By Kelly Villaruel
“I’m bored…” These two words can be a parents’ worst nightmare to hear and those words can make us cringe. Many parents go out of their way to make sure their children do not have the opportunity to get bored, maybe buying plenty of toys to entertain them or scheduling every minute of their free time to keep them busy. When that does not work, some parents might become the entertainers, sometimes out of frustration, or they might turn to screens to do the entertaining for them. It is fair to say that it can be exhausting. But why, with all the toys and scheduled activities, do our children even get bored in the first place? Maybe they have no one to play with and have not figured out what they like to do on their own yet, or maybe they are simply needing an in-breath moment of connection.
Even though it does not feel like it, there is absolute magic in boredom, I would even say that boredom is a gift. In fact, boredom is essential for a child’s mental and emotional development. While children may need some guidance from adults for it to be constructive, they really do need to sit in their boredom for a bit of time before it quiets down and they can get to work finding something meaningful to do. When children are over scheduled, they may never have an opportunity to figure out what they are authentically interested in to seek out on their own. Being bored builds a sense of identity and develops a child’s intrinsic creativity. It pushes one to seek out creative solutions, something new and engaging.
Boredom offers the opportunity to explore their inner and outer worlds. Being bored, in fact, can engage the imagination which allows for true and deep creativity. Having unstructured time, where boredom might sneak in, allows space for internal motivation to change the situation. This is something that children need to practice. If we always fix the boredom for them, they will not learn how to do it on their own and we end up cheating them out of the opportunity to learn this valuable life skill and that is unfair to children. The beauty is that allowing children to be bored and not doing anything about it helps to ease some of the burden we may feel as a parent at times.
Through boredom, children also learn time management skills. This is something we will need to model for them, what to do in our “spare” time, how we seek out the things that interest us and are meaningful to us. Children are watching. They will imitate, and learn another valuable life skill in the process.
So how do you respond when they say I’m bored? You say, “Beautiful! That means you are about to create something fantastic! I can’t wait to see what it’s going to be!!” and leave it at that. Expect some eye rolls and know that’s all part of the creative process. When they say I’m bored, they may also be asking for a moment of connection. They may well just need a little attention to fill the well up a bit before they can engage in play again. Sometimes sending them on an errand outside will give them all the motivation they need to engage in some activity. Chances are they will get sidetracked and find something exciting to do because nature is open ended.
There are some things you can do to help with the process of self initiated creativity. Creating spaces that are rich and engaging can go a long way in drawing children in. If possible and space allows, let them leave their creative projects out so they can come back to them later. It is true that for many adults, nothing squelches the creative process faster than having to put an unfinished project away. This is also true for children. Here are just a few ideas of spaces to set up to allow children to explore and find things that interest them.
- Set up an area with self help art supplies
- Glue sticks/tape
- Hole punch
- Set up a letter writing area with paper, pens, envelopes and stamps
- Set up space with clay or playdough
- Set up a sewing table with scissors(good scissors for cutting fabric), fabric(felt, felted wool sweaters to cut up, fleece pajamas that are too small) stuffing, needles and thread, ribbon, buttons, pipe cleaners (it’s important to talk about care and tending of our tools)
- Keep buckets, shovels rakes accessible and in an area that they can use them freely. Maybe Include metal boxes for potential buried treasure. (make sure they head back to the art area to make a treasure map)
- Have an area of the yard or porch with loose parts, tiny scale if you only have a small space: twigs, pebbles, little bits of bark, larger if you have more space: logs, rocks, pit for mud
- Have water or sand available with scoops and funnels for sensory play
- Have obstacle course supplies available for rearranging (logs, rocks, hula hoops)
- Have a ball of yarn and masking tape ready to create spider webs and “laser courses” that the have to get through without touching the string
- Keep cardboard boxes and tubs handy with scissors and tape for castles and dollhouses
- Set up a mini library with blankets and pillows for quiet reading time
What else can you think of that might be interesting to your children? What things interested you when you were young?
Welcome the gift of boredom for your children. Celebrate boredom. There is magic in knowing what the end result of it can be for your children.