Sure, it’s important to introduce your child to activities and hobbies they may like. But it’s just as important for them to have unstructured time.
It was like a scary movie. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing that fateful day in March.
I was at my local nail salon waiting for a seat to open up, scrolling through my social media feed, when I got the alert on my phone: Because of COVID-19, New York City schools were officially closed for at least a month.
The room started closing in around me, my heart started racing, and all I could think was WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?!
What did I do, you may wonder? Exactly what you and the majority of parents probably did: I panicked.
I started looking up every article I could on homeschooling and raided Pinterest for worksheets, DIY projects, baking recipes, and science experiments.
Then I went into super-mom mode and made the most detailed, 30-minute interval schedule one has ever seen this side of a classroom. By week 2 of lockdown I was completely ready to play homeschool teacher, and at first it worked like a charm.
But then, slowly and surely, we started to crack.
I would go to bed truly exhausted and wake up having not printed out worksheets for the next day. Or I’d realize I didn’t buy the correct glue for the craft project (pro tip: hot glue guns are truly a gift from above).
Our carefully crafted schedule turned into just take her outside to run around (socially distanced, of course) until she’s tired enough to sit through one or two lessons. Then I’d pray it was time for dinner and a bath.
One day after we played a matching game for the millionth time, she finally hit me with those three dreaded words: “Mommy, I’m bored.”
In that moment, while at my wit’s end, I wondered: Is boredom really that bad??
As it turns out, it’s actually not!
That day was the first time during lockdown I told my daughter those magical mom words: Do whatever you want, Mommy just needs a break.
I braced myself as she disappeared into her room for a truly blissful 10 full minutes. She returned with her hands full of toys and told me we were playing shop.
We spent the afternoon inadvertently learning about currency and math, and she had even more fun because it was her idea. I decided right then that a little boredom may just be a good thing.
Let’s dissect why.
Think about it: When is the last time you were truly bored? Meaning, when’s the last time you had nothing interesting to do to occupy your time?
“Every time we get our phone out, we’re not allowing our mind to wander and to solve our own boredom problems,” Mann says.
The truth is, even when we think we’re bored, we aren’t. Our phones, and subsequent constant connection to the internet and other humans, have all but removed the threat of boredom from our daily lives.
True boredom in the form of no stimuli at all is so rare that we fear it and refuse to succumb to it. Because of this, we think our children should never be bored either.
Use your imagination! It’s a phrase repeated the world over by parents with bored kids. While brain engaging activities are extremely beneficial to a child’s development, so is a bit of boredom.
One study found that boredom in adults may indeed inspire us to think outside the box. Study participants were given boring tasks, and afterward, it helped boost both productivity and creativity.
Boredom gives your child time and reason to be creative and come up with their own ideas. When your child has self-led free time, they actually get a chance to use their imagination. You may be amazed at what they come up with.
Not trying to get all existential here, but honestly, what would life be like if you truly never had a dull moment?
A bit of boredom is like a rainy day in the middle of summer. It’s a downer when it happens, but it makes us really appreciate the sunny days that follow.
If there are no lulls in a child’s life, they may not appreciate the exciting times as much. It’s about perspective, ya know?
In a landmark 2014 study, researchers looked at boredom — specifically daydreaming — and how it impacted performance on convergent tasks with a clear right or wrong answer.
They found that participants had more success arriving at a correct answer when they had more daydreaming time prior to solving the problem.
Like with creativity, your child needs opportunities to solve their own problems without a parent’s presence there providing an “out” if the problem is too hard.
Being forced to come up with their own entertainment may lead to daydreaming, which will ultimately develop your child’s ability to problem solve. For example, they’ll feel pride in figuring out which toy they have that’ll work perfectly as a door to the fort they built, all on their own.
Try being bored with your child! I was amazed to see what my daughter came up with when left to her own devices.
While I could have used that time to respond to emails or get a head start on dinner, it was great to create and imagine together.
Try some intentional, child-led, ‘boring’ time with your kids. Put down the phone and ask your child to think of something fun for you to do together. Be ready for a laughter-filled ride!
Given unstructured time to think freely — about whatever naturally comes to mind — will help your child learn who they truly are. The child that seems really into science may actually be more interested in practicing their skills mixing and measuring while baking — you never know.
The next time your child complains of being bored, try to help them make the most of the free time.
For older children, encourage them to put down their phones or devices and get out of the pantry (keep the line, “you’re not hungry, you’re bored” prepped for constant use).
Suggest that they take 30 minutes and do some boredom brainstorming. Encourage them to let their brain wander and see where their thoughts go naturally.
What comes up for them? What are the recurring points? Once the urge to look at their phone subsides, they should find themselves face to face with the things that actually interest them.
For younger children, they’ll do best with a bit of guided boredom. Ask them to think of something they like to do, or something you can do together. If they have siblings, suggest they come up with an activity together.
Whatever you do, don’t turn on the TV or hand over the iPad if you’ve already used up the allotted screen time for the day. Think of screens as a last resort. We don’t want to plant the “avoid boredom with passive entertainment” seed in them if we can help it.
Overall, boredom may seem like a bad word as a parent, and I get it. We live in a time where boredom is not only unappreciated, it’s vehemently avoided at all costs.
But don’t be afraid to allow your child to experience some boredom. It will do them — and you — a world of good.
Marien Richardson is a proud Brooklyn, NY native, nonprofit co-founder, real estate agent, single mother, and self-proclaimed voice of reason. She believes that understanding begets empathy, and empathy is the first step toward healing and eradicating pain. She hopes to bring a bit of understanding with every piece she writes.