How many times have you heard your child say, “I’m bored!” What happens next? Do you turn on a movie? Tell her to finish homework? Get out a required reading book? Hand him your smart phone? If so, then you are robbing your child of the absolute joy of being bored once in a while.
Studies show that boredom is actually good for children. It helps develop critical life skills like creativity, patience, and resourcefulness. Kids with “nothing to do” will find unique ways to combine a box, a piece of paper, a box of straws, and a roll of tape to create something original. The young engineer or architect has begun to think creatively with problem-solving skills that are otherwise underdeveloped when children are not allowed to find their own activities during down times.
What are some ways that parents can operate in the background, facilitating the creativity brought on by boredom? Try these ideas and watch your children’s young brains expand like the heart of the Grinch at Christmas!
1. Create a boredom box that is ever-changing. Certainly, you can add kits of various activities from paint by number to assembling a bird box in that boredom box, but the life of that kit extends only as long as it takes to complete the task. Instead, add STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) tidbits to the box and rotate them out regularly. Such items might include a magnifying glass, feathers, marbles, washable paints, paper with different textures, sandpaper, and any other item that might stimulate creativity. Don’t be afraid to add a book to the boredom box that might spark interest in the items you tossed in there. For example, if you add a prism to the box, also include a copy of our book, Where’s Green? which shows children how the rainbow is created from a water droplet prism. After a while, you may find that your children will voluntarily drop items into the boredom box for exploration later.
2. Avoid over-scheduling your children. Sports practice, music lessons, homework time, bath time, and other required activities take up 90% of your child’s time. Try not to schedule that remaining 10% with play dates and movies. Allow them the freedom to discover their own way to fill that time. If you’re doing housework, work-from-home obligations, or other task, recommend that your child create something until you are available. Don’t just say, “Find something to do” which usually leads the child down the path toward the TV or tablet game. Be more specific with your request and use words like build, write, draw, design, plan, or make. And don’t follow those words with something, again be a bit more specific without over-engineering their time. Follow those active words with suggestions like this: build a fun house, write a list of vacation places, or design a new toy for your pet.
3. Make work fun. If your child resists making his bed, taking out the trash, or folding his own laundry because it’s “boring,” then help him to figure out ways to make menial tasks more interesting. Suggest that he find ways to make it fun by making up a song, a dance, or a certain rhythm to the task. This will also carry through to those times when boredom no long becomes an issue.
Psychologists warn that instead of avoiding boredom, we should embrace it as the new norm for creative expression. However, they do say that there are two distinct types of boredom – the good boredom when you and your children develop imaginative ways to spend the time – and the bad boredom when you fill the time with mindless endeavors like watching videos or simply sitting around. Translate that into a couch-potato lethargy which benefits no one.
Lead by example. When you find the moment when your work is done and you still have enough energy to devote to fruitful boredom, get out your own boredom busters box and show your children that boredom is actually a good thing! After all, creative expression is very energizing.
Author: Renee Heiss