When I was growing up, there was one thing that I was absolutely terrified of saying to my mom.
Know what it was?
I don’t remember her teaching us not to say I’m bored, doling out consequences for saying I was bored, or even showing us how to entertain ourselves when we were bored.
I just always knew not to say I was bored.
I knew that if I told her I was bored, I would be given some sort of chore to do – usually an unpleasant one. She didn’t threaten, I and my brothers just knew it.
So when we were bored, what did we do? We read books, climbed trees, made a huge muddy mess in the yard, built teepees in the woods, raced on our bikes, built bike ramps in the driveway, and any number of other things.
Looking back, I can see that even though at the time, I hated not being able to tell my mom I was bored, it was crazy good for me.
My brothers and I learned to work together, to use our imaginations, that it was ok to get our hands dirty, an that reading for hours on end was perfectly okay.
As we got older and were in school, I can see how the way my mom handled boredom influenced how I learned. School came very easily to me, and I can’t take credit for it. Instead, the science of boredom now tells me that all those times my mom let us be bored taught me how to think for myself, how to work within a group, and how to read well above average.
Today, there is science to back up what my mom already knew: It’s good for kids to be bored.
Being Bored Is Good For Kids
Unstructured Times Teaches Kids About Themselves
Time without expectations – and with very few guidelines – gives your kids unfettered access to their environment. Inside or outdoors, they can explore on their own, which stimulates the creative part of their brains. This way, they imagine something, create it, and then enjoy not only what they’ve made, but the process that went into creating it.
Your kids get satisfaction from a job well done and from the creative process, something that cannot be taught.
It Teaches Them To Work As A Group
Growing up, I had 3 younger brother, and our best adventures happened as a group. If you have more than one child, then you’ll know this to be true, but maybe on the opposite end of the spectrum.
As a group, your kids can wreak more havoc on your house than they can individually, amiright??
The same is true of when they’re bored. When they put their heads together creating a new game, building a treehouse, or racing each other on foot, they’re learning the valuable skill of working with a team.
Boredom Gives Their Brain a Breather
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe said it best:
“Children need to sit in their own boredom for the world to become quiet enough that they can hear themselves. It is only when we are surrounded by nothing that something comes alive on the inside.”
And hearing themselves is exactly what they need.
Practical Ways To Teach Your Kids To Be Productively Bored
When used correctly, boredom is a tool we, as parents, can use to shape our children’s future.
Personally, my favorite activity – bored or not – was reading. Is it any surprise that I’m now a blogger? I love crafting a story, providing helpful advice, and bringing amazing products and resources to my readers.
By comparison my husband, whose bored times were filled with lots of building, tinkering, and riding bikes like boys do, is now a heavy equipment operator. He is still reliving what he learned to love in childhood: driving machines, building, and constructing things. He loves it!
The key to doing “I’m bored” right is guiding your kids into using their imaginations, without them actually knowing it.
How Should Parents Respond to “I’m Bored”
With all of the screen time that has started to take up so much of our children’s time – at school, even! – they aren’t used to looking to themselves for direction. So when you child says “I’m bored” offer to involve him or her in whatever you’re doing. If you’re folding laundry, tell him he is welcome to help. If doing dishes, allow him to help with that as well. No matter what you’re doing, offer to let them into your world.
Chances are, they’ll see the value in doing something – anything – else, and go on their way.
Can I Ever Give Them An Activity To Do
With practice, your children won’t need any help filling their time. But in the beginning, as they start to learn that bugging you when they’re bored is unacceptable, they may ask you for ideas of what to do.
And in that case, you’re of course welcome to help them.
Any number of activities will suffice, but one thing is very important: your children must know that while you’re happy to give them ideas, no whining will be tolerated if they don’t like your suggest, and the actual entertainment is their responsibility – not yours.
If this becomes a burden, shift the responsibility to your children by filling a “Boredom Jar” with slips of paper that have activities on them. Then when your children are bored, they may choose (only) 3 slips of paper from the jar and choose one of them.
What if There Really Is Nothing To Do?
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: there is NEVER nothing to do.
If they can read, there are always books, even if you have to download one onto your phone.
No matter where you are, a game of I Spy always works.
Or, if you have more than one child, some sort of competition always does the trick.
But more important than what your children fill their boredom with is the importance of them arriving at the activity themselves. It is not your job, as a parent, to entertain your children. Rather, use open-ended questions to direct them towards an activity.
I remember my mom asking us these questions:
- What was the last book you read?
- Did you run out of books? Do we need to take a trip to the library?
- What sort of contest could you challenge your siblings to?
Whatever activity you can see to do, think of an open-ended way to direct them towards it, without actually giving it up.
Boredom is a lifeline
It will shape your children’s mind.
So when you hear those two little words, put a knowing smile on your face, because you’ve got a secret weapon.
Then watch as your children’s mind starts to expand.
It will amaze you, I promise.
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