I remember the long hot days of summer kicking a ball along the dusty Saskatchewan roads, looking for friends to play with and wandering around town searching for an adventure. There were many times when my adventure would go unrealized as I could not find something to entertain me or fill my summer days. I remember the mixed feelings of relief to have no activities on my plate that day, but also the desire to get out and do something. There would be days when my brother and I would plan a big adventure to the store once we had enough money for a Slurpee or ice-cream. Sometimes we would pack a lunch and a book and just get on our bikes and ride around town, unsure what the day would bring. I also remember just stretching out on the lawn and watching the stars emerge at night, feeling a bit bored but also intrigued by those shining diamonds in the sky that drew my attention and my thoughts.
Parents nowadays seem to have children programed into continual summer camps and endless enriching activities, to the point that we do not leave them enough time to just get bored. This generation of parents seem to feel that we need to entertain our children, and that it is our responsibility to make sure that they are being filled up with information and action all the time.
As a parent, a Parent Educator, and a Child and Family therapist, I challenge parents to start letting their children get bored.
It is my belief that boredom can be very healthy for children. Parents are much too responsive to children when they say “I’m bored”. It is not your responsibility to entertain your child if they are bored – in fact quite the opposite is true. When my children were young and they would approach me with the “I’m bored” complaint, they soon learned they were not going to get my attention that way. I would respond with a “Fabulous, what a great time to go and spend time with yourself and come up with something new”. The “I’m bored” soon lost any traction in our house, but spending time with oneself and thinking new thoughts stuck. My children are now teenagers but they still like to take time for themselves; sometimes they do come up with some amazing ideas and thoughts, and sometimes they just get a little bored.
Boredom is not the enemy to be conquered by action and another planned activity. Boredom can be a vehicle to creative thinking, self-awareness, empathy and compassion. When we are bored we are often alone with our thoughts – this is a great way for children to get to know themselves. If they can learn to be comfortable with themselves when bored and restless, they will better know how to hold onto themselves in the midst of life’s actions and pressures. To know him or herself will also help your child to better know others. The roots of empathy are in self-knowledge and the understanding of our own thoughts and feelings. This awareness translates into a caring attitude towards others. Being bored also motivates us to reach out to others and develop connections.
We cannot underestimate the power of boredom in creativity and innovation. When we are bored we dig deeper into our mind and our thoughts, and we challenge ourselves to create something new. If we interviewed some of the most successful people who have truly impacted our world, we would find that when they became bored they began to search for MORE. In “M.O.R.E. A New Philosophy for Exceptional Living” I outline how exceptional living comes from a curiosity and a perseverance through challenging times.
The other gift of boredom is that it allows our children to develop self-reliance. If your child is bored, they may want to pick up a book and read, or develop a new board game or even watch 17 episodes of Star Trek on Netflix. Some of these might be more creative than others, but all of them require self-reliance and will bring some new information to your child. Maybe they will just daydream – who knows what gifts those daydreams will bring to your child or to our future. All of our truly great human inventions and innovations were somebody’s daydream before they were a reality.
So I challenge parents to let go of the fear of your children’s boredom, free yourself from this responsibility and sit back and see what emerges out of your child. Who knows, you might even want to let yourself get a little bored and see what emerges out of yourself as well.