Let your children show you what they can do this summer

Leave your children to their own devices occasionally - they might surprise you.

Leave your children to their own devices occasionally - they might surprise you. - Credit: PA

Hooray for the holidays! Time to neglect your children... Not entirely, of course. But maybe a little more than you think.

Holidays are tricky enough as it is for parents trying to juggle work and childcare. But to add to the pressure many parents now feel that they have to provide their children with a summer full of magical memories.

How did that happen?

Previous generations were just pleased if their children survived the summer more or less unscathed and that the neighbours were still speaking to them. Magical memories didn't even enter their heads. Children made those for themselves – and some nightmare memories too. It wasn't always Enid Blyton and lashings of ginger ale.

We can't give our children the freedom of the past. There are probably no more potential child molesters around now than there were back in the 1960s, but there's an awful lot more traffic which is why so few even get the chance to walk to school alone.

So let's make our children more independent. When their lives are so organised and so many holiday activities supervised, children need a chance to prove what they can do for themselves.

I did this by default and for purely selfish reasons. Working from home made childcare cheap but complicated as I still had to work while the wrecking crew and half their friends rampaged around me. It made your average newspaper office seem a haven of peace and sanity.

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From necessity, my childcare regime was one of benign neglect.

If the boys wanted a treat or a trip to the beach, then I had to get my work done first and they had to do their bit. They made their own breakfast, filling if not always nutritious, washed up, more or less, made a picnic – even if was just three bags of crisps and a chunk of cake – found their swimming stuff and even put the washing on.

Any boy who can master a Nintendo can master a washing machine.

While still in primary school they would get a bus to town together – always together – to do some shopping. Before mobile phones they had to find a call box and ring me when they got there.

On rainy days when there was no chance of football, the beach or a bike ride and even they were bored with TV or computer games, they taught themselves to cook. I occasionally yelled advice from the study and tried not to think of the state of the kitchen and just let them get on with it. Luckily, I have a very high pain threshold when it comes to chaos.

The results were… interesting… but got better. By the time they were doing GCSEs and had holiday jobs and girlfriends to impress, they were both competent cooks. The way to a girl's heart is home-made chocolate cake.

Above all, it gave them useful skills, a sense of achievement and real independence.

A family emergency meant a friend had to leave her 12- and 13-year-old daughters pretty much in charge of their six-year-old brother until Granny arrived from Ireland. When Granny finally got here she announced she really wasn't needed as the girls, normally pretty lazy and self-absorbed, had risen splendidly to the occasion and done a terrific job.

Our children are probably capable of far more than we realise. Leave them alone and maybe this is the summer they show us what they can do.