As parents we want our children to be happy. I mean, that’s basically the number one goal, right? Happy and healthy, and they won’t be happy if they’re unhealthy, so ‘happy’ pretty much covers it. I think that’s why the parental guilt is triggered when we hear one of our kids say, “I’m bored.”
Somehow, we feel that in not providing a constant stream of stimulating and engaging activities, we are failing at providing happiness, but today I am telling you to remove your guilt and let your child be bored; and the best bit is, I’m not telling you this to give you a break, I’m telling you this because it is genuinely what’s best for your child.
Think about your own childhood. I bet your parents didn’t spend half as much time and money trying to provide entertainment for you as you spend on your kids. I bet a huge amount of your childhood memories don’t even have your parents in them – they’re probably sitting at the edge of the memory, talking to other grown-ups, letting you play and explore and make your own entertainment.
From my own childhood I remember building mud cubbies, climbing trees, acting out long, complicated scenes from movies or my own imagination. I remember dancing to Mum and Dad’s tapes and records; my brother and I choreographing dance routines or writing songs to later perform for our parents.
I remember hours spent with my dolls or pushing a Matchbox car around the pattern of our lounge room carpet. I remember exploring secret paths and making ‘perfume’ out of flowers and water and I do have memories of being bored.
We grew up in a small country town and one thing my parents loved to do was go bottle digging. That might sound interesting to you, it might not, and it certainly was not interesting to me. We would pack up the car with lunch, thermos, raincoats and boots and go out into the bush where Mum and Dad and family friends of ours would literally dig in the dirt looking for glass – all day.
I was bored out of my brain!
But my parents just didn’t see that as their problem. They didn’t take along a radio for me to listen to (portable DVD players and iPhones were obviously not an option) or a box of toys to play with and they didn’t apologise or offer me a treat if I let them have this time. So, yes, I was bored, and what did I do? I learnt to entertain myself.
Sure, I could grumble (and I probably did) but I also made up games, or found paths to walk, or created art with bracken leaves, or read a book, or invented mysteries to solve. I used my imagination and I became self-sufficient in terms of my play.
When I was older, the times I was bored became the times I would write – letters, poems, stories, favourite quotes or often I look through old photo albums, or rearrange my room, or put on some music and start singing. I never sat alone in my bedroom rocking in the foetal position (well, not for long) and being bored never damaged me; it helped me.
If I had been constantly provided with activities, outings and gadgets to entertain me, I would never have discovered the things I love to do and I would probably now, as an adult, struggle with my own company.
My son, right at this moment, is turning circles on the lounge room rug. He is literally spinning around and around until he falls over. We are having screen-free time and turning circles is currently what is keeping him amused. The funny thing is, I remember doing exactly the same thing when I was his age.
There is certainly a lot of value in providing stimulating activities for your children. There are plenty of amazing places to take them and lots they should see and learn, but you don’t need to do this constantly and you really don’t need to feel bad about the times you are not doing it.
Let yourself off the hook. Let them be bored. Let them figure out for themselves what stops the boredom. Let them figure out who they are and let them learn that they are good company for themselves.
So the next time one of your children moans, “I’m bored,” trying answering with, “Excellent. So, what are you going to do about that?”
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