Boredom as a Tool

In our pre-covid days, children’s boredom was something easy to solve and thus overlook. This quickly unraveled into chaos when social distancing became the norm because of one or a combination of the following factors: Children’s time is always so structured that they weren’t used to finding fun things to do with their “free time,” which was suddenly overly abundant. Children always had friends at the ready and hadn’t yet discovered things they like to do by themselves. The parental connection had its time and place. All kids need to check in with their parents for refueling during the course of the day, but when the boundaries we relied on went away, we weren’t equipped to handle it. 

Navigating boredom is always an important skill for children to master.  But in the current context, it’s an incredibly valuable asset for every household.  Invest in this now. It will pay off dividends as we continue to navigate so much uncertainty in our collective routines in the coming months.  Especially if you’re in a place where the weather will start to limit outdoor time.

So what does it mean to let kids be bored? And how do we handle all the nagging that comes with it?  It all starts with two foundational elements in the parent-child relationship: trust and patience.
Yes, we need to trust that we can deal with our children’s discomfort and have the patience to let them rise to the occasion. If we can let them practice boredom, our kids will prove to us they can handle it and come out stronger on the other end. Everything about humans is wired for innovation, problem-solving, and imagination. So when forced to, our children will wow us with their inherent creativity. 

If you doubt your child’s creativity, think back to when you had to wait in the doctor’s office as a kid. Or at the airport. Or on a long car ride. Ignored, even briefly, kids find lots of creative ways to deal with boredom. They sing to themselves, spin in circles, make piles of stuff…let them keep pushing through. Wait and see what they do. 

Practical tips to stay the course when your kids complain about being bored:
Don’t take it personally. Kids can get bored even at an amusement park.
Don’t start browsing Pinterest for “Best Activities for Kids” the very first minute you hear that phrase.
Give as much freedom as is safe and possible in/around your house or wherever you are.
Before giving up, “spark”. Don’t offer up a full-blown activity before trying some prompts. Or, as we like to call them “sparks.”  Depending on your children’s ages and the situation, it can be as simple as: “I am sure there is a very fun way to play with these scarfs” or “I remember I used to have the best time ever when I played with empty cardboard boxes.”  Get them excited, inspired and intrigued. You know the best fun is simple fun! 
In our own homes, we are using this last stretch of summer to help our children be bored, find their creativity, and self-entertain.  Weekends and holidays are our best opportunities to work on this exercise. And while it is obvious that our children can “unplug” when they have the freedom to roam, breathe fresh air, and connect with nature, be assured that these skills translate to their time indoors as well. 

Finally, below some materials we find VERY useful to make readily available to help children embrace boredom (adjust to your children’s ages and your level of supervision). Remember, the more open-ended the better. Strive for 90% kid, 10% toy! 
Tubes – toilet paper, paper towel
Empty boxes – large cardboard boxes, shoe boxes
Art supplies- paper, scissors, tape, glue, old magazines/catalogues, stickers, crayons, coloring pencils
Moldable materials- playdough, kinetic sand, modeling clay, molds and other tools
Building toys – blocks, tiles, etc
Clothes and accessories for fantasy play – colorful scarves, hats, pieces of fabric, costumes, toy glasses
Obsolete “real” equipment you may have – an old, non-functional camera, for instance. Kids love playing photographer!

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