Friday, 29 March 2013

Why Don't You?

When I was younger we didn't have tons of toys or things to entertain us (don't worry this isn't going to be a sob story or one of those "when I was young" diatribes).  We used to play outside the front of the house with our friends.  I spent lots of time either sitting on the curb chatting with my friends (whilst one particular "friend" spent two years bullying me from the age of 6 until around 8) or playing chase or "two ball".  I think I spent the majority of my childhood outside of the house either on bikes, getting up to goodness knows what, or just hanging about (when I wasn't being grounded for all sorts of silly things that is).  I don't remember being bored. We had amazing freedom, free from worry about being run over or abducted.  I'm sure the "B" word was used as most children seem to use it with frightening regularity but I don't remember it.  I still don't get bored even to this day. When I was on my own I spent as much of my time as I could with my nose stuck in a book.  I was a vociferous reader.  I would read anything that I could get my hands on. I would happily spend my holidays stuck up a tree reading "What Katy Did" or "Little Women".  It used to drive my mum nuts.

"We didn't bring you all this way for you to sit up a tree with a book" she would yell at me.

I'd be delighted for Katie to sit up a tree with a book.  Chances are it wouldn't be with a book nowadays.  It would be with a smart-phone or an IPad or Kindle.  If I'm still physically able to, at the point she is old enough to partake of this wonderfully peaceful exercise, I might even climb up and join her, although I'd have to ensure I had enough charge on my Kindle!

It seems to me that children don't necessarily play these days in the way we used to.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not harking back to the "good ol days" with some evangelical rosy-tinted glasses but I do think life was simpler and we used to know how to entertain ourselves.  We had to.  We didn't have grown-ups to play with us necessarily - most of the grown-ups I knew back then were busy talking to each other and not interested in us kids.  I can't remember my mum ever sitting down and reading with me or playing games.  We did used to watch "Top of the Pops" and "Dallas" together though.  We didn't have lots of TV time as we only had three channels until the early 80's.  We had games like Operation and Buckeroo and Monopoly and they came out at Christmas etc but I don't have lots of memories of sitting down and playing them.  Children weren't at the centre of life as they are these days.  We were expected to "know our place" Parenting was sadly, mostly Victorian (it was in my case). Playing was for when we were with our friends and not our parents although I do remember being dangled upside down or tickled (both of which I totally hated!).

How the world has changed and how different it is for adopters!

Parenting these days has done a 180 degree flip and is very child focused. We are encouraged to play with our children and spend "quality time" together.  I enjoy playtime with Katie.  I waited for a very long time to become a parent and I want to be involved. For adopters (as well as other parents I'm sure) playtime is our bonding time. It's a time when we can encourage our children to learn to use eye contact or touch in a non-threatening way. We can help our children develop their motor and communication skills. We can use play therapies such as Theraplay to help our children relearn and reprogramme negative and damaging experiences. We can let them be in charge for a period of time and help build up their self-esteem.  We can have fun!  It is also a time when we (the alleged grown ups) can indulge ourselves in a child-like world and forget (albeit very briefly) about our adult lives and responsibilities.  Making a child laugh is one of the best experiences in the world.  Hearing the sound of their laughter, full of total glee and abandon with no pretences, is precious.  I adore hearing Katie laugh. She laughs like one of those giggle toys that used to be quite popular.  It stops people in their tracks and makes them smile!

The tools we have in our armoury make playtime so much easier although we don't need to be as resourceful, unless you're a supermum with the most amazing crafty skills and don't feel threatened by an empty toilet roll; cardboard box and sticky backed plastic as I do  We have a trampoline (currently unused due to the unseasonably cold and wet weather). We have a LeapPad and DS and an IPad.  We have books and dolls and babies and Lego and cars and tons of Princess dressing up dresses and soft toys and games especially designed to enable learning.  We have play-dates and Jenga. We bake cakes and sometimes do some mark making and play Play-Doh or watch TV. With exception to the latter, I am a one-woman entertainment centre. 

Is all this one-to-one attention actually good for Katie in the long run though?  Obviously, in part, the answer is a resounding "Yes" but what about her ability to self-entertain?  As a parent I actually also need to give her time to become bored to enable her to develop these skills and enjoy some of the amazing things that can come out of time spent without entertainment. As a young person I spent a lot of time writing very dodgy poetry when I was alone.  I have to say that gives me some adult amusement to read nowadays!

This ability to sit within the feeling of boredom is quite a topical issue this week.  Research is showing that our modern culture of 24/7 entertainment options and socialisation isn't actually good for children because they are missing out on spending creative inner time.  Just sitting and staring out of a window can lead to amazingly creative outcomes.

In a BBC news article Dr Belton, who is an expert in the impact of emotions on behaviour and learning at the University of East Anglia, said "boredom could be an "uncomfortable feeling" and that society had "developed an expectation of being constantly occupied and constantly stimulated".

But she warned that being creative "involves being able to develop internal stimulus".
"Nature abhors a vacuum and we try to fill it," she said. "Some young people who do not have the interior resources or the responses to deal with that boredom creatively then sometimes end up smashing up bus shelters or taking cars out for a joyride."

