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Embrace the Boredom – Teaching Our Kids How To Fill the Void

“Mum…I’m bored….there’s nothing to do…..”

As the holidays come to a close I am sure this is not an altogether unfamiliar phrase to be heard from the mouths of our modern youth.

What do you do in that situation? Do you run around trying to organise play dates, visits to the movies, purchase a new Wii game ? All great fun things to be sure, but rather than fill in every conceivable minute with activities, maybe it is time we let out kids embrace ‘the art of being bored’.

No, not really an art, but nonetheless a skill at least that our children are often not given the chance to perfect. So why is it important, this idea of being bored, this need to unwind and to simply chill out?

The school term brings with it a life that is structured, full of extra curricula activities, after-school sports, training sessions and around the clock appointments that leave little time for anything but the essentials. Even our toddlers and pre-schoolers are kept entertained with playgroups, kindergyms, art and music classes. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these commitments, in fact they can be great for skills development and emotional and social growth and awareness. But like most things, we need to ensure that our children have a balance of this structure with down time, time to relax and time to unwind. They also need to be able to entertain themselves when the structure of term finishes and they are faced with a few extra hours of “free time”.  To help our children fill the void themselves, be happy with their own company and relish in the ‘downtime’, we need to start early in their childhood and ensure that we don’t always need to be the ones to entertain and provide the activities.

So to help our children “embrace the boredom”, they must know from an early age that it is not always the role of the parent to fill every millisecond with the offer of a myriad of choices to entertain, placate or stop the nagging.

Some ways to help ensure this, are to:

–          Give them plenty of time and opportunity for free play from an early age so that it becomes part of their process for filling in time.Encourage exercise without rules, or rules they make up themselves. Let them make up games and decide for themselves how it will play out. As they get older their games will become more sophisticated but they will tend to rely on themselves more for entertainment rather than you as the parent.

–         Allow your kids to “get into the zone” of something they are passionate about. Encourage those hobbies and interests they enjoy so that they have the ability to ‘get lost in the pursuit of them’. If they have these interests from an early age it is far more likely they will continue them through their teen years.

–         Role model interests yourself. Let them see that there are times when you are able to engage in activities that you enjoy, such as gardening, painting, writing or exercising. Not everything you do needs to be structured or run to a schedule and nor does it have to contribute to the running of the household. Sometimes we need to show that we are doing something for ourselves, for our own relaxation and fulfilment.

–         Get involved in your child’s interests for you as well as them, as this can help you as a parent learn to unwind as well. A quick game of cricket in the backyard is a much more productive way for my husband to unwind after work than plonking himself in front of the TV  (time for that when the kids are in bed). This ‘down time’ between parents and their kids has also proven to be a time when family members ‘loosen up’ and ‘connect’.

–        Try and encourage play without relying on electronic equipment. I am not saying that we can’t use the TV, video games or ipods to help our children “chill out”,  but it is far more advantageous for them to have many alternative ways to fill in their time. So be sure to have periods of time when no ‘devices’ are allowed.

We want our kids to be busy, active, motivated and energised and certainly this is helped by way of the activities we organise and the structure and routine that we initiate. We also however need this to be balanced with unscheduled, unplanned activity, whereby the child is forced to create their own fun and entertain themselves.

How do you respond to the cries of “boredom” and what sorts of things do you do to encourage free play?

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This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Oh how I love to hear my kids say they are bored…. ok yeah it does bug me a little bit, but I try to remember that if they are bored that means they have free time to do whatever they want, and I don’t think my kids (especially the twins who are at school) have enough time to just play and do whatever they want.
    These past school holidays whenever anyone has mentioned they are bored I’ve sent them outside… I don’t know why, but my kids are never bored when they are outside mucking around!

    1. Me too…and outside is also my answer for when they are getting loud….let the neighbours join in on the fun!

  2. Love it! I think it is so important to teach our kids to be ‘self starters’ and ammuse them selves. Thanks for writing this 🙂

    1. Thanks Loz, and yes sometimes we need to remind ourselves too that they are capable of amusing themselves…we just dont always give them the chance.

  3. I’m such a fan of having different “play stations” (as opposed to PlayStations) at home where kids can move from one activity to the next when they get bored – access to bikes and board games etc. I’m also in to rotating toys so when the novelty of a toy wears off it doesn’t get ignored forever.

    1. Love the “play stations” idea, and I definately have to get back into the rotating of toys for the youngest.I know there are so many toys here that are getting completely ignored!

  4. I love it. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful post. As a teacher there was one comment kids would make that made me go ‘bonkers’ and that was ‘I’m bored!’.
    I’ve never understood the term. I wouldn’t know what it means to be bored. How can you possibly ever be bored? There is always so much to do.
    Even as an adult I’m amazed by other adults claiming they are bored. Sometimes I wish for a time when I could be bored. I’d love to know what that feels like- just once.
    I’ve rambled. I loved your post. Great strategies and the main point is start young. Help kids enjoy their own company.

    1. Thankyou..and I too often think how nice to be bored…but then I know i’d just find something else to fill in the time!

  5. Fabulous post! I couldn’t agree more about the importance of children having time to be bored. It’s important to learn young how to deal with those moments and be inspired to create their own excitement. I firmly believe it’s a life skill as life is littered with quiet times, and sometimes solitude, and the ability to cope in those times is needed. As much as some parents may feel the need to step in and entertain them at every moment, it’s essential to remember that given the chance children will think of ways to entertain themselves. Then there are the benefits for all – it’s not just great for the kids, the parents get a few minutes for them as well. I love that precious time when I can sit and have a cup of coffee, knowing my little ones are happily entertaining themselves.

    1. Thanks. It certainly is a skill, and lets hope it is one that continues to be taught from an early age.

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