Boredom Busted

The ‘B’ Word - Why Boredom is Good for Your Children By Kay Miller

As a mum of 5 the cry of “I’m bored’ in our household was not an unusual one and, I confess, one that used to make my heart sink, my guilt rise and my irritation rumble!

But is boredom something we should rush to alleviate? Many child psychologists suggest not - indeed they regard feelings of boredom to be a necessity if children are to develop into well rounded human beings.

 ‘Boredom helps children develop planning strategies, problem-solving skills, flexibility and organisational skills – key abilities.’ Gia Miller - Child Mind Institute.

We parents put ourselves under a lot of self-imposed pressure to keep our children occupied at all times; copious after school activity classes, ‘play-dates’, trips out to stimulating destinations and on it goes.  Couple that with the lure and immediate gratification of screen time, and it’s not surprising that on the rare occasions children find themselves at a loose end, ‘feeling bored’ is their first response.

The good news is that we should not feel the need for our children to be actively entertained 24/7. Children need to learn how to manage their own time - a life-skill - so it’s essential that children experience periods of unstructured time where they can make their own decisions, daydream and ponder.  When children are absorbed in their own unstructured play imagination and creativity thrives, attention spans increase, and the ‘b’ word diminishes.

“Pre-empt 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.” Nancy H. Blakey

As the summer break approaches why not pre-empt those ‘I’m bored’ moments:

  • Spend some time with your child encouraging them to think of activities they are looking forward to doing in the holidays
  • Compile a ‘Things I Want to Do‘ jar that you can direct them to 
  • Encourage open ended tasks that don’t have a right or wrong way
  • Resist the urge to tidy away but leave games/projects out so that they can be continued and developed the following day
  • Donate an area in the garden that is theirs to use as they wish
  • Collect scrap materials- off-cuts of wood, broken electronics, tubes, corks, empty plastic containers, that can be raided to support an experiment or craft project- you’ll be amazed at the creative ways your child will use these
  • Dressing up boxes are always a hit
  • Be realistic about how long your child will be able to entertain themselves and aware that they may need a reassuring cuddle and an injection of your attention
  • Model screen-free activities yourself!
  • Spec out some interesting outdoor spaces in your area- parks, streams, footpaths/bridleways, beaches. Outdoors is the best playground… 

Some outdoor ideas guaranteed to spark interest:

  • A bug hunt- build a bug hotel

  • Small world play- build a landscape for dinosaurs /small action figures outside
  • Make magic potions

  • Build an obstacle course
  • Hold a Teddy Bears picnic
  • Put on a show
  • Make some ice and play with it

  • Build a den and eat your lunch in it - even if it’s raining 
  • Create a garden

So next time your child announces they are bored, respond with genuine excitement.  ‘How exciting! What are you going to do?’