I’m not quite sure how or at what point the word bored enters a child’s vernacular, but it has here. In the last six months I’ve heard the word more than ever, and I find myself sorting through reasonings, attempting to connect dots, as to why. Boredom is such an entitled word if you think about it, and few words frustrate me more as a parent. In one swift syllable, it communicates discontent and complaint. It infers that someone else is somehow responsible for it, to blame for it. Often I feel the sentiment directed at me. Regardless of how this lull of activity might feel to a child, boredom is not an empty void; it is instead an invitation to ingenuity, to re-creation.
Children need time in their days to create their own worlds and play, time that is not pre-determined by someone else. Artists and designers alike understand the power of negative space in visual arts, how nothing can sometimes be more powerful than something. As adults, we often realize the same is true with time: less activity can be more for the soul, for thought, for restoration, for creativity. Whether we would phrase it this way or not, boredom is a gift, a cue even. If one has grown tiresome with an activity, boredom signals a need for change. If one is lacking activity at all, boredom requires a change in environment or even the creating of an idea or activity. Boredom is not itself a terrible thing to have to sort out, for adults or children alike.
When any of my children tell me they’re bored, it’s best that I first take a deep breath (or two or three), give them my full attention, and listen, instead of immediately badgering them with a mom-lecture on the gift of boredom. Obviously, in the moment, they disagree with me on point, and I’ve learned–although sometimes the hard way–that when I feel somehow accused by their sentiments, it’s best for me to first bite my tongue. Even when we cannot reach a point of agreement on the matter, in the very least, they will feel heard.
Since context is everything, my response to claims of boredom change. Here’s a few thoughts from our home to gently nudge or re-direct boredom:
say no to screen time /When my children reach a place of boredom or need a new stimulus often begin asking to watch a film or to play video games. Although my children do play video games and watch movie films (gasp!), I rarely allow it in response to boredom. Boredom is simply a lack of stimulus, and I want them to begin recognizing it’s their brain’s or body’s way of telling them, I need more. This is not an anti-screen issue but rather an effort to help them stir up curiosities instead of merely pacifying them.
go outside /Children do not need heaps of toys and electronics to be happy, although I do not think either are inherently bad. Sometimes what they (or we) need is found outside of our home. Sunlight, air, even rain can wake up an entirely different part of us. There is much to do with a stick, a box, or a ball. Last week, the girls seemed restless indoors, so I casually opened the front door and told them they could return indoors for snack, drinks, or the toilet. They gladly left the house. When I peaked out a few moments later, I noticed them carrying the garden trellis and a few blankets. Within a few minutes, they had created a play tent for themselves. I brought out drinks for them and noticed them “trimming the grass by the front porch [with scissors].” They stayed out there most of the day, bringing their dolls and packing an art box for a suitcase. They even left a hole at the top for a sunroof, to let in the light and air.
form loose routine / Every night, as I say goodnight to my children, one will inevitably ask, “what are we doing tomorrow?” Children love some amount of predictability. Keep a loose, but similar routine to help guide your children into how to use their time (even if you’re not planning specifics for them), especially with younger children. For instance, form a morning ritual with your children, a way that works for you all to begin your day together. Plan rest time or independent play/reading time or excursion time for roughly the same time-block daily. You get the idea. This helps me nudge children with the complaint into a direction, “this is the time for independent play. I know you prefer playing with everyone and you’ll have time for that later, but right now, I need you to find something on your own, like ____.”
take a spontaneous outing / Since we spend a lot of time around our home, I love surprising my children with a spontaneous trip. It’s not always fancy, but some days, it’s exactly what we all need. These can be a trip to the bookstore or coffee shop, a drive to nearby city, or a walk on trail.
meet with friends / I’m grateful my children have one another to play with and enjoy, but they (like most children) love when we meet up with friends to play. Make this a part of your weekly routine, too–especially if you homeschool. If you don’t have many friends, head to a local park or children’s museum, where other children are sure to be.
read books / For books I recommend that encourage imaginative play, see here.
How do you handle this topic? With summer soon arriving, I think several parents would love to hear.