This is a serious concern and we as parents need to question where the balance lies and we also need to be strong enough to encourage our children to entertain themselves without the aid of modern technology.

In a Mumsnet Guest Blog post Dr Belton also writes:

"With school holidays approaching, parents will be expecting wails of, “I’m bored - there’s nothing to do!” Stretched budgets may also make expensive outings impossible. If so, take heart. Parents tend to feel responsible for their children being occupied at all times - but being constantly busy or entertained is not helpful for children’s development. Yes, children thrive on stimulus from babyhood onwards, but one can have too much of a good thing. Children also need still, quiet time to learn from their experiences, to think their own thoughts, to get to know the world around them."

This is really reassuring because Katie has now learnt the "B" word.  I actually hate that word.  I remember many years ago being told that "only boring people get bored" and I find myself saying it back to her with some frequency.  She has reached that whiny challenging five year old age where, as a parent, it can be sometimes easier to give in to demands to entertain her rather than standing firm.  She is amazingly good at distracting me when she is "bored".  She'll either follow me around constantly or start to do things that she knows she shouldn't be - all for negative attention. I have started standing more firm and giving Katie time to amuse herself without the aid of modern technology or me (I make sure I let the cats outside first though!).  This is going to be really important when we introduce a sibling to our family. I don't want her to tie the two in together so have brought this change in now and am planning to ensure these Easter holidays aren't the usual action-packed fun fest school holiday that we usually enjoy.  Yes there will be time with friends but there is also going to be more time at home just mooching.  I need some mooch-time and I think it's about time Katie learnt how to mooch as well.

Wish me luck. I'm taking heart from a favourite TV programme of my generation "Why Don't You?"

Why don't you just turn off your television set and 
go and do something less boring instead......

Good advice I think.  What do you think?


  1. Thanks for this post! Personally I find the whole area of play a difficult one, and it's reassuring to hear someone else say that it's ok to find a balance of sitting down and playing with them, and encouraging them to find ways to amuse and entertain themselves. Although I wasn't an only child, my sister is much older, and both my parents worked a lot, so I spent hours as a child drawing, reading and playing make believe games by myself. I think all of that really gave me resilience, independence and a desire to pursue my own interests. On the other hand, I do wish that we had played together more as a family. Such a difficult balance.

  2. It is often my concern that I spend too much time trying to entertain my children, ensure they are happy. Having two, boredom often results in a fall out, bickering and I find this really irritating. I know I result to TV often to placate and take the pressure on me having to entertain. I found the research you added to your post really interesting and I love the way you describe Katie's giggle, just gorgeous.

    Thank you for sharing on the Weekly Adoption Shout Out. x

  3. Even though I had a brother to play with we were both able to "entertain ourselves" and we had both been encouraged to use our imagination. We did not have much money so we had to "mend and make do" a lot of the time and like you we also spent a massive amount of time playing outside. I think parents can encourage imagination/creativity and ability for a child to self-entertain WHILST they are playing with them or whilst they are just going about the day to day of life. My dad was CONSTANTLY making up imaginative things when we were out walking things like trees becoming like people and having them reach down to tickle us or shapes of clouds and what they might look like or not walking on a "crack" in the pavement etc. Inside my dad would also encourage us to use our imaginations with things like the "squiggle game" where he would draw three random lines on a blank piece of paper and we had to use our imagination to make those lines/squiggles into a picture. I was very much into drawing/colouring/painting/making things all of which were things I could do alone and like you I was an avid reader........I think I owe my English language ability to Enid Blyton :-)

    I used to love watching "Why don't you" and never "got" the irony of the fact it was trying to get you to watch a tv programme about turning the tv off :-)

  4. I often worry that I'm not providing enough entertainment for my children...Dollop however is great at play, we get the Happyland out and she's happy for an hour or so. Mini has never been good at playing ever, and CAMHS have now said he is play-delayed! So I forgive him a little bit when the b word slips out, which it does...a lot!

    Thanks for linking this to the Weekly Adoption Shout Out x

  5. Great advice, I often wish my girls could just 'be' without the aid of some toy or device. Its something I continue to 'try' and encourage, much to their disapproval :)

  6. I suppose living in a very rural area we are in a minority but G has lots of time to play outside with his friends, they do sit on their version of a curb (the log pile) and chat and I don't feel any pressure to be chief entertainer. He also uses the B word (but only if I've told him to turn off the ps3 or tv) but generally he then disappears to his room and reappears half an hour later to show me what amazing object he has built out of lego. He is often extremely pleased by his creativity and I am reminded how good it is for him to be told to "go and find something better to do." Therefore I have removed my hair shirt and have forgiven myself for not being Mum of the year.(or maybe I am!)So I say; let your children be bored and find their inner creativity and while they are doing that you can have a hot cup of tea in peace!

  7. Good luck - I hope it goes well. She may thank you when she's older :)

  8. This is where I'm really lucky that my three are all, essentially, the same age. (Twin boys of 6 and elder sister of 7.5.) They are 'into' the same games, same imaginative play, same books and - when we watch it - the same TV programmes and DVDs. I have to say though that I very, very rarely hear the words "I'm bored" and I'm sure it's because they've got each other to keep them occupied. Another reason to count my blessings. :) xx