“Moooooooom! We’re bored!!! What can we do?”
Go outside? Nah. What about building me a space travel vehicle with LEGOs? That doesn’t sound fun. Build a fort? We’ve done that.
Seriously?????? I be this sounds familiar! Sometimes it makes me want to gnaw off one of my limbs. How do you put an end to it? This one trick will do it.
I clearly remember what my mom said to me: “If you’re bored, I can find something for you to do.” And, let me just tell you, my mother’s “something” never involved a trip to the candy shop.
I see the lists of things to do with bored children and, I’ll be honest. They sort of make my skin crawl. They are everywhere. Two things bother me about these lists. First, they convince moms that we must drop everything for bored children, run to a handy dandy list of boredom busters and immediately provide suitable entertainment. I used to do that. But now I’ve learned a better way. Now I’ve learned how doing this deprives my boys of skills that they are entitled to learn.
Don’t get me wrong – I love playing with the boys. We have great times together. I am, by any measure, an involved mother.
But if I dropped everything every time I had bored children, let’s face it, who would take care of them?And when they grow up, they would be left without the skills to fill their lives with activities that they are passionate about. I want them to know that alone need not mean lonely. I want them to feel comfortable with themselves and to know themselves. I want them to know that it is OK to be by themselves. It’s my job to provide them with the skills to fill their lives with activities they are passionate about.
I just love Dr. Laura Markham and her brilliant advice at Aha! Parenting. In her post, Why Boredom is Good for Your Child, she confirms the need to sometimes just let ’em be bored! You read that right – let ’em be bored! It’s terrifying, right? Will your house still be standing when it’s all said and done? Will you have a new mural on your walls? Will the dog have any fur left? Will the cat be tied to a scooter?
Sometimes children simply incorrectly identify “I want some time with you” as “I’m bored.” So to make sure that my house WILL still be standing, I spend just a few minutes of uninterrupted time with whoever is bored. I try to connect and help brainstorm activities that he can start and use as a springboard to create his own activities. Dr. Markham reminds us that a quick connection with you may be all it takes for them to figure out what to do on their own.
If that’s a no-go, I turn to advice such as this from Nancy H. Blakely:
“Preempt the time spent on television and organized activities and have them spend it instead on claiming their imaginations. For in the end, that is all we have. If a thing cannot be imagined first — a cake, a relationship, a cure for AIDS– it cannot be. Life is bound by what we can envision. I cannot plant imagination into my children. I can, however, provide an environment where their creativity is not just another mess to clean up but welcome evidence of grappling successfully with boredom. It is possible for boredom to deliver us to our best selves, the ones that long for risk and illumination and unspeakable beauty. If we sit still long enough, we may hear the call behind boredom. With practice, we may have the imagination to rise up from the emptiness and answer.”
My favorite lines are: “If we sit still long enough, we may hear the call behind the boredom. With practice, we may have the imagination to rise up from the emptiness and answer.” We may hear the call behind the boredom and learn to rise up and answer. Isn’t this great insight for us all?
The boredom our children experience is caused by a cacophony that blocks their ability to hear their own inner stirrings. This constant cacophony encourages them to turn a deaf ear to their inner voices. If they can’t hear their inner voices or imagine things or explore the things that they imagine, where is our future as a society? What if nobody ever dreamed about a cure for polio? What if nobody dreamed that the Berlin wall could be torn down? The world would surely be a different place without our dreamers. I, for one, love that one of my maternal tasks is to help create adults who can imagine. I take it seriously.
So that’s how you stop the cries of “Moooooooom! We’re bored!!! What can we do?” Give them the opportunity to handle their boredom and to hear the call behind their boredom. The more of these opportunities children are given, the stronger their skills will become. The stronger their skills become, the less not having scheduled activities bothers them. You will find that they will actually enjoy time to choose and control their own activities!
What is your family’s cacophony? Constant soccer games, baseball games, after school clubs, ballet lessons, gymnastics, video games, television, play dates? We all have some of these and, don’t get me wrong, that’s great. Variety is the spice of life. But when do we get swallowed whole? When have we structured so much of our time that we fail to leave unstructured time for our children to create dreams?
So, here’s your free pass mama – take it easy sometimes. You don’t always have to jump if you have a bored child. Let your kids be bored. It’s good for ’em! You are a good mother and not a failure. In fact, you are taking care of yourself AND providing your child with her opportunity to “have the imagination to rise up from the emptiness and answer.”