What I learned from letting my children be bored

Eltham Palace

This post is part of the #PetitsFilousPlayFree campaign.

“I’m bored!” Aieeee – this phrase must be the bane of every parent’s life.

My response is a bit fight-or-flight: quickly find my five- and eight-year old something to do, or watch domestic chaos unfold.

Unfortunately, in my case that something is usually the TV, or electronic gadgets.

But, over the last couple of weeks, something different has been going on in our family. As part of their #PetitsFilousPlayFree campaign, the snack company asked us to ‘Let Them Be Bored’- to just sit back, and allow the children to come up with their own ideas about how to fill their time.

Play England defines Free Play as “…children choosing what they want to do, how they want to do it and when they want to stop and try something else. Free Play has no external goals set by adults and has no adult imposed curriculum. Although adults usually provide the space and resources for Free Play and might be involved, the child takes the lead and the adults respond to cues from the child.”

I was keen. Having the mental space to play, and be spontaneous, is one of the nicest things about being on holiday. I wanted to try and re-create that relaxed, joyful feeling at home.


It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. If it’s not too clichéd, to say this, I do feel that our family’s grown a little. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from letting my children be bored.

Being a playmate is fun

Going on a train journey to China, dressing up as witch-fairies, and setting up a royal tea party are just a few of the games Gwen has dreamt up for the two of us. And it’s been a blast. Petits Filous invited Anita Cleare, a passionate advocate for the importance of play in children’s lives, to give us advice and support through the challenge. She pointed out that play is “as close to being truly light-hearted and carefree as most parents get“. She told me: “when you stop trying to control things – the housework, the  children’s play – you can relax, and become ‘Fun Mum’.”

Play’s proven to be a great way for adults to beat stress. And everyone wants to be ‘fun Mum’, right?


Play doesn’t get in the way of other things

I did think that, without the TV to rely on as a babysitter, I might find it difficult to get everything done. But one way or another, I’ve managed to cook the dinner, help the children with their homework – and find time to play with them. Sometimes my daughter’s ‘cooked’ in her own toy kitchen while I’ve been at the hob. Other times she’s headed upstairs with her big brother, to make mosaics with little sticky squares, or play with their mini Pokemon figures. I haven’t had to make any big changes in my life or our routine, to fit in play – it’s just happened naturally.


play in the toy kitchen

They don’t always need my help

This natural flow has felt so refreshing. Austin and Gwen don’t always need to rely on me to find them entertainment. I did have a hunch this might be true, but now I feel more confident to just say, “your’re bored? Ok – find yourself something to do. ”

And sometimes they’d rather I didn’t join in at all. When I popped my head round Austin’s bedroom door on Sunday morning, to check that they were playing nicely (which they were), Austin asked if I could leave them, because it was ‘kids’ time’. They wanted to play, undisturbed, in their own private world – and that felt so liberating.


Heading into a ‘secret den’ in Dulwich Park

Instead of descending into squabbles, the children get on better with each other

My main worry was that letting the children be bored would lead to non-stop squabbling. Like most siblings, Austin and Gwen often compete for attention. I found it difficult to see how the one-upmanship could turn into harmonious play. But my fears have been turned on their head. Instead of fighting, the children seem to be getting on better.

As Anita told me when I spoke with her, play is a bonding experience. The children learn to read each other’s cues better, and how to negotiate. A couple of mornings into the experiment, Austin came in to mine and D’s bed to say good morning. When his little sister walked in a few minutes later, instead of bickering and fighting over who gets to snuggle in closer to Mum or Dad, they just trooped off together to carry on with their keyboard concert – something they’d been doing the day before. Anita pointed out that continuing a game like this, which began earlier, is a way to step back into the ‘play zone’ – a shortcut to fun times.


You can plan for free play

I wouldn’t say the sibling rivalry’s completely gone. It’s still there, especially in the times when everyone’s a bit tired and crabby. After school seems to be a particular flashpoint, when the children are hungry, and wound up after their long day. Anita gave me some advice about trying to move the children into a more light-hearted frame of mind. She suggested that, on the way home from school, I ask them what they’re going to play when they get back, and to give them time to play before getting out homework, or switching on the TV. This seems to have helped.


Free play can transform

I’ve been delighted at the results of this challenge. My daughter, in particular, seems to have grown in confidence. Since the challenge has started, by coincidence she’s performed on stage in front of the whole year group of parents, and recited a poem to her class, off by heart. She managed both with aplomb. Play is supposed to work wonders in building children’s self-esteem, but I hadn’t expected it to have quite such a quick effect. And my son has shown some signs of real generosity over his time with Mum and Dad. He even said ‘yes’ to Gwen joining in with a game of draughts he and I were playing, which was unusual for him. As Anita pointed out, play has helped us all work better as a team – and we’ve really felt the benefits.

Eltham Palace

Snacktime at Eltham Palace

If you want to see some other parents talking about how their own children enjoy free play, check out this video from Petits Filous. Gwen has enjoyed munching into Petits Filous while we’ve been out and about. The company sent us a carry case, which we made full use of at the weekend, when we headed over to Eltham Palace. You can keep the handy pouches and pots out of the fridge for up to five hours, so they’ve been good for helping Gwen get a boost of vitamin D and calcium while out and about. Great for healthy bones, especially in the dark winter months.

