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Why it’s OK to entertain your kids with screens

As the summer holidays begin, former Blue Peter presenter and mum of two Helen Skelton talks about why it’s so important to take a break and how electronic devices can help. 

Listen to the audio version of the interview here.

A new study by Amazon Prime Video reveals that 83 per cent of British parents take digital devices away with them on holiday to entertain their children, particularly while they’re travelling. Do you think that’s a bit of a cop out?

No! 100 per cent no! I think anyone who thinks it’s a cop out has never travelled by themselves with two or three children under 3, which I have. Travelling with kids can be stressful. So I’ve been working with Amazon Prime Videos to try and take the stress out of that and get organised and prepared.

I love travelling with my kids. I love taking them to new places, exposing them to new and different cultures. But I want a break as well and holidays are so important for getting time out of real life, you get time away, you get a chance to make precious memories. But some people don’t do that because it can be so stressful traveling.

Loads of my friends say to me: “Oh my days, do you really fly with a 1 and 3-year-old by yourself?” Yes, because its fine if you can keep them distracted and entertained. It’s not like you’re putting them down in front of the internet to trawl through any manner of nonsense. It’s regulated, controlled, it’s things that you pick. My kids love Noddy, Peppa Pig and Paddington, so they’re the things I can put on for them on a three-hour flight so they’re not climbing on the person in front or trying to get out and licking quavers and passing them to everybody! Because that’s what kids do. Kids are kids!

You’ve got two small children. What are some of the things you’ve tried as a family on long journeys?

When I had just Ernie, I used to fly with him a lot and he’s so inquisitive so I could make everything a game. But that was because he had my undivided attention. You can distract them with any manner of things at the airport: watching the planes, watching the trucks, counting the people on the planes.

But obviously now I’ve got two children, there are times when I’m changing the baby or giving him a bottle so I need something that I know Ernie is going to sit down and be safe and not run off and climb stuff because he’s that kid. My kids are those kids. If they can climb on it they will. If they can jump off it they will! And that’s fine when you’re one on one and you can be in control of it. But as soon as you’ve got more than one, for me I’m just like we need to introduce some devices to entertain them and just distract!

Mine love a ping pong ball. I take a ping pong ball always in my handbag. And bubbles. Never underestimate the power of bubbles!

Do you think it’s difficult to engage children of different ages?

Yes and no. Mine are 19 months apart so people are like: “Wow that’s crazy.” And it is but you can distract them with the same things like balls, bubbles etc. I think the bigger the age gap that obviously poses different challenges because kids want different things. Ultimately if they’re happy, you’re happy so you want to give them things that keep them entertained. I take loads of stuff to try and distract them and keep them entertained. But I just feel like with one device I can get their attention.

You achieved some pretty astonishing feats as a Blue Peter presenter – running a 78 mile ultra-marathon in Namibia, kayaking the entire length of the Amazon, tightrope walking across Battersea Power Station. How does that compare to parenting?

I think sometimes they were easier because you were only worrying about yourself! I think anyone who is a parent would agree that nothing makes your heart swell with so much pride but brings you to your knees in equal measure.

They can do the most ridiculous thing that is non-existent to somebody else but to you it just lights up your entire world and you cant stop talking about them. Then the next minute you are literally tearing your hair out.

My kids just love to tackle each other and fight and, as I say, they’re the kids that just want to jump off stuff. I took them on holiday by myself a few weeks ago. Two minutes in and the eldest had jumped in the pool headfirst and had a massive egg on his head.

When you’re a parent you’re always trying to second guess what’s going to make them happy or challenge them and fulfil them and entertain them and enlighten them and all that stuff that is a completely different level of challenge.

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