When I posted my simple summer rules for a saner household, I included the statement “my kids need to be bored.”
As I shared in a post about screen bans and pink tv, I sometimes think I’m a better mom when my kids lose access to all those digital sitters. I’ve noticed we tend to have unexpected adventures and live life a little more fully when we are all unplugged.
Boredom leads to creativity.
I could bore you with references to all the clinical research about how our children need to be bored. I could give you link after link after link on the benefits of unstructured, unplugged play.
But I won’t.
I read a lot of them. They didn’t tell me anything my gut didn’t already tell me.
Basically, my kids need to be bored.
The problem is that boredom is hard work.
Parenting my kids through the boredom stinks.
Inevitably, it involves whining, complaining, pouting, and picking on siblings.
Standing my ground until they find something to do is hard. It requires effort. It takes my focus off of important stuff (like um… Pinterest and Twitter and Facebook and that stupid Candy Crush game).
But if I stick to my guns, eventually the magic happens.
The kids drift off and find things to do.
What kind of things? In the past month, it’s included
- voluntary reading
- voluntary writing
- building a trap to catch the stray cat in the back yard
- sweeping the front porch without prompting
- sorting the socks (there’s no way i can explain this!)
- going to bed early
- building a Lego tower
- playing Pokemon cards
- riding bikes
- playing catch outside
- drawing dragons
Did you notice the word voluntary? The child got a book off the bookshelf and sat down in a chair to read. An hour later, he was still there. It wasn’t even my suggestion.
How to create boredom without tears.
I’m not an expert. I think I mess this up as often as I get it right. But here’s what I’ve figured out.
1. Help them expect it. What seems to work best is to build it into the weekly routine. Depending on what’s going on inour lives, it can be a two hour quiet time in the middle of the day, a morning of independent play, or an after dinner reading hour. Just make it happen regularly.
2. Limit it. From experience, it doesn’t work to announce your kids will stay bored until they learn to enjoy it. That freaked my boys out. They could handle a two hour window. Granted, sometimes they become clock watchers, but they’ve mastered a lot of math skills in the process.
3. Don’t announce the end. Inevitably, when the boredom window ends, my kids are immersed in something cool and amazing. When that happens, I leave them alone. When they’re done, they come ask if they can turn the television back on (or whatever). Yes, I figured this out the hard way.
4. Capture the moments. When my kids discover something amazing or creative, I snap a few photos. In the event of a boredom temper tantrum, I can show them the photos and remind them of all the cool stuff they come up with.
5. Expect tears. Recognize that they will test you, repeatedly. If you give in, it will make it worse. Just hang in there.
6. Play with your kids. If they’re struggling, help them. Remembering how to play isn’t easy. There’s nothing that says you can’t help them by initiating a water gun fight or building a giant tower out of all that stockpiled toilet paper. I have.
My kids need to be bored.
When I can remember this, they are happier kids.
That makes all the hard work totally worth it.