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Dr Amanda Gummer has some advice for parents who are working from home with the kids around during the school holidays.
The flexibility of working from home can be fantastic, but there’s nothing quite like the fear in a working parent’s voice when they talk about the 6+ weeks of summer stretching ahead of them – and there’s still a fair few to go – with minimal childcare and a to do list longer than the great wall of China.
There’s no doubt about it, for children under the age of 7, you’ll need some form of childcare to enable you to work, but even this can be minimised. Work at whichever end of the day the children sleep most and give yourself some free time during the day to enjoy their summer holiday with them.
How many times has your child come up to you and said ‘I am bored!’ And how many times have your tried to find them something to do to occupy them or felt guilty that you’re not able to play with them because of a work issue? Lots? Well let them get bored occasionally and you’ll be doing them a favour.
Young children’s attention spans don’t last for long – you can expect approximately three to five minutes for every year of a child’s age. So most five year olds will be able to focus on an activity for about 15 minutes.
Children need to get bored occasionally in order to understand their own thinking, the world around them and their experiences and this self-reflection is needed from a young age. Children often have very busy social lives with school, extra curricular activities and spending time with friends and family. Although these are great in promoting social development, there are some children who lead such a hectic and structured life that they are never given the chance to get bored – they are always being occupied. When they eventually become bored, the novelty is enormous and they may not be able to find alternative activities this is when they announce “I AM BORED!”. Therefore, it is important to give children some free and unstructured time, where they can get ‘bored’ and find other activities to occupy themselves, promoting independence.
Some children seem to be relentless in seeking parental attention, which if provided constantly can hamper the development of key skills including decision-making, creativity and initiative. As Dr Teresa Belton, expert on the impact of emotions on behaviours and learning, announced this year: Western society has developed an expectation that children should be constantly occupied and stimulated, but having a highly structured routine can obstruct the development of a child’s imagination as they are prevented from using it.
Dr Belton believes that boredom is an “uncomfortable feeling”.
Surprisingly boredom actually encourages children to be creative by developing their innate imagination and this also develops a sense of identity, as the children have to find something to do. A sense of achievement is accomplished when they have been successful in their discovery. Boredom encourages children to find alternative ways of occupying themselves, allowing them to develop their internal stimulus.
Don’t feel guilty if you’d rather not book your children onto weeks of summer camps. Excessive amounts of highly structured, extra curricular activities can be damaging to your child as they will never be allowed to be bored. Constant stimulation can hinder a child’s imagination and prevent them from having any time to chill out and think. Therefore, having unstructured time allows a child to plan, invent, imagine and create.
Top Tips for surviving the summer holidays working from home:
– Set boundaries about work/play time and stick to them – if you need to work for an hour, make sure you are available for them after that.
– Make a list of all the activities he/she could do if they ever get bored and put it somewhere visible so they’re not constantly. This will allow children to be creative and give their input on what types of activities they like and prevent boredom. Also independence will be demonstrated, as they will be able to choose an activity and will be able to occupy themselves.
– Reward initiative and encourage children to make decisions for themselves as well as giving them age-appropriate responsibility to help make the family run more smoothly. This will enhance the team spirit and make the children more understanding of your work.
– Next time they tell you they’re bored, give them jobs to do to help around the house if they can’t find anything better to do – you can always turn that into a game and help them realise that boredom is a choice they make.
As always, you can have too much of a good thing. After children have had the chance to get bored, it’s always great to have some boredom busters up your sleeve too.
*Dr. Amanda Gummer is a psychologist specialising in play and parenting and founder of the play advice site www.goodtoyguide.com