If your kids have never uttered the words "I'm bored!" to you, then congratulations are in order - you've won some kind of parenting lottery! Chances are, though, that you've heard the phrase many times, often 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. "Bored" isn't a bad word. In fact, I'd tell you it's actually a very good thing, and that kids need boredom in their lives.
Here are a few reasons why experiencing boredom is a good thing:
Boredom boosts creativity
Bouts of boredom often precede periods of great creativity. It's those times when our minds wander without distraction that our brains make 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 blank slate. It erases the noise and prepares 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 distractions from TV and technology are removed. Learning to be at peace while alone with our thoughts is one of the greatest psychological gifts we can give our children.
Boredom combats FOMO
Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is 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 healthy and valuable self-soothing skill. It also helps kids learn to be 100% present in the moment, versus being entertained through distraction or always ready to move on to the next big thing.
It's one thing to know that boredom can be a good thing, but an entirely different thing to embrace it. Here are a few ways to get over the hump and start reaping the benefits of boredom:
Make space for it
Racing from one activity to the next or not having any boundaries around screen time doesn't leave any space for kids to feel bored. As painful as that period can be when 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. Consider cutting out an extracurricular activity so that you can be home more. We have a rule that we don't use phones or tablets in the car when we're running errands or driving around town. It's incredibly boring, but in place of screens my kids will talk, daydream, or listen to an audiobook.
For my kids, screens are 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 where they can't see or hear you. Many times my kids are just too lazy to find me, so they turn to themselves or each other for entertainment.
Don't jump in when boredom strikes ...
It's so easy to fall into the role of the cruise ship director of entertainment for our kids. 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. If you do feel the urge to jump in, try suggesting something along the lines of, "Your room sure could use some cleaning up." In no time at all they'll learn not to ask and to figure it out on their own!
But provide inspiration
Wherever your kids like to hang out, make sure there are a few items that encourage open-ended play. I keep books they like in their rooms and in the family room. Building materials and kits, dolls, art materials, cars, and props for dress-up and pretend play are wonderful toys to keep handy. A few strategically placed puzzles are sure to spark their curiosity. Don't forget outside diversions, 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.
The next time the kids say "I'm bored!" give yourself a pat on the back. You're doing something right! Just remember to get out of their way so the real fun can begin.
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