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When your child says, "I'm bored!"

Updated: Nov 20, 2021

We need to resurrect boredom! Yes, you read the sentence correctly. I said we need to resurrect boredom. For the better part of the last 30 years, society has undermined that which used to be the perfect catalyst for creativity, replacing it with a myriad of tools designed to entertain. The chief culprit - technology. I'm not totally bashing technology. It is here to stay and has its place. However, technology has become a substitute babysitter for young, developing minds in ways that are unhealthy. Today, children as young as two can be seen swiping their parent’s cell phone with the greatest of ease or sitting frozen like a statue in front of a tablet or television screen. Even when aware of the potential dangers of exposing children to devices too soon, the sound of silence is all it takes for many parents to look the other way.

In today's society, when left on their own, it is not uncommon for children to go straight to technology whenever they feel bored. Many young children, pre-teens and teens regularly fill downtime with video games or social media. Pass by any bus stop and you will likely see kids staring at their phones, often with earbuds tightly secured, missing opportunities to build social skills through direct, personal interaction; interaction that would typically include exchanging thoughts and opinions on a variety of topics that can lead to the development of new ideas.

Technology is not the only culprit. Some parents go to extreme lengths to ensure that their children are not bored. They make sure they participate in multiple after-school activities, spend their weekends at sports events and summer breaks at camp(s). Many would rather run themselves ragged, making sure their children are entertained, than have to listen to their children whine about being bored. No wonder we are seeing increasing numbers of children who have little to no ability to entertain themselves when left to rely on their own means.

Interestingly, studies have shown that humans engage in their best thinking when their mind is in an inactive state. One study found that when participants were doing boring activities, they produced creative ideas that were higher in quality and quantity. The most monotonous tasks have the potential to spawn highly innovative, out-of-the box ideas.

So, what can be done to help children learn to deal with boredom? Below are five suggestions that contribute to building a strong foundation upon which children can learn to independently make the most out of boredom!

1. Be an interesting person

This is so important! Children greatly benefit from seeing their parents embrace learning, demonstrating an interest in life, enjoying hobbies, etc. Resolve to be an interesting person! Your children will take note.

2. Recognize the importance of play

Play is the work of childhood. When parents regularly participate in meaningful, interactive play with their children (board games, puzzles, Legos, outside activities) everyone benefits. Children who enjoy interactive play with family members build social, critical thinking and problem-solving skills - and are more apt to choose similar types of meaningful play activities as their choice for personal entertainment.

3. Read to your child(ren)

From the time children are brought home from the hospital, I recommend reading to them daily. They will come to view reading as a part of daily life; something that is pleasant, enjoyable, and important. Early modeling sets the stage for learning basic reading concepts and experiencing the joy of getting lost in a book. Reading is a great boredom buster!

4. Require daily quiet time

Alone time can be highly beneficial for children. It teaches them the value of entertaining themselves without external noise/distractions. One of the major complaints of teachers today is that their students do not know how to think independently. Daily quiet time provides children an opportunity to engage in quiet, independent thinking; thinking that is often highly productive, can lead to new ideas and a heightened level of creativity.

5. Commit to technology free cars

Oh, boy, I can feel the tomatoes being thrown at me! Like it or not, there are benefits in forbidding children to stare at a screen while riding in a car; namely, learning how to get along with each other. Does it mean that there will be times when they must “hash it out” while in the back seat? Absolutely. It is in the hashing out that children learn to problem solve and compromise. My siblings and I learned in short order that if we did not hash out our differences fairly quickly, my father would stop the car on the side of the road and sit there until we resolved the issue (Hint: Turning off the heat/air conditioner can speed up the process!). Playing games in the car, such as Auto Bingo, I Spy, and Who am I? requires participants to socially interact and has even been known to lead to the invention of new games (ahh, creativity!).

The bottom line: Don't underestimate the benefits of boredom! When parents regularly step in to make sure their children are actively engaged or entertained, they are robbing them of the opportunity to independently develop and apply important skills that will serve them well throughout life.

© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, January 2021

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