How to Help Your Kids Benefit from Boredom
With summer break a little over a month away, you can almost hear it now: “I’m BORED.”
While the slumpy complaining and morose attitude can be frustrating to witness, all boredom is not created equal—and most types are actually good for child development.
Researchers have identified five types of tedium:
- Indifferent boredom – relaxed, withdrawn, indifferent
- Calibrating boredom – uncertain, receptive to change or distraction
- Searching boredom – restless, active pursuit of change or distraction
- Reactant boredom – motivated to leave a situation for specific alternatives
- Apathetic boredom – the unpleasant feeling of helplessness or depression
Researchers say living in this Age of Information overloads our minds with information that produces a scarcity of attention and the ability to engage in productive activities. Allowing boredom provides the mind with a relaxing break that alleviates stress. Allowing the mind to wander and daydream can trigger self-reflection, development of goals, and heightened creativity. Boredom motivates the search for novelty, improved self-control, and fulfillment.
You can interpret your child’s boredom as an emotional signal that something in life needs adjusting. We’ve all been there when unstructured time that doesn’t involve screens results in squabbles, meltdowns, and wrestle fights. To attain household harmony, your child’s life needs a healthy balance between structured activity and idle time.
Here are a few ways to tweak the summer routine ever so slightly to allow boredom:
- Plan together time. Sometimes “I’m bored” is really your child’s way of saying, “I need to spend more quality time with you.” Proactively schedule small chunks of together time into your day. Maybe it’s a quick post-breakfast talk and walk around the block or a half hour of board games after you finish work or Friday family movie night. A little goes a long way.
- Set up surprises. After your child goes to bed, set out toys for your child to “discover” in the morning. There are probably many toys your child has forgotten about—be it a Lego set, MagnaTiles, paper dolls, puppets, puzzles, or craft supplies. Arrange a plastic animal scene, a stuffed animal tea party, or a blanket fort. Set out a bin of random open-ended play items like pipe cleaners, colored scarves, cookie cutters, costumes, or paper rolls for your child to find and consider. Buy supplies and invite your child to dig, plant, and decorate their own garden. Rotating your child’s environment with new playthings every few days keeps the days fresh and inspiring without requiring immediate oversight from you.
- Make a list of boredom busters. Have your child help you brainstorm a list of what to do when the doldrums inevitably strike. Keep the list in a handy place for your child’s reference.
- Make a snuggle up and snack spot. Create a quiet corner of the house with a beanbag chair, reading light, snacks, books, stuffed animals, and blankets. Let your child know whenever that feeling of boredom rises, this special spot is always waiting to take the mind on an adventure. You might consider using a sticker chart or punch card with a reward for 10 uses of this space as a way of incentivizing constructive use of boredom.
- Help your child set goals. Sometimes we feel aimless when we have no hopes or dreams. Help your child pinpoint a goal to work on this summer, whether it’s achieving a new development milestone like riding a bike or tying laces, taking instrument or sports lessons, finishing a Summer Learning workbook, or learning how to draw. Setting aside time each day to work on improving a life skill can be empowering and productive.
Yes, summer boredom can be fun! If you find these steps aren’t cutting the mustard, remember you can always stop into the new Shine studio in the Hamptons for fun workshops and classes geared toward children 0-12. Contact us for schedules and details.