Petits Filous Play Free: parents feelings when they see their children Play Free

Hear what parents told us when we asked “what do you enjoy the most when watching your child Play Free?” #PetitsFilousPlayFree

Posted by Petits Filous on Wednesday, 17 January 2018

I’m working with Petits Filous and BritMums, promoting the #PetitsFilousPlayFree campaign about the importance of free play.

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  1. February 7, 2018 / 9:02 pm

    I’ve really enjoyed being a part of this campaign too and I’ve found that the more free play you do, the more the kids want to do it too πŸ™‚ I love how Gwen has grown more confident, it sounds like it’s it’s been really beneficial for her x

    • Nell
      February 11, 2018 / 9:07 pm

      I agree about them wanting to do it more – and it’s had the same effect on me! It’s been so enjoyable to just hang out with them, and go with the flow.

  2. February 9, 2018 / 9:38 am

    What an amazing campaign #petitsfilousfreeplay is. As it happens, I am all for letting my kids get bored. I so recognise what you say about fight or flight. Without wishing to cause marital discord, my wife is more likely to reach for gadgets whereas I will just walk off. Come back a few minutes later and I usually find the kids are drawing or playing with soft toys.

    • Nell
      February 19, 2018 / 8:23 pm

      That’s a good approach. I need to train myself to be more relaxed like that! This campaign has really helped.

  3. February 11, 2018 / 9:22 pm

    I think this campaign is great. I am far too quick to plan a full itinerary for the weekend to keep the little ones entertained. I really should sit back enjoy a coffee and let them work it out for themselves I guess ?! πŸ™‚

    • Nell
      February 14, 2018 / 9:00 pm

      It’s sooo much better for everyone, I found! x

  4. February 12, 2018 / 8:27 am

    You’ve inspired me Nell! It’s so easy to switch the TV on or pass them the tablet to get a moments peace. This process sparks imagination, creativity and responsibility. Love it!

    • Nell
      February 14, 2018 / 9:02 pm

      It’s such an easy thing to do, too.

  5. February 14, 2018 / 1:14 pm

    At times I do feel guilty when my children say they are bored.

    This campaign is really valuable not only to highlight the importance of play but to reassure us as parents too.

    It’s made me realise I don’t need to step in, suggest or direct like I do and moving forward I will be much more aware of this.

    • Nell
      February 14, 2018 / 9:06 pm

      Me too. I feel so much more relaxed now – and it shows!

  6. February 14, 2018 / 3:33 pm

    We love Petit Filous, what a wonderful idea.

    • Nell
      February 14, 2018 / 9:07 pm

      I have to admit to sneakily eating some myself, from time to time!

    • Nell
      February 15, 2018 / 8:32 am

      Mine too!

  7. February 16, 2018 / 11:42 am

    My two aren’t allowed to say I’m bored πŸ˜‰

    If they do then know I’ll give them jobs to do ha ha

    • Nell
      February 18, 2018 / 2:25 pm

      Maybe I should try that tactic too!

  8. February 16, 2018 / 3:45 pm

    Sounds like you all learnt something from the challenge and yes I agree it’s fun being a playdate – we also took part in this challenge and loved it

    Laura x

    • Nell
      February 18, 2018 / 2:39 pm

      Thanks, Laura x

  9. February 16, 2018 / 11:23 pm

    Love the thought process behind ‘fun mum’ that’s who I want to be all the time. Such a lovely campaign

    • Nell
      February 18, 2018 / 2:40 pm

      Yes, it’s better than being stern, boring Mum, which is what I sometimes feel like! πŸ™‚

  10. February 19, 2018 / 10:45 pm

    Its interesting that it has stopped them bickering so much. I will have to remember this for when Kipper gets a bit older, as all they do at the moment is bicker. I will have to make sure we have plenty of play bonding sessions as he gets more communicative!

    • Nell
      February 22, 2018 / 11:44 am

      I tell you, it’s worked wonders. The challenge might have coincided with some shift in their development, but since we’ve been doing it, they’ve become thick as thieves. Far less vying for attention. It’s brilliant!

  11. February 23, 2018 / 12:24 pm

    This is such a great campaign. I’m glad it was fun for you too. Thanks for taking part. Commenting on behalf of myself and BritMums.

    • Nell
      February 27, 2018 / 8:24 pm

      Thanks for having me on board!

  12. March 13, 2018 / 1:04 pm

    My co-worker and I were just talking about this yesterday at work. She was telling me how her kids only have half an hour to eat lunch and a twenty minute recess. I feel that kids need more free play. Like you said, it helped them to work on their social skills as siblings, and I have a hunch that it would help kids develop good emotional intelligence to have more free play throughout their lives. I wish schools would focus more on things like that rather than rote learning! Good for you for diving in head first. I am not a parent, but I know that it’s really challenging at times and it’s only natural to reach for an easy fix like the TV.

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