and one that’s really got me thinking. And you’re right, when I was little, I was often left to my own devices to play and get on with things and it certainly hasn’t done me any harm (I don’t think ;-))
I think also today, there’s huge pressure on all of us to be ‘perfect’ parents so we’re scared that if we’re not playing with them or amusing them that we aren’t as dedicated or loving as we should be. Nonsense when you think about. Thanks for reminding me that it’s ok for Elsie to be and play on her own for a while. I needed this today. Great post xxx
Katie / Pouting In Heels recently posted…Motherhood guilt & gazing at stars
Thanks lovely, I’m glad it helped. It’s so hard to forget that our job is not to entertain our kids 24/7 xx
Could not agree more, discuss this a lot with my Mum-kids need to be bored so they can invent, play and rely on themselves too. I interviewed fab psychologist Karen Pine and she said this:
“2. Read Judith Harris’s work. She’s shown that parents aren’t as important or influential as we’re led to believe. The current zeitgeist makes parents believe that their every move will shape their child’s future. It won’t. Once we accept that, we can stop feeling guilty about not being the perfect parent!
3. A bit of healthy neglect is good for kids. Hands-off parenting teaches children self-responsibility, independence and gives them an internal locus of control. The more we, as parents, do for our kids the more we undermine the development of those important life skills.”
Really made me relax after reading that-her full interview if you fancy reading is here http://honestmum.com/wonderful-women-wednesday-the-interview-with-karen-pine-psychologist/
Fab post as ever lady x
Honest mum recently posted…Getting ‘You’ to Sleep Through
Thanks so much for sharing this, just went over and had a read, it’s so inspirational from a parenting point of view, but also from a general life point of view.
I agree completely. My little girl is currently learning to love her playpen – I have to start working from home again in a little over a month, and I’m hoping she’ll be able to keep herself occupied in there at least for a little while each day so I can get some work done. She didn’t like it at first, but she can play in there quite a while now without getting upset and actually seems pretty pleased gurgling and talking to herself. #brillblogposts
Playpens rock! I ran my own company when our eldest was little and it really helped when I had work to get done, and she’s now so independent and can entertain herself for hours on end 🙂
It’s different things for different kids, but I wholeheartedly agree that children should learn that mummy and daddy won’t come running to entertain them all the time. Developing a little independence and self-reliance is a good thing.
Independence and self-reliance are so important, and knowing that someone won’t come the moment you call is a good lesson to learn.
You are SO right. My husband is always telling me that the kids need to get bored now and then to appreciate all that we do do with them when we’re able. And also to encourage free thinking and independent play. We do like to play with them, but there are times where they have to make their own entertainment and I love it when they do. x x
ghostwritermummy recently posted…An IUGR baby: Made to Measure
It’s so important to play with our kids, and to watch out for them, just not all the time. The things they can discover/invent in their own worlds is just incredible.
I could not agree more! I enjoy the odd crafting or cooking activity with my monkeys but it is important to let them play on their own / with their friends and gain independence. It always makes me laugh when I see mums following their offspring at playgroup and bothering them / playing with them rather than letting them get along with stuff and playing with other children.
Mel recently posted…My Sunday Photo / Silent Sunday – 5 October 2014
You’re lucky as well as you’ve got 4 so they’ll always have a buddy to play with, like I did have when I was little 🙂
I agree with your thoughts (although no experience with a playpen, we considered getting one but realised we didn’t have room for it in the house).
I’ve left my children to entertain themselves from a young age and I think it is important for them to realise they can chose for themselves and to encourage their imagination, plus you find what they are really interested in rather than your assumption. B is really into role playing games usually in a school setting and M is often building his train set.
Of course we do things with them as well, they often join in activities we do such as gardening or will ask us to join in their activities.
Kate Davis recently posted…I put a Polo into Vimto – Wisdom from 1989
That is the problem with playpens, they do take up lots of room! I love leaving them to it to see what they really want to do, rather than what I think they want to do (rarely the same).
Love, love, love this post! I like creating ‘invitations to play’ for my two (inspired very much by Edspire and Ghostwritermummy) and letting them use them to create their own little worlds. My eldest is loving role-play as a teacher/postman at the moment and this weekend I created her a writing bureau from a small IKEA storage box with envelopes, stamps, paper, pens and highlighters – she happily played for ages. Did I feel guilty about that? Not a jot. She’s using her imagination and probably working through some of her week at school emotionally. And those are both skills I want her to have.
Michelle Reeves (bodfortea) recently posted…My little bookworm
L loves her role playing too, when she was a bit younger she used to put all her dolls and teddies around her and “teach” them. Actually I just realised that she doesn’t do that so much anymore, moving on to more grown up role play now *sobs*
I remember being bored a lot as a child, and I’d eventually find some entertainment with my Sister and our friends. I grew up on a decent estate (before they had a bad reputation) and there was always children around.
However, my toddler-daughter will likely be an only child, has no cousins or close friends her age nearby, and when I’m home with her I cave in to her demands to ‘sit here, Mummy’ and we play, draw, or dance. I do leave her a little, but perhaps it’s time I encouraged her to use her own resources? I honestly don’t know – she’ll be in school before I know it, and I don’t want her to think she has a Mummy who isn’t interested in playing.
Great, thought-provoking post!
Emma AKA Size15Stylist recently posted…Here come the gifts for the girls
I grew up with 4 siblings in a cul-de-sac with tons of other kids. When we had our eldest we were in France and the kids just didn’t play in the same way, so she learnt to play alone, and she is so imaginative and creative now. There’s a lot to be said for being an only child and left to your own devices….