PARENTS

The House Dad Chronicles: Half-Term Horror - A Broken TV, No Computer...And Three BORED Kids

02/11/2012 18:58 | Updated 22 May 2015
The House Dad Chronicles: Half-term horror - a broken telly, no computer...and three BORED kidsAlamy
A perfect storm hit Housedad Towers this week. Of course, it was nothing compared to Tropical Storm Sandy that battered the East Coast of America, but its impact left its own domestic devastation nonetheless.

The factors that aligned all at the same time were as follows: kids on half-term break; atrocious weather and – the killer – an 'area fault' on our TV and internet provider.

In usual circumstances, I could have coped with the first two which would have negated the third.

But at the moment I actively engage in what can loosely be described as Working From Home – and thus the third factor is not just a 21st century luxury, but essential: I need the internet to communicate; I need the TV to keep my kids occupied while I engage in the communication that will pay for their Christmas presents.

The storm hit on Monday morning and lasted until Wednesday evening. And at first, it was a just a mild inconvenience: the kids couldn't watch their favourite shows and I had to resort to that prehistoric device called 'the telephone'.

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But as the hours, and then the days, dragged on, I realised how utterly reliant we all were on the miracle of cable and broadband to keep our family in the manner to which it has become accustomed.

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Parents who work from home with under-school age children have nothing but my respect for their ability to cope with feeds, crying, tantrums, and all the rest that comes with the package of having very little little 'uns.

But as mine are all at school now, I'd forgotten how hard it is to keep children entertained. And as I frantically spent many lost minutes trying to find a way of connecting to the internet, while having a constant flow of 'Da-ad, can I? Can we?' mithering, I sat them down and told them: "The house is yours. Do what you want – And. Do. Not. Bother. Me. Again. I'm. Trying. To. Work."

And with that, I closed the door of my bedroom, which doubles as a study, turned the radio up and tried to immerse myself in a mood of obliviousness.

It didn't last long. About 15 miniutes, in fact, before the first wails of 'He just hit me', 'Well, she started it', and 'No, I didn't' started to penetrate my haven.

I stormed downstairs with steam coming out of my ears. "Can you lot not just get on with each other?" I barked. "But, Dad, we're bored!" they complained, in unision. "When's the telly coming back on?"

And then I remembered something I'd read in the paper earlier in the week – an article that said boredom was actually GOOD for kids.

It said boredom encourages children to be creative and develops their imaginations.

Oxford University Professor Baroness Susan Greenfield said youngsters develop a sense of identity from having to find things to do. She claimed that bored children are more likely to pick up a book or write a story, rather than being tempted to go online.

Her views were backed by a leading headmaster who claimed parents are in danger of damaging their children's development with 'highly structured' after-school schedules that never allow them to get bored.

"Nowadays, there's a tendency that things have to come from the outside, you have to stimulate incessantly and give kids things to do," Baroness Greenfield said.

"If they don't have stimulation from the outside, they have to generate their own [things to do]. My own view is that's a very good lesson to learn."

Meanwhile, Ed Elliott, headmaster of The Perse School, Cambridge, said it was vital parents 'build some boredom' into their children's daily routines to allow them to be more creative and develop emotional intelligence and empathy.

"Boredom encourages creativity. Children's bedrooms littered with bears receiving emergency treatment or dolls circumnavigating the turbulent 'carpet seas' are everyday evidence of how boredom fires the imagination."

Hmmm, really? I wasn't so sure, but thought I'd give it a go.

I read some more research that offered some practical strategies.

• Ask your kids: "What ideas do you have to solve your problem?" If your child says: "I don't know," do not get hooked into giving him answers. You might say, "I have faith in you to work it out."

• Listen in an empathetic way and acknowledge without trying to fix the problem: "I can understand that. I feet bored myself sometimes." If your child keeps badgering you, keep listening and acknowledging with noncommittal sounds, 'Umm. Uh-huh'. Eventually your child will get so bored with his unsuccessful efforts to get you to handle his problem that he will find something else to do.

• Brainstorm with your children to see how many ideas you can all come up with for things to do when they feel bored. Have each child choose his favorite things from the big list and make his own Things to Do When I'm Bored list. The next time a child complains, say: "You might want to check your list."

• Your children may be bored because they need some adult help to set up programmes, activities, and outside interests that they can be engaged in. There are cases where children are bored because they are being neglected by their parents and need adult help to learn about resources that are available and how to access them. Others are bored due to over stimulation. Avoid the temptation to believe it is your job to overprotect your child from experiencing every frustration life has to offer.

• Children, when allowed to be bored for more than an hour, become so bored with boredom that they begin to use their native intelligence to find an alternative. When your child says, 'Dad, I'm bored', say, 'I understand that. Let me know how it works out'. Then I get on with what you're doing.

And so that was what I attempted to do. For two long days, I let them do as they pleased, allowed them to explore the recesses of their imaginations, in the hope that they might pick up a book, or become budding Picassos, or make a battleship out of egg boxes, Blue Peter-style.

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Oh, they fed their imaginations and creativity alright – by turning the house into a mini disaster zone, a smaller scale aftermath of Tropical Storm Sandy.

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All their duvets and pillows had been dragged downstairs, along with every one of their 50,000 cuddly toys and a million pieces of Lego. They'd turned the sofas upside down, and had laid the contents of the fridge out on the carpet.

"What the....!" I exclaimed, on seeing the devastation.

"It's a Halloween and Bonfire Night party, Dad...all rolled into one," they told me.

Yes, very creative, I must say, and perhaps with a few more weeks of this 'good' boredom, they will have learned how to solve world poverty or have come up with a cure for cancer, but I'm not prepared to risk it.

Even though I know that too much exposure to TV and the internet is bad for them, I have never felt such relief as when the little lights on the broadband modem started blinking to signal that we were back in 21st century business.

But an hour later, guess what happened? The telly was off and the furniture was upended again.

"What the...? I thought you wanted the telly on?" I asked, exasperated.

"Nah, there's nothing on. It's booooooring."

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