the hidden gift of boredom

gift_of_boredom-2gift_of_boredom 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.
gift_of_boredom-4 gift_of_boredom-5

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.

 

14 replies
  1. georgia
    georgia says:

    oh, and another thing i’m noticing, bethany… i can’t click on any links within your posts, either. ???

    but so many other clickable things work. I’m confounded. i’ll try to research why this is happening, as i love your blog and would love to check out all things you write about or refer to. i have not yet had this experience on anyone else’s blog or web site, and i have a very new computer, so i am guessing all my software is up to date and compatible with the latest web site coding. but i will try to find out what’s going on. =)

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      Hi Georgia! It’s so good to hear from your again, and also thank you for alerting me to the link problem. It’s definitely a site problem right now, although I’m not sure why. Off to figure it out. xx

      Reply
      • georgia
        georgia says:

        thank you! it works now, and i got the watermelon recipe i wanted! i noticed that my links weren’t working tonight, and that made me remember having the issue on your blog. so i came back to see if you replied. i did notice that wordpress changed how you add a link, so when i thought i did mine the first time, it didn’t take. you have to actually click on the pencil icon to add the links… just clicking on the add link button isn’t enough. looks like you figured it out, too! also, i don’t want to seem annoying, so if you would rather not answer, i totally understand. but did you happen to see my question about your instagram plugin at the bottom of your blog page? i’m wondering if that’s a third-party plugin. i’d like to use something similar… something that will show my instagram pics without making the user leave the blog and being taken to my actual IG page like most IG plugins function.

        Reply
        • Bethany
          Bethany says:

          I apologize I didn’t notice your previous comment. I’m not sure the name of the Instagram widget, but it opens in Lightbox. Perhaps begin there? I hope you’re well. x

          Reply
  2. georgia
    georgia says:

    great tips! our five-year-old just recently started saying “i’m bored” from time to time. i always gently urge him to remedy it… so it puts the responsibility of it back on him, because like you said, it seems so directed at me as if it’s my fault. =)

    it’s nice to see how other moms deal with this.

    Reply
  3. Oksana
    Oksana says:

    Thank you for sharing. I agree with you full heartedly and try to help redirect my children when they say they are bored. In our case though I find that my almost 7 year old daughter is rarely bored as she has a vivid imagination and loves anything art related. My 4.5 yo son seems like he is always bored, he doesn’t like to play by himself and always want to play either with an adult or his sister (who is always full of adventures). I wondered if it’s a boy vs girl or him being a second child, a “follower”, or just a personality. Curious to hear your observations 🙂

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      In our home, I’ve noticed it to be more an introversion v. extroversion bit of their temperament. My youngest is my most extroverted and always wants to play with and be near others, although my most introverted can be content sitting and observing for long periods of time. That said, I’m sure there are many aspects of children that play into this.

      Reply
  4. Anna
    Anna says:

    I love the way you’ve taken the time to break down this topic of boredom. Your insights are spot on, and I really appreciate them because the reasons why we do things is so important. My oldest is 16 and its much more challenging to monitor and regulate the time that he’s either listening to music or connecting with friends. I need to let go to some extent of controlling his choices, but also need to help him see the value in making friends with his own thoughts and ideas…not easy! I’m planning on having him read Essentialism by Greg Mckeown when school is out.

    Reply
  5. Ally
    Ally says:

    Just what I needed reminding of! With a new baby I have heard the word ‘bored’ creep more and more into the vocabulary of the older children. And in my bleary eyed state I have been too ready to say ‘yes’ to the request of screen time when these ‘bored moments’ arise. Thank you for your gentle reminder that we all feel and need to feel bored from time to time. x

    Reply
  6. mamahay
    mamahay says:

    Oy. My go to responses are the mom lecture and ultimatums, which I’ve never been proud of. I’m going to work on this. Thanks for the tips!

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection  | As someone who remembers childhood and teen life before the internet, who traveled internationally as a teen without a cell phone, who didn’t have a personal email until her last year of university, and who parented her children’s early years without social media, I LOVE this book! It’s a MUST for every parent and millennial, right alongside Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. Don’t get me wrong, I totally feel old writing this, but this is the first book that actually refers to my generation as the last to remember absence, to remember life with abstract space and digitally noiseless downtime. He works through many topics in this book, even heartbreaking ones, like the modern hardships of depression and cyber-bullying plaguing teens and young adults. It’s well-written, poetic even, and enjoyable to read without the fear-mongering tone prevalent in other books on technology.  If you’re looking for some practical parenting thoughts on this idea of absence, you might find what I wrote early last year about the hidden gift of boredom helpful. […]

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