A busy kid is a happy kid, but what about a bored kid? Well, contrary to what your little complainer may think, a bit of boredom is actually a good thing. And according to Teresa Belton, visiting fellow at the University of East Anglia, in the UK, parents needn't feel pressured to entertain and educate their children every second of every day. In fact, letting them twiddle their thumbs now and then can open up new opportunities for creativity, development and life-long fulfilment.
What are the benefits of being at a loose end?
Ms Belton says, "Parents often feel guilty if children complain of boredom. But it's actually more constructive to see boredom as an opportunity rather than a deficit." Feeling "borrrrrrrrred" is a chance for children to reflect, problem-solve, try new things and develop important life skills, including:
What role can parents play?
The idea is to support children, rather than offer ready-made boredom busters. This means parents should:
- Encourage children to be curious, persistent, playful, interested and confident
- Give them the space, time and opportunity to make a mess (within limits)
- Provide materials they can entertain themselves with, e.g. a cardboard box or a magnifying glass
- Offer inspiration if they're lost for ideas
