“Boredom is a blessing,” I always say. Of course, when my kids were young they groaned when I said that because they were looking for me to provide a ready-made solution. But as I saw it then and am even more convinced now, constantly rescuing a child from the clutches of boredom is not a good idea. I looked at it this way...
Stuck in a tree? I'm right there for you.
Stuck on a homework problem? No problem. How can I help?
Stuck with nothing to do? Over to you, kid.
Stuck with nothing to do? Over to you, kid.
Now, if you're thinking that sounds harsh, please keep reading. If you agree with me, jump to the bottom of this post for a few additional thoughts you might find of interest on those inevitable, "Mommy, I'm borrrrred" days.
THE BENEFITS OF BOREDOM
Boredom is not a life-threatening disorder, nor the end of the world. In fact, quite the opposite. Boredom can be the beginning of a whole, new, eye-opening world for children...
DISCOVERY & ADVENTURE. An essential gateway to discovery-rich, life-enhancing, imagination-generated possibilities.
HANDS-ON CHARACTER-BUILDING. A perfect, kid-sized opportunity to fend for herself, building the underlying self-awareness, confidence, and resilience necessary to develop self-reliance.
CREATION & ORIGINATION. An opportunity to invent something entirely of her own making, which is often the best way to learn about the world and (even more important) to learn about herself. Without a prescribed activity or set of instructions, a child is forced to experiment and find her own way of doing things. Fascinating, passionate pursuits are often born out of these experiments. And when a child really cares about what she's doing, she'll stick to it longer and learn more from it.
So with all that at stake, I say, let 'em be bored!
THE OVER-SCHEDULED CHILD
Much has been written in recent years about the over-scheduled lives of our children, and the potential negative effects. Insufficient "downtime" can impose unnecessary stress on little ones, precipitate early achievement-fatigue, and rob them of the time they naturally need (and they need lots) to discover, explore, think, imagine and create on their own.
Making more time in your child's day for free play -- including boredom -- is the easy and obvious antidote to this dilemma. But here's the thing. When our modern mindset is to "make" free time, is it really free?
I fear the biggest danger lurking behind the unyielding calendar of drop-offs and pick-ups is a false lesson in the value of time -- that time is measured in how much you cram into it rather than how much you get out of it.
"MOMMY, I'M BORRRRRED!"
A child has no patience for doing nothing, and in the absence of someone serving her up a ready-made solution, she will dig into her imagination and discover her own ingenuity. But in order for this to happen, you have to trust your child and trust in the power of boredom.
So, to help you navigate the murky waters of "Mommy, I'm borrrrred," here are a few "Disboredoment Strategies" I've found useful over the years...
1. DON'T SOLVE IT. When your child whines about being bored, deflect it. Always show understanding and sympathy for her nothing-to-do plight so that she knows you care about her and her feelings, but offer no solutions. Instead, deflect the question back...
"What do you think you'd like to do today?"
"What did you do the last time you had nothing to do?"
Sometimes all she'll need is to talk about it and then she'll find her own solution. Other times not. If she's still complaining, sketch out some broad alternatives...
Suggest a change of scenary: "What about playing outside in the yard?"
Suggest a different prop: "What about finding a toy you haven't played with in a while?"
Suggest a type of activity: "What about making something? What would you like to make?"
Notice how these questions are still open-ended, requiring your child to find the specific answers for herself. And try not to lead her one way or another. A critical part of the growth and development she'll get from free play is in deciding what to play.
And, I think it's obvious, but I'll say it anyway. Television, computers, and video games are part of the problem and NEVER the solution. Kids learn nothing of value by watching others do things.
2. DON'T JUMP IN. Free time should be as uninterrupted and unsupervised as possible (unless safety is an issue, of course). That means you need to stay out of it. A child's free time, alone or with siblings/playmates, should be hers to do with it what she wants.
That said, if your child asks for your time to play, you should give it freely whenever you can. Invitations to play are important for building strong bonds between you. However, if your child is turning to you to be her playmate all the time, you should be careful to help her strike a balance. It's essential she learn to play alone, even if that means putting up with a lot of "Mommy, I'm borrrrred" whining for a while.
3. VALUE HER CHOICES. No matter what she chooses to do with her "nothing to do" time, be sure to acknowledge her choices, show interest in her discoveries, encourage her curiosity and persistence, and project forward, asking her what she's going to do next.
Make note of what she tells you and watch for continued interest in the subject. For instance, if she chooses to create a dinosaur pit in the backyard, watch to see how long she pursues it. If it lasts for more than a few days, you might want to suggest a trip to the library for some dinosaurs books.
So the next time you hear, "Mommy, I'm borrrrred," remember. This is your signal to do nothing. And I think we can all agree, moms deserve some nothing-to-do time too!