HOW TO EMBRACE BOREDOM AND WHY YOU SHOULD
Being bored is a gift. It’s free, and yet, the most valuable treasure you can bestow. Being comfortable with boredom is a practice. In the beginning it hurts a little. When you are a parent, there’s a space where you think you need to just jump in and provide direction. Just wait. Ride through. Be there on the other side. Know your child can handle it. They might whine. It might be annoying. There might be a mess to clean up afterwards. What happens when you provide the mental and physical space for your child to be bored?
Let’s really talk about this...
What are your fears around children being bored? What are we afraid might happen?
Trust me, I know how challenging it can feel to have bored kids. Sometimes, we feel it is our duty as parents to provide our children with constant entertainment. We take them to the newest movie, the arcade, the trampoline park. We line up playdates and sign them up for lots and lots of classes. We pack our Saturdays and Sundays with well-intentioned activities designed to keep our children occupied. We spend our hard-earned dollars on trips to the science center and and fair. We never want our children to idle, less they become… BORED.
Okay, I am being a little dramatic. But I want to make a point about our parental fear of children getting bored. Stay with me.
Often, when my children are bored, they fight with one another. They nudge and irritate and it drives me NUTS. I am always tempted to jump in and give them something to do. I try really hard not to and here’s what that looks like in our home:
If I am feeling impatient, I separate them to their rooms or different areas of the house. Usually, in their solitude, they find something to do. My six year old will typically cry and pout and stomp around in her room. She will come out a few times and try to get me to change my mind. I always send her back up. The reason? I know that when she tolerates her uncomfortable feelings and lets them pass, she will eventually start to play. Sometimes, she’ll cuddle her lovey for comfort and that action in itself will begin a game of fantasy play.
When my oldest gets sent upstairs, he stares out the window. He is dreamy by nature and the new, tween moodiness factor is giving him lots of time to dream in his room. He has drawing materials and Lego up there, and even at eleven years old, can get deep into the creation zone.
Ruby, my middle child, loves art. She keeps a drawer full of her favorite supplies under her bed and when she is up there alone she loves to read, make origami and color. (And glare at me if I dare poke my head in…).
When my children are complaining of being bored, here is what I say:
You are bored? Hmm, I wonder what you’ll do…
Bored, huh? Do you need help coming up with some choices of what to do? The playroom is open, your room is open, and art in the kitchen is open. Which one sounds the most appealing right now?
Bored…? Maybe you can get a drink of water and think about what you did last time you felt bored.
Not sure what to do..? Hmm, let’s think this one out. Do you feel like you want to play alone or with someone?
-With someone? Okay, can you go see what Ruby is up to and if she will include you in her ideas?
-Alone? Can you think of something you would like to build or make and set yourself up?
HERE IS WHY I USE THIS LANGUAGE:
I want to model how to think about being bored. It does not need to be met with agonizing tears or fear. In scaffolding my thought process out loud, I am teaching my children how to meet their own needs around feeling bored.
SOMETIMES IT DOESN’T WORK:
If they are not going for it and are continually coming back to me I will say,
If you truly cannot figure it out, I am happy to choose for you. I have a list of chores that will keep you feeling busy and not bored. Do you want to start by collecting all the dirty laundry or vacuuming the rug?
That usually sends them running off with their next great idea.
WHY BOREDOM IS IMPORTANT FOR CHILDREN:
Let’s imagine our young children as teenagers for a moment… They have the freedom to roam and are responsible for occupying themselves for much of the day. How do you want your child to feel at the prospect of a wide open day? Will they be anxious and feel the need to fill the hours with instant gratification on their phone or gaming device? Do you want their developing brains to crave constant external stimulation? Will they feel a sense of panic at the prospect of having NOTHING to do?
When kids are comfortable and well-practiced at being bored, they are able to look inside themselves for stimulation. They are comfortable thinking, writing, creating, hiking, etc. None of those activities offer instant gratification. But they do offer much more.
Of course, there will be external stimulation and plenty of instant gratification in the lives of our children. That is the world we live in. BUT… as their childhood brains develop, it feels really important to me to teach them to be comfortable being bored. They must learn to allow their developing brains to rest and stretch and GROW.
Some of the best ideas are born from boredom. Creativity thrives after a period of boredom. Our children need the opportunity to hear their own thoughts. That listening happens in the quiet moments of “boredom”.