“I’m bored” “I don’t know what to do.” “What can I do, Mama?” The sounds of summer for some, the sounds of just about every day all year round for others. Kids get bored.
Does it stress you out?
This may not be a popular opinion, but you don’t have to create a boredom plan for every moment of your child’s life. Or maybe this opinion would be more popular if it were more acceptable to follow this advice. Relax, don’t let a bored child get to you. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, it may be the beginning of something good!
Do you ever feel like you need to entertain your children every moment of the day, all day? Perhaps it’s due to an overdose on Pinterest scrolling or the fact that a lot of people you know have enrolled their children in more activities than you can count on one hand. Whatever it is, there is definitely pressure to keep your kids busy with the right activities to help them in their development. Maybe you’re scared that if you DON’T keep your kids busy, you’re not providing them with what they need to succeed.
Rest assured that this is certainly not the case. You can actually help your child by allowing a bit of boredom in their life. Why? There’s a long list of benefits to letting your child figure out how to use their time on their own. What are some of them?
Benefits of Boredom
If your child is allowed to be bored at times, it’s likely they’ll develop the following skills:
- Independence – Your child will independently find a solution, meaning that they feel more in charge of themselves. Rather than being dependent (the opposite of independent) on an adult to direct them, children find something to do.
- Creativity – When your child is bored, they are more likely to work hard to come up with something interesting to entertain themself. If you’re riding in the car or in a waiting room, your child might begin imagining a story in their head, searching for certain kinds of cars out the window or similar. However, if your child watches a video or plays a game on your phone instead, this opportunity is lost.
- Problem-solving skills – The problem? Boredom. The solution? It could be anything really. That’s the beauty of being bored. Your child has the chance to work through this real-life problem and explore their possible responses and reactions. Sometimes your child might whine or get angry. Sometimes they might wander around the house or wherever you are to seek ideas for what to do. You can help your child cultivate healthy coping mechanisms for boredom. More on these later.
- Boosts self-motivation – Ever used an exciting opening to get your child to try a new activity? You might use an enthusiastic tone of voice, or explain what the benefits of the activity will be. When your child is bored and allowed to struggle through it until they pick an activity on their own, they have to be their own motivator. With no outside voice telling them how much fun it will be to build a Lego replica of the empire state building, they’ll have to discover the motivation to undertake such an activity on their own.
If you’re curious to learn what psychologists are saying about the importance of children experiencing boredom, check out this article.
What did Montessori say?
Montessori believed that children needed to build skills to become independent. That’s one of the reasons why she emphasized practical life so strongly, especially for the youngest students. In addition, in any Montessori classroom, children are in charge of picking meaningful activities to engage in. Although guidance is provided from teachers, children are largely responsible for picking their own work.
This means that children might get bored, even when surrounded by activities. In fact, Montessori noticed that in every work cycle (typically 3 hours) children experience a “false fatigue” in which children may get noisier and act as though they’ve lost the ability to concentrate. However, as you can guess by the name “false”, kids aren’t actually done working. They just experience a shift in energy and maybe even get bored, before hunkering down to a more concentrated state again.
There’s a fine line between allowing plenty of unstructured, truly free-time and not providing your child with the necessary stimulation.
Montessori believed that many children show behavioral problems because they are bored and not provided with the necessary stimulation. She also discovered that many children who were believed to have developmental problems were understimulated. Yet, Montessori also encouraged children to be self-directed. How did she achieve this elusive balance?
The keys are the prepared environment and having the skills to deal with boredom. Montessori believed each classroom should be equipped with inviting activities that children would love to do. Secondly, she also taught basic life skills including how to be silent! Perhaps it’s this practical view of silence we’ve ignored. Being lost in your own thoughts may be something we should actively model and teach so that our children can appreciate times of quiet boredom, turned into reflection.
How SHOULD you respond to “I’m bored”?
There are some practical ways to respond to being bored. First, there are some preventative measures you can take so that your child responds more positively to boredom and uses you as a last resort. What can you do?
Prepare your Space
Similarly to Montessori’s prepared environment, leave the supplies your child needs out and accessible. Create an art station full of supplies that your child knows how to use. Keep puzzles and books easily accessible. Provide stimulating, open-ended toys for your child to play with such as building blocks, Legos, magnet busy board etc. Don’t forget your outdoor space if you have one. Add gardening tools and a designated digging space if possible. If you’re stuck inside, create a way for your child to participate in caring for household plants. Don’t forget to involve your child in chores and regular household tasks that they can easily work on as they please. I say this because I’m always shocked at how often Peanut says “Mama I want to wash my shoes” or similar. This is clearly an important task for him that is sometimes his boredom solution.
Practice skills like sitting in silence and deciding on something to do. Yes! Practice deciding what to do. Talk about how you make decisions yourself, and invite your child to think through their decision making process out loud as well. For example “Hmm, what should I do now? I have a book I want to read, but I also need to wash the dishes. First I’ll wash the dishes and then I’ll read my book.” This modeling can help your child discover how to decide what to do and also learn to prioritize.
Of course, your child is still going to come out with the “I’m bored,” and “What should I do?” from time to time. What can you do to acknowledge the problem and empathize without completely solving the problem for them?
This was my Dad’s favorite growing up and it’s now my go-to “I’m bored” solution. He would write a list of 2 or 3 ideas, and we had to think of 2 or 3 ideas also. Then, we had to pick something from the list (or come up with yet another idea on our own) and get to it! This method helps solve the problem, but doesn’t leave your child completely off the hook either.
Design a Project
This idea works best for older children. Ask your child to research an art, craft or experiment they’d like to try. They need to create a mini-report on it for you including a materials list and what it involves. Provided they meet your requirements, you’ll help them buy the materials necessary to complete the activity.
Act of Kindness
Encourage your child to think of someone in the family, neighborhood or community who could use some cheering up. Have your child make a card or write a letter to that person. Then, ask your child to think of a gift for that person such as a bouquet of flowers from the backyard, baking a batch of cookies or making a pot of soup, etc.
Another one of my favorite responses. Although it’s usually more like, “I’m sorry you’re feeling bored. I’m sure you can think of something interesting to do.” Keep in mind that my kids have access to plenty of stimulating activity, including Montessori homeschooling materials, pets to care for, art supplies, blocks, books, etc. If the boredom continues, I usually end up with “Go outside. There are lots of interesting things to look at outside.” And that’s that!
Some scientific studies suggest that boredom is also beneficial for adults. So, start embracing boredom! Now that you know boredom can be good for you and your kids, you can even feel a little bit grateful when your child whines “I’m bored.” It’s an opportunity.