Boredom can be good for kids – we don’t always need to entertain them

The idea of ​​my children being bored was my biggest nightmare (Picture: Sarah Whiteley)

When I read that Eva Mendes was bringing back boredom for her children this summer, I could’ve jumped for joy.

Because in just a few words, she confirmed what I’ve recently discovered.

‘I really feel like when we’re bored – not stimulated by a phone or an iPad or computer or television – that’s when ideas come in,’ she said, explaining that while her family had spent a few months in London while her oh- so-dreamy hubby Ryan Gosling was filming there recently, she took her children on a ‘ton of field trips’ but now they’re home, she’s decided they won’t be doing as much.

Until recently, the idea of ​​my children being bored was my biggest nightmare – mostly, I think, because of lockdown.

Theo was two and a half when the pandemic struck and Immy was just five months.

Stuck in a flat with no outside space, I was determined that we’d do something new every day. You know, other than just watching films.

Not naturally gifted at arts and crafts, I searched YouTube and Pinterest for ideas and then battled on, making Elmer the Elephants out of empty milk bottles and Paddington Bears out of used toilet rolls. I cut out ladybirds to help with Theo’s counting and we baked endlessly.

Oh, and the tuff trays – a plastic slab suited for playing on with messy materials like sand and paint. A friend recommended getting one in those early weeks, and so we dutifully did. Anything to make those days go by quicker, I figured.

Every night, I’d set up a different elaborate scene on the trays, based on the books we were reading or the films I’d inevitably cave into. The Snail and the Whale was one of my favorites – that and The Jungle Book.

I’d set out the whale and the sharks for The Snail and the Whale’s scene, and it didn’t matter how much mess was made.

Sarah's 'The Snail and the Whale' tuff tray

I was determined that we’d do something new every day (Picture: Sarah Whiteley)

I thought if we had something set up to play with first thing in the morning, it would set us off to a good start.

Instead, Theo would usually give it nothing more than a casual look and step around it.

As they were too young to concentrate on anything by themselves, it was unbelievably hard, being the children’s sole source of entertainment far more exhausting that I’d ever realized it could be.

As soon as we were allowed, we went out. We took the children to the London Aquarium and the Tower of London, booking the earliest slots and relishing in the extra space because of the limited numbers.

Since then, whenever I thought about a day indoors, it genuinely filled me with dread. Even when we moved to a house and had the extra space, the idea of ​​spending so many hours in left me feeling sick.

What would we do with them? How would we get through the day?

It was only recently when we’d all returned from a trip to the park that my husband Tom and I realized what an absolute state the garden was in, dead leaves and weeds everywhere. You could tell we’d spent so many years in a flat.

‘You kids go and play while Daddy and I clear this mess up,’ I told Theo and Immy. As they disappeared into the house, I thought we’d have 10 minutes tops to pick up as much of the rubbish as possible and set to work quickly.

Sarah's daughter, Immy, as a baby

This summer holidays, we’ll be just like Eva and bring back the boredom (Picture: Sarah Whiteley)

Instead, the minutes rolled by with not a peep out of them. ‘Are you OK?’ Tom and I took turns calling in. But each time, we just heard giggling and Theo would shout back, ‘Yes, we’re fine!’

It was three hours before they eventually shouted for us – to show us two Duplo towers they’d built. ‘This one is for you, Mummy,’ Theo pointed out. ‘And this one is Daddy’s,’ Immy added proudly.

As they told us the ‘story’ about how I was going to live in one and be able to cross the river to visit Tom, I couldn’t believe it. Not only had Tom and I had three hours to ourselves managing to do something productive, but Theo and Immy had come up with their own game, with no help from either of us.

It was only then, it occurred to me that, over two years on from lockdown, we’re in a completely different situation. Not only were we no longer stuck in the house all day every day, but the kids were old enough to play on their own, come up with their own games, be creative. I didn’t necessarily have to devise ways for them to spend every minute of the day.

The pressure that took off me was incredible.

Since then, we’ve embraced boredom. Of course, there have been arguments and the occasional time one of them will end up wandering aimlessly around the house, looking listless. However, because we’re no longer in lockdown, we can always pull on our shoes and head down to the park, or up to the local community café, to break up the day.

But most of the time, it has been a huge success. They’ve come up with games we’d never have been able to. They’ve rediscovered board games and jigsaws that were previously pushed to the back of the cupboard. Their imaginations have astounded me.

So this summer holidays, we’ll be just like Eva (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say) and bring back the boredom.

Because it seems like that can sometimes be the most fun!

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