The Importance of Being Bored

‘I’m bored.’

Every parent has heard these words countless times. But, while it can be easy to create what are often meaningless distractions for your child, this isn’t always the best course of action. The capacity to be ‘bored’ is, in fact, an important developmental milestone for children. Firstly, it helps them express emotion and desire; secondly, it is key to engaging their capacity to self-organise and be self-reliant, and thirdly, it givesthem time to reflect on who they are.

Let them be bored
Because a child is bored doesn’t necessarily mean you have to find them something to do straightaway. Instead, it should be viewed as an opportunity to engage with the child’s experience. For many parents, however, the ‘I’m bored’ statement is often construed as a complaint, demand or accusation that we have not provided enough for our children to do. Which means parents can become angry or act too impulsively to eliminate the boredom, without out giving enough thought to the situation and what the child really needs.In reality, boredom is simply atime out from scheduled activities to discover what else interests and stimulates, so we must allow our children to be bored for this to happen.

Too many activities can result in unwanted behaviour
In the modern world, children’s lives are increasingly micro-managed by their parents and, mostly, this comes from a mother or father’s own desire to be the best parent they can be. Ironically, while children clearly benefit hugely from extra-curricular activities, sometimes these activities are planned to allow parents time to get on with their own tasks, when your child would be perfectly happy to spend time on their own or with the parent doing nothing.

Children do not need to be rushed from one activity to another – otherwise the active part of their day is too long and exhausting. They become hyper-stimulated and overwhelmed. And because they lack the emotional language needed to articulate this to you the result can be poor behaviour or ‘acting up’.

As Lyn Fry, a child psychologist from London, says:

‘Your role as a parent is to prepare children to take their place in society. Being an adult means occupying yourself and filling up your leisure time in a way that will make you happy. If parents spend all their time filling up their child’s spare time, then the child is never going to learn to do this for themselves.’

Encouraging creativity
Over-scheduling can become problematic in two main ways. Firstly, it prevents boredom emerging and secondly, it blocks creativity from developing. Creative children will always find a desire form within their boredom by occupying themselves through self-stimulation. After all, creativity is about self-expression and finding new interests. And there are many benefits to be had from integrating creativity into your parenting strategies, such as encouraging independence, open-mindedness, curiosity, and, of course, helping your children to become emotionally articulate. In other words, we help them to flourish.

The job of any parent is to raise their child to become self-sufficient, independent and self-regulating which means exposing them to an environment that will suggest things without imposing them. Soallow them the time and opportunity to explore their environment and the alternatives for themselves.One way of putting this into practice, for example, is at the start of summer. Sit down with your child and between the two of you, write a list of things they can do over the summer and when the inevitable cry of ‘I’m bored’ sounds, get them to revisit the list and work out what they’d like to do for themselves.

Alternatively, you could just take some time out yourself to sit down with your child, perhaps get them to help you make dinner, or simply do nothing in particular. This is valuable time you can spend sharing thoughts, experiences and opinions. But, once you’ve satisfied their need they have to be with you, let them be on their own. Observeas their sense of self and being takes over. Watch as they discover their own interests through the mere act of being bored. See them grow and become self-reliant.

Perhaps the last word should go to 1930s philosopher, Bertrand Russell, who says in this book entitled The Conquest of Happiness:

‘A child develops best when, like a young plant, he is left undisturbed in the same soil. Too much travel, too much variety of impressions, are not good for the young, and cause them as they grow up to become incapable of enduring fruitful monotony.’

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