“I’m so bored!”
“That is so boring.”
Is it just me, or has “bored” become ‘the b word’, or another bad word you want to ward off from your home? At least in my house, it’s said with so much disdain; as if my children may as well whither away with how much they’re suffering under it.
Unfortunately for them, they have parents who are just fine with them being bored.
To make matters worse, research backs us up, suggesting that it may actually be a good thing for them to feel bored. People are more creative when they’re bored, and it also teaches them how to be intrinsically motivated. Some even suggest that boredom leads children to develop their own worldviews and sense of self in a significant way. Sounds great, right?
Despite these ideas- and statistical data- we continue to be a generation that overschedules our children and glorifies the word busy. Most kids don’t ever get the chance to feel bored, but if they do, let’s make sure they’re in various sports, playing musical instruments, and attending local clubs every evening. Weekends are filled with practices and games and scheduled playdates.
Many believe this is a disservice. I know I do.
I see my daughter after a long eight hour day of school. Blocks of guided learning, sitting still in chairs and being shuffled from subject to subject, she becomes tightly wound. The last thing she actually needs when she gets home is more. It has become apparent that the best thing for her is space to breathe and listen to her body. That’s when the magic happens. Forts under tables, elaborate scenes in her dollhouse, and creative art projects are some of the things she’s come up with recently. Sometimes it takes tears, protests and complaints to get there, but she finds her way.
I love this quote from educator and author Nancy Blakey:
“Preempt the time spent on television and organized activities and have them spend it instead on claiming their imaginations. For in the end, that is all we have. If a thing cannot be imagined first — a cake, a relationship, a cure for AIDS– it cannot be. Life is bound by what we can envision. I cannot plant imagination into my children. I can, however, provide an environment where their creativity is not just another mess to clean up but welcome evidence of grappling successfully with boredom. It is possible for boredom to deliver us to our best selves, the ones that long for risk and illumination and unspeakable beauty. If we sit still long enough, we may hear the call behind boredom. With practice, we may have the imagination to rise up from the emptiness and answer.”
When I was little, I learned quickly that whining of boredom to my mom would get me one of two responses, neither of which I preferred: “Want me to hire a clown?” or “Go clean your room!“. I’m proud (I think) to admit that I understand now. Not only did my mom need a level of sanity and time left to her own imagination and devices, but she knew that she was doing us a favor.
The next time your children start to whine about being the “b word”, try giving them a smile and saying, “Bored can be fun!” Banish screens. Tell them to go play outside (research shows that kids are more likely to invent their own games outside, rather than inside). Point them to their building toys and craft supplies, step back, and watch the magic happen. Even if it’s not the first, second, or third time you try it, it will work.
Let’s make it our goal to exit the rat race. We have way too many plates in the air; let’s not hoist our kids’ up, too. Cancel some scheduled dates. Opt for a slower summer than you’re used to. It might make all the difference in who your kid becomes this year. We’ll be fostering boredom right alongside you.
Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.