For all of you parents riding the subway to work racked with guilt because your kids are at home with the sitter or at Grandma’s bored to tears, I have good news. Boredom is actually good for kids. Particularly over-scheduled, over-stimulated, over-entertained privileged kids. The problem is, having our kids bored makes us feel like terrible parents. Here’s why it shouldn’t.
Boredom challenges a child’s imagination.
When kids are constantly stimulated with planned activities, movies, play-dates, sleepovers, video games or movies, their minds have little work to do. Rather than thinking about how to fill time and space, kids simply have to move from one spot to another and have fun. The truth is, not having to engage the mind actually gets boring for kids. We need to remind ourselves when our kids moan about having to figure out what to do that this is not only good for kids, it is crucial to healthy psychological development. Without it, their imaginations won’t expand and they will grow into adults who are used to being entertained, not challenged. Who wants to be with an adult like that?
Boredom sharpens their sensibilities
Just like eating too much ice cream dulls our ability to enjoy dessert, constant exposure to entertainment dulls our child’s appreciation for stimulation. When we take them from one activity to another without any “boring” time in between, we blunt their sensitivity to joy of the activity. Kids who are faced with an afternoon without any friends, activities or electronics to entertain them are forced to create fun from nothing. After they have succeeded (and yes, they will if you don’t cave in and plan something for them) then when they go to camp or to a friend’s house for a sleep-over, the fun is amplified.
Boredom Brings a sense of peace
A person who can enjoy his own company lives with a sense of calm. He is not afraid of hearing himself think, doesn’t feel the need to fill quiet with the noise of a television or his Ipod. He can be still alone because he doesn’t fear being alone. The same is true for children.
A child who learns to play on his own learns to enjoy his own company. This is extremely important because if he can’t be alone, he lives with an underlying fear that no one will be around to help him have fun. He becomes dependent on others to make sure that he has fun and he subconsciously feels uneasy because he worries that they might stop one day and then he will be faced with his own inadequacies. Unfortunately, loving, conscientious parents unknowingly put their children in this position because we feel that it is our responsibility to entertain our children. Rather than challenge our kids, we quell their creative powers by stepping in as the director of entertainment. In doing this, we rob them of the deep peace that they need to never fear being left to themselves to find fun.
I challenge you this summer to do something extraordinary for your child. Make room in his life for boring space and time so that he can develop some life changing skills. Here’s how you can start.
- When he cries that he’s bored, resist the temptation to turn on the screen. Whether it’s a video game, television or internet game, keep it unplugged for at least six hours of the day. Make him find a book, a tree, a puzzle or something tangible that will get his imaginative juices flowing. You will be amazed at what he finds to entertain himself and- how much better of a mood he will be in when discovers that he is successful.
- Ditch the guilt and smile more. When your child gives you that face that says you are an awful parent for allowing him to be bored, smile at him. Don’t bite on the guilt bit and remind yourself that you are doing him a huge favor by refusing to be the circus leader 24 -7. Shoo him away.
- Structure his day, but do so loosely. Kids need structure but they don’t need micro-management. So, when he’s at grandma’s three afternoons per week, try to keep a rhythm to his days. The afternoons can be unstructured, but he should know what’s coming from one day to the next. T
- Be intentional. When you plan stimulating activities like an afternoon at the park, a sleepover or a play date, use language that tells him this is special time. Act like going to camp three afternoons per week is a big event. Talk about the other times as normal time so that he gets going on recruiting his creative energies to figure out what he can do when he is home with you in an air conditioned home for the other afternoons.
- Don’t forget chores. Work gives kids a sense of belonging in a family. They need to know that they are contributors and their work is important to the family unit. Schedule household chores for each child to teach them that life is always a combination of fun and work.
Have your kids complained about being bored? What did you do?