Chances are you have heard the refrain “I’m bored” more than a few times at this point of the summer. When hearing this from my daughter for the first time, I felt like I had to “fix” that problem for her. It usually came when we had no structured plan or activity, and I was actively trying to reduce screen time. My first instinct was I was being a bad parent if she was bored, and I had to step up my entertainment options. Now, after several summers of parenting, I have grown to see the benefits of experiencing boredom and realize also that it is good for kids — they need it. It teaches them life lessons such as resourcefulness, self-control, and self-discipline. Here are my tips for helping your child to experience summer boredom:
There is so much valuable learning that comes from giving our children unstructured time, especially in the summer. Camps and vacations are wonderful, but carving out time for kids to explore and create on their own is equally important. If we keep them constantly busy with lessons, activities, and screen time, they miss the opportunity to discover their own interests or to tap into their imagination and creativity. It is during this unstructured time that that they may build a fort or create a new recipe, write a song, or put on a play with their cousins, which my children did recently. It takes practice and patience as parents because our instincts tell us we need to fill their time for them. There will be complaining and negotiating and maybe even a few tears, but in the end, remember you are giving them a gift. With all of us glued to our devices 24/7, the art of doing nothing is quickly becoming a thing of the past, so we have to create it for ourselves and our children. Even for me, some of my best ideas or thinking come when I have put my phone and computer away and take a walk or write in a journal.
The idea of your children having to entertain themselves can be frustrating and daunting at first, so help them brainstorm some ideas to combat boredom. Ideas can be written as a list or on small pieces of paper and put in a box or jar that they can pull out when they need to. The two most important parts are they help create the list and they end up choosing what activity they will do. Ideally, these boredom busters are things they like to do such as playing a game, reading a book, or going for a hike or bike ride, but the activities can be things they may want to try or even some chores. Some ideas on our list are shooting hoops, building a fort, playing cards, and my favorite that unfortunately never gets picked — cleaning out your closet and drawers.
CONNECTION AND RESPONSE
Sometimes boredom can be a mask for needing a little more connection. If your children are having a hard time self-entertaining, consider taking some time to snuggle or play a game with them. After they have felt that connection it may be easier for them to find something to do on their own. We have all become so dependent on devices for connection that we sometimes forget the power of a hug or even a short walk to the park. It has become almost impossible even for adults to feel bored. When we are waiting in a line at the grocery store or for food in a restaurant, our first inclination is to get out our phones to read an article, check email, or scroll a social media feed. Our response in these situations is what our children are watching and learning from, so the next time you find yourself in one of these situations, fight the urge to pull out your phone and instead strike up a conversation with your child.
When I was growing up and my sisters or I would say we were bored, my mom would quickly respond, “I’m Kathy, nice to meet you.” Now, my response to my kids is “interesting people don’t get bored.” With both responses, the intent is the same — this is not a problem I am going to fix for you. Boredom is part of life. Our children may experience it in school, or at some point in the workforce — the sooner we can teach them what to do with that feeling, the better off they will be.
Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive and healthful conversations around social media and technology. Email: [email protected]