If your kids have never uttered the words, “I’m bored!” to you, then you can go ahead and skip this post. Chances are, though, that you’ve heard the phrase many times, often vocalized in a whiny voice and accompanied by floppy arms and sagging shoulders for dramatic effect. While every parent dreads those hearing words, I’m here to tell you something you might not have heard:
Don’t fear boredom.
In fact, I would tell you to celebrate and embrace boredom! Before you conclude that cabin fever has finally succeeded in knocking me clean off my rocker, here are a few reasons why boredom is a good thing.
Boredom boosts creativity.
Bouts of boredom often precede periods of great creativity. It makes room for that lightbulb moment. It’s in these moments that kids come up with the next epic backyard game, the ultimate blanket fort, the elaborate LEGO creation, or the best stories. Instead of fearing boredom, think of it as a palate cleanser. It prepares your kids for a really great play experience.
Boredom builds the skill of self-entertainment.
One of the biggest frustrations as a parent is a child who won’t play independently. Experiencing the feeling of boredom and the subsequent triumph of solving the problem by themselves builds confidence in kids. It helps them discover the things they really enjoy, and sets them up for a life that is fulfilling and well-rounded. It removes the crutches that hinder so many adults, who panic in a situation where outside entertainment from TV, movies, or smart phones is removed.
Boredom combats FOMO.
Have you ever heard of Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO)? We might laugh at the Fear Of Missing Out (of Football) commercials, but FOMO is a real thing. It’s a form of social anxiety, exacerbated by our dependence on being connected all the time. Whether it’s seeing the newest toy advertised on television or obsessively checking Facebook to see what your friends are doing without you, it sucks away the ability to enjoy what we have in the now. Being able to fill down time with things you enjoy, without depending on other people or things to provide the entertainment, is a tremendous self-soothing skill. It also helps kids learn to be 100% present in the moment, versus being entertained through distraction.
Great, you’re thinking. Now I know why I shouldn’t fear boredom, but how do I embrace it?
Build space in the day for unscheduled play time.
When we jump from one activity right into the next, we don’t leave any time for boredom. As painful as that period can be when the kids find they have nothing to do, it has to exist for imaginative, open-ended play to develop. Just as kids need good food and sleep, they need unstructured blocks of time built into their day for optimal development.
Don’t jump in when boredom strikes.
For years I was guilty of being the cruise ship director of entertainment for my kids. Especially in the summer, I packed activities into our day, and was always quick to come up with suggestions for what they could do next. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not bad to spend time with your kids. Reading, playing and crafting together is great for bonding and builds wonderful memories. However, the moments when you play with your kids are just one piece of the parenting pie. If you jump in immediately with suggestions when they’re bored, they’ll never exercise their own decision-making muscles, nor will they get to experience the joy that comes from discovering the next great thing to do on their own.
For my kids, any kind of screen is a crutch. It’s their number one choice for entertainment. Beyond saying no, I’ve found it very helpful to remove the screens from their field of vision – out of sight, (mostly) out of mind. Maybe your presence is the crutch. Try busying yourself with something out of their line of vision or out of hearing distance. Many times my kids are just too lazy to find me, so they turn to themselves or each other for entertainment.
Wherever your kids like to play, make sure there are a few items that encourage open-ended play. I keep books they like both in their rooms and in the family room. Blocks, LEGOs, fort-building items, dolls, action figures, cars, and props for dress-up and pretend play are wonderful toys to keep handy. Don’t forget outside toys, either. Gather sticks in an area of the yard so they can build shelters. Have items available for sand and water play. Bikes, scooters, balls, squirt guns and bottles, jump ropes, and chalk are great ideas, too.
Don’t feel like a failure.
I used to feel like the worst mom when my kids would say they were bored. There I was, staying at home for them, and I couldn’t even keep them properly entertained! Remember when I said playing with them is just one piece of the parenting pie? Just as they need to fill their days with an assortment of activities, so do you! Whether you have work that needs to get done or you set aside time to do something you enjoy, making the kids play on their own while you do your own thing is not neglect!
The next time the kids tell you they’re bored, don’t fret. Congratulate them (and yourself) for stumbling on the gift of boredom.
Are your kids frequently bored, or do you feel as if you’re always on the go? What’s your reaction when they tell you they’re bored?