Divya Sainathan is a writer and editor with a special interest in early childhood education.
You’ll be surprised to learn that even your little preschooler or primary schooler needs some free time to let their minds wander or to explore their interests
Today, one of the greatest parenting challenges is how to help our children cope with the times when they have nothing to do. When we were kids, boredom inspired us to come up with innovative games and more mischief. For our kids, however, boredom has become a bit of an existential crisis! We cannot imagine our preschoolers or primary schoolers having a stretch of time in their day that’s completely unaccounted for. When they say, “I’m bored,” what do we do?
As we frantically scramble to fend off our kids’ boredom with screen time or structured activity, we unwittingly rob them of great learning opportunities. Boredom is not an evil from which we need to protect our kids. Instead, it’s a challenge they can rise to, one that pushes them to think and act for themselves.
Do you keep a reserve of toys and games in fear of the times your kid will come running to you saying they’re bored? Save yourself the trouble, and leave it to your little ones to figure out what to do with their free time.
Kids learn a host of critical skills when they look for ways to entertain themselves. Here are four ways boredom can help our children grow mentally and emotionally.
Boredom is a vacuum that needs to be filled, and it can be left to the child’s imagination to fill that vacuum with what they find interesting and meaningful. Our kids will be forced to seek new ways to have fun, or look at old things in a new light. Don’t be surprised if they build a pillow fort on your bed, or you find them having a gunfight from the trenches of Amazon cartons.
The more children explore on their own, the more they learn about themselves and what motivates them—their preferences, strengths, weaknesses, abilities and interests. Your highly energetic 4-year-old playing percussion on an upturned bucket could signal the start of a long and fruitful career in music. Ultimately, boredom can turn a child’s gaze inward and help them become self-aware.
Let your kid manage their boredom by themselves, and you’ll have a self-directed problem-solver on your hands. Instead of expecting you to give them something to do, they will think up ways to play. They will give free rein to their curiosity and imagination. Your child will devise their own projects, learning perseverance when they fail and growing in confidence when they succeed. Not to mention the invaluable lessons in organization, planning and execution that will help them as they navigate school, college and life.
Boredom is a pause button that slows your kid down and pulls them out of a dizzying loop of constant entertainment and activities. The free time also frees their mind to wander and eventually, your child will find some calm and quiet. When they do find a way to engage themselves, they can summon the patience and concentration required to complete a game or task.
Children will learn how to manage their confusion and frustration at not having anything to do, and their self-regulation skills will serve them well, even in adulthood.
We need to get over our desperate need to keep our kids constantly engaged, so that we can expose them to some aimless free time.
In our heavily digital world where answers and entertainment are just a click away, searching and waiting have become lost skills.
Constructive boredom is a break from overstimulation. It’s the absence of something that a child must figure out and fill by themselves.
Here are some ways to foster constructive boredom.
It’s not enough to merely allow our kids to get bored. We must also nurture an environment that abounds with play options and where our guidance is available to the young ones whenever they need it. With some effort and creative thinking, we can furnish every day, engaging solutions to boredom around the house.
|Ideas For Play|
Sit down with your kids and jot down all the games or activities they have enjoyed in the past or would like to try in the future. Put these ideas in a jar, or list them on a chart. They could serve as prompts or play ideas when your kids are bored.
In pursuit of sanity and a modicum of peace, we have taken it upon ourselves to engage and entertain our children so they never feel bored. We’ve equated boredom with laziness and an unflattering lack of purpose or imagination. It’s time we changed our approach to boredom.
Do not fear boredom. Embrace it, and turn it into something that brings your child closer to themselves and to you.