Let them be bored….!

“I’m so bored”

Why bored is good. No, really.

There’s a lot of pressure on parents these days. Childhood is no longer all about building dens and ‘playing out’ for hours on end. It’s about after school activities, soft play centres, endless ‘experiences’. It’s about gadgets and wall-to-wall TV, targeted advertising and feeling the need to keep up with others – to be ‘parent’ enough.

Birthday parties used to involve ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ and a home-made spread on the wallpaper table. Christmas, perhaps the one ‘big’ present and a few smaller ones. Selection boxes and a film or two.

So what happened?

One of the toughest things – particularly when you’re the one holding the fort for that often difficult time between school pick-up and the evening meal – is dealing with the inevitable ‘I’m bored’. It can be maddening. We know we should respond with ‘So go and find something to do, then’. But what actually happens is that we feel that strange need to immediately present our kids with options, each more inspired than the last. Anything but the dreaded boredom! Bored children equals a serious parenting fail. Every waking minute needs to be filled with activity and stimulation. And both of those things, when kids aren’t learning at school, should be provided by us. It’s like a fear of dropping one of those spinning plates if we happen to pause for a moment. Activities should flow seamlessly from one to the next. Baking, making, exploring, experimenting. And they should all be delivered with the slightly crazed enthusiasm of a kid’s TV presenter.

It’s easy to resort to screen time. Nothing wrong with that. In moderation, though – and that can be the tough bit.

The fact is, boredom is an important part of a child’s development. If necessity is the mother of invention, then surely boredom is the catalyst for imagination and creativity.

Studies have shown that over-reliance on tech and screen time can lead to anxiety and poor sleep quality (in both children and adults). In younger adults, heavy use of gadgets and smartphones often results in stress, fatigue and even depression. It’s not hard to find evidence of this (online, ironically). So how to tear youngsters away from the pull of gaming, social media or TV?

Boredom promotes creativity

If you wait a few minutes, more often than not they’ll wander (or stomp) off and find something else to do. A bored mind promotes daydreaming, and this results in creative thought. It exercises the imagination. Of course, if the kids take themselves outdoors, all the better. A vitamin D boost, fresh air, the de-stressing properties of being in a green space.

They can invent, build, collect. Read books or magazines. Draw. Write stories. Make up plays. Weird and wonderful ideas are born and will be proudly presented to you, because there are few things that children enjoy more than coming up with something of their very own and sharing it with you, their absolute favourite person.

Those of us who work from home struggle with the concept of getting anything done outside of school hours (unless we work into the night – and that’s not beneficial to anyone in the long run). Sometimes it’s OK to let kids be bored, to take a step back and encourage them to entertain themselves. Trying to be an alpha parent at all times is tiring. Children pick up on stress and feelings of resentment. If I need to take a break, or shift focus for a little while, the world won’t end. A happy parent results in happy offspring.

So instead of trying to be everything to everyone all the time, allow some ‘boredom time’ – screen-free – for the kids. Schedule some in, even. See what they come up with when they’re not being led by you. Let them learn that they’re not the centre of the universe (a realisation much easier to swallow now than as an adult).

Oh, and perhaps the best thing about boredom: it costs nothing…