Bored Toddler

Whether they actually say it or just exhale so loudly it’s blown in your face, a bored toddler (or any child I am assured by my mother) can be exasperating. You’ve spent months taking them to every sensory group going to ensure their tiny minds develop. You’ve forced yourself to schlep to the park on bleak, rainy days because you know they love it and need their vitamin D shot. You’ve spent hours on your knees making and crawling through beautifully adorned cardboard dens (yes, I did staple on those curtains in the picture). Why is it then, on the day you have that call to make, report to write, or headache to battle do they struggle with being bored?

As a modern mum, I feel we are constantly bombarded with emails asking whether our toddler can throw a ball like Ian Botham, contemplate string theory or read Bear Hunt on their own. Backwards.

It’s no wonder we feel under pressure to constantly keep them moving, developing, and questioning. However, this level of parenting has its problems. For one, we are constantly exhausted and feel sub-par when we actually have a day at home with the kids. Secondly, when we actually need to take that phone call, write that report or attend that meeting (oh yes, I’ve stupidly tried to do all with a toddler) we have to deal with a toddler climbing on us for attention while trying to silently shhh them for a whole two minutes. Which leads to point three: guilt.

The inspiration for this blog came yesterday when I had to talk at length with two leading safety experts who are helping me to make sure Roly Poly Pillow is ready to go. So, a pretty important couple of calls. As sure as eggs is eggs, once my daughter clocked that my attention was truly diverted, she had her sights set on her mission of clawing back my undivided attention.

Let’s not pretend it’s because my company is so exciting and inspiring. I can be pretty questionable company sometimes (baked bean counting is an activity, right?) so I knew it was not because she desired my amazing parenting. It was boredom. Over the past few weeks it has dawned on me that she doesn’t deal well with boredom. This is where the guilt sets in. Ignoring the clingy, moaning child that was trying to destroy my important phone calls (and possibly her future inheritance if Roly Poly Pillow is a success) was actually more than annoying. I felt bad. The unhinged part of my modern brain felt guilty that she was bored. I felt even worse when I turned on Thomas the Tank Engine to distract her for the hour I was on the phone. Who does that? What sort of a mother plonks their child down in front of the tv when they have jobs to do or calls to make?

Plenty. This is where my mother offered fantastic insight and I’m getting to the age where her views are becoming more important to me. This was our conversation:

Me: “Aaahhhh I can’t get anything done!”

Norfolk mum: “Why on earth are you trying to entertain her all the time?”

Me: "Well, if I don’t…erm…her brain might shrink…she might not understand string theory…erm…"

Norfolk mum: “Her brain won’t shrink. That’s linked to dehydration. Are you giving her enough water?”

Me: “Maybe I should consider an I.V drip.”

Norfolk mum: “Don’t be sarcastic. Look, she needs to be bored to use her brain. She needs time to chill out from her mental day. She needs time to practise her skills. It's important to give her alone time to talk to herself, pull off her socks and put them back on, or stare at the monster poster on her wall and think about the characters and their stories.”

Me: “I know, I just feel bad that I want her to be on her own sometimes just so I can get stuff done. I feel like I should want to absorb every minute of her childhood.”

Norfolk mum: “That’s the definition of insanity. You are not a child. If you wanted to hang out with one 24/7, I would worry. You have a job to do and cannot feel bad for letting her watch a bit of tv or leaving her to play in her room for a bit. She can’t constantly be entertained or you’ll have an adult who doesn’t understand how to be alone and think, or be alone and be content. It’s a skill she needs to learn just like anything else.”

It’s going to be a journey to achieve a boredom balance but what I have decided on after speaking to my mum and reading funny examples of similar struggles on pages like The Unmumsy Mum and Slummy Mummy is that we shouldn’t feel guilty. We are trying to do everything (and we are all doing it so well) but we need to shelve the guilt.

The best example my mum gave was asking what I would have done if another person’s toddler was climbing on me and whinging at me while I was trying to take a call.

Me: “I would have wondered how that parent could be so rude and allow their child to do that.”

Norfolk mum: “Exactly. So don’t be your own worst enemy. Let her be bored and she’ll learn more than you think.”