Why Boredom is Good For Children
The end of the school year has been amazing with a flurry of end of year activities: sports days, end of year shows, global fairs, summer fairs, and endless activities showcasing the work my children have been doing all year long.
It’s been tiresome but fun. And sometimes, me being a stickler for structure, I forget it all gets a bit gruelling- even for my most organised of daughters.
We finished sports day yesterday and I was exhausted. I thought the kids would be too. But afterwards, the request was- “can we just go and play a little bit?”
“What??”, I asked, incredulous. “You’ve been playing all day!”.
But what they wanted to do wasn’t structured. It wasn’t organised. They wanted to be silly and laugh and spontaneously splash into the nearby pool fully clothed.
I got it. Because like other parents out there, I get lost in that mode of desperately wanting them to have fun in a contained environment where we can predict the results. Being spontaneous and silly are moments we lose.
Plans for summer?
With the summer coming up, my instinct was to make a list of all the activities we’d like to do this summer. A lot of these require organising, booking, scheduling and ticket buying.
But I’m hesitating this year. Because deep down I know they just want to relax. And really, I should be giving them a chance to be bored.
This summer I want my girls to experience boredom. To have days upon days of unstructured, no-entertainment-pleasure.
What? No Entertainment?!
If we were to just not schedule anything… what might happen? They’d eventually get bored, right? Why does that prospect fill us with dread?
Boredom is uncomfortable and our instinct is to ensure constant stimulation. Let’s be honest, how many of us have thought about ensuring our kids do homework everyday so they don’t slow down?
When I’ve let my children just be, they’ve come up with some of their most memorable moments- pillow fights, pretend sports days, forts, and creative art projects. I look back and realise why wouldn’t we want them to have this time?
Okay, so it’s in our human nature to see a vacuum and try to fill it. Most of the time, when children have nothing to do, they rely on the tele, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. Even we, as parents are guilty of it. Our go-to if we don’t have some sort of entertainment planned for them or can’t gather enough energy to entertain them
ourselves, is screen time.
So what might happen if our kids are ‘bored’?
Studies have shown that when people don’t have anything to do, their minds wander, they daydream. Creativity happens.
In a grown-up world where creativity is perhaps the only skill machines cannot replace, it’s an important skill our kids need to develop. Boredom lets our kids see the world through their own eyes and pursue that train of thought. Ever heard another parent (or yourself) say, “my kids are all so different”. Isn’t it great to see how they create something through their own lens? Letting them pursue that thought process is part of leaving them alone- bored or not.
When our children grow up, we won’t be there every moment of every day. We won’t be able to entertain them or fill their schedules with educational camps and activities. In fact, research has shown there is no link between how much time we spend with our children and how they turn out. At some point, we have to let go and hope for the best. They need to learn how to handle different situations themselves. And that means leaving them alone.
Learning to motivate themselves is part of growing up. And letting them be bored helps them build up that skill. Searching their environment to find things to do and make key decisions about what to do next is a great thing.
Top tip: Make up new games
Take an example from our everyday lives. We were in the line at the store and it was quite long. The kids started to get bored and restless. Instead of trying to contain them, I encouraged them to think of new games they could play in line to entertain themselves. First, we started with the obvious eye-spy but eventually they thought up a game that involved counting all the chocolate bars, pink sweets and chewing gum. Not hugely complicated but self-motivated nonetheless.
How can we cope with Boredom?
Although we all double-down when we hear the ubiquitous “I’m bored” from our children, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can actually be a motivator for kids to find a goal- to focus themselves.
Parents shouldn’t present the solution, like suggesting exactly what they should do next. It’s not our role to be providing that constant stimulation. Instead, we should be encouraging children to find ways to entertain themselves, to learn to deal with it and escape it. A lifelong skill.
Top tip: Instead of suggesting “why don’t you play UNO?”, why not just suggest a game and let them run with that idea?
Don’t set the bar too high. Sure, go to museums and organise days out to circumvent the days when there’s nothing going on. But this summer, encourage your children to know what it’s like to just be. To use their imaginations, run around in the garden, be creative and just be.
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