The magic of boredom
Are we doing enough activities together? Do we go out enough? Do we stay IN enough? Are they learning what they need to? Should they be socialising with other children more? As a mum I have wondered all of this and more, and I know I’m not alone…
So is it really possible to keep little ones engaged and occupied every moment of the day? Maybe! But is it necessary? Absolutely not! You’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that boredom is not a bad thing. Here’s why:
Bored kids are creative kids. When children are allowed to be bored, they use their own imagination and creativity to create fun! I often find myself in awe of my daughter's imagination when brings me her wild and whacky creations from the craft table and tells me all about how and why she made them… with zero input from me!!
Boredom promotes independence. Being bored helps children learn to entertain themselves. Not instantly, of course... But boredom really does give children a sense of independence and in time helps them move away from relying on others to entertain them.
It gives them choice. Young children thrive when they have choice and control over certain situations.. When they get bored and we step in to take over, we take away an opportunity for them to choose what and how they would like to play.
Increased confidence. It is truly magical to see a child’s pride and confidence sore when they invent their own game, create their own story or build a block tower all by themselves. These seemingly small moments that come from being bored, are the foundation for building confidence and self-esteem as they grow.
Of course, it isn’t about stepping back and leaving children to their own devices for hours on end. Young children need us, and nothing compares to engaging with your child in moments of joyful play. But parenting is HARD work and sometimes we need to get practical tasks done, make an important phone call or maybe just sit for a moment and drink our coffee while its hot!! Okay maybe that last one is a little ambitious... but this is where free play becomes priceless.
I'll be honest, when I first started learning about the benefits of allowing children to be bored I thought “That’s great, but my daughter didn’t get the memo!!” Chances are you’re thinking something similar. I get it, I really do. When children aren’t used to the freedom of being bored, it takes some time to adjust (for us as well as them!). Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to include more free play into your child's day:
Don’t take it personally. It may sound silly but it can feel like a personal attack on your parenting when your children are constantly asking for more – what am I doing wrong!? The answer is nothing! Your child complaining that there is nothing to do is not a reflection of your parenting skills! Kids get bored. Even in Disneyland.
Give it time. If you’re in the initial stages of including more free play and less activities into your child’s day.. chances are you’ll both need some time to adjust. Take small steps, allow them to open their minds and use their creativity but expect that they might need some encouragement and prompting along the way. Try giving them some ideas without getting too involved. “I wonder how you will use your blocks?” “I can’t wait to see what treasures you find in the garden!” “Will you play inside or outside today?” ... brief, open ended questions or statements should get their imagination flowing.
Connection vs. Entertainment. Is your child needing to connect with you, or are they just bored? This one can be REALLY tricky at first.. but learning the difference between a need for connection and boredom is really eye opening! If you’re not sure, try spending 10 minutes of quality, engaged time with your child doing something you both enjoy. Read some books, do some drawing or sing some songs. Give them some warning that you will finish playing with them (“after this story” or “one more song” usually translates better for young children than “in 5 minutes”). When you’re ready, take a step back and allow them to discover their own way to play.
Embrace the mess. Something I have learned very quickly is that free play is rarely neat, contained play. It's messy, it's noisy, it takes up space.. and more often than not it involves items that aren't designated toys or play things!
Truly independent play is not a skill children develop overnight, but when they are given the space and time to be creative and use their imagination to create simple fun, they are developing skills that will stay with them for life.
So next time you are feeling guilty that your child is bored, asking yourself if you’re doing enough, or spending hours browsing Pinterest and Instagram for exciting activities to keep your children occupied... remember that you don’t have to entertain them all day long, and allowing them to be bored really IS good for them.