Hearing the dreaded words "I'm bored" come from our child's mouth can trigger immense anxiety for many parents. If our kid is bored, we must be doing something wrong, right? Wrong. Boredom is an opportunity to nurture a child's development that is often missed due to our ever increasing need for instant gratification.
As children of the 80s, we were constantly bored. However, we seldomly remember the actual boredom itself. When I think of boredom, I can think of all the activities boredom brought me to. From making potions and perfumes in my backyard to riding my bike or roller skating around town for hours on end. Nowadays, if our child is bored, many of us have the knee-jerk reaction to hand our kids a tablet or turn on the tv. Some of you might say,"Hey, there was television in the 1980s." Sure, but we had like 5 options and one could easily get bored of television, since we had no control over what we were watching. Plus, television literally turned off for the night and all you could watch was static. Today, there is no end to the distractions that streaming entertainment and social media that we consume.
How do we define boredom?
You know when you are bored, but do you know what being bored means? The best definition we found, from Psychology Today, is: “Boredom can be defined as “the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity.”
When we look at this definition of boredom, we can see why it is so important to not only experience boredom, but to accept it and even embrace it.
"The feeling of boredom is when brains struggle to fill time. People may feel restless or have a lack of interest in their surroundings."
Take a minute to think about a child growing up unable to be comfortable with not being "engaged in satisfying activity." If the need to constantly feel satisfied is intertwined with what you learn in your core developmental years, it might be hard to navigate through life. This problem is unfortunately not any easier in our instant gratification society with social media and endless streaming apps.
“The less people experience boredom, the less equipped the brain is to deal with it.”
So why is boredom so important?
"Boredom can help kids be present and aware of the world around them."
"Our brains need breaks. We are all so busy trying to do everything at once that it’s no surprise stress and anxiety are on the rise, and not just among grown-ups. Kids’ brains need stimulation, but they need downtime, too."
"To develop their creativity muscles, kids need time to think and the motivation to come up with something new. Playing pretend can help children develop social skills and self-control. Thinking outside the box can help them solve the problems that seem small to us, but are huge to them."
"Some experts worry that stuffing our children’s schedules full of activities or leaving them to their (electronic) devices is spurring a crisis of dependence, a trend of young people not being able to manage their time or take responsibility for themselves. Some structure is good for children, and activities are great for them to learn new skills and make new friends. But unstructured play helps them develop a different set of important skills and relationships. Creating unstructured time means introducing the possibility of boredom, but also the chance to work through it."
What do you do when you hear the dreaded words "I'm Bored"?
Even though hearing "I'm bored" can cause serious frustration and anxiety for parents, it's important to for not only children to accept boredom, but for parents to as well. Here are some helpful hints from Mayo Clinic to encourage boredom for you and your children:
“It's not parents' responsibility to entertain their children every moment of the day. Kids are naturally curious and creative. Being bored helps them strengthen their creative muscles and learn to cope with feelings of boredom as they get older."
"If they protest boredom, acknowledge their feelings and ask them to come up with a solution. If they struggle, offer ideas that don't include an electronic device.”
I admit before researching this topic, sensing my child's boredom gave me severe anxiety. This was especially felt when I needed to be working or doing chores and felt a subconscious need to keep my child entertained. I started to use the advice from these articles and instead of giving my child her tablet, I told her that she would have to find something else to preoccupy her time. At first, she was very hesitant, and it was hard to not show my frustration. However, after I stopped responding, she eventually turned to her art supplies and started drawing. She still gets media to occupy her time and it's hard to get out of that routine, but introducing more time for boredom gives her the opportunity to be creative. So hopefully, when she gets older and is bored, she turns to something creative instead of simply turning to her phone or tablet.
There is an amazing quote on Melbourne’s Child Psychology website:
“Children need to sit in their own boredom for the world to become quiet enough that they can hear themselves” – Dr Vanessa Lapointe
In this day and age, we all need the world to become quiet enough so that we can hear ourselves. Welcome boredom into your life and reconnect with yourself. You and your children will greatly benefit from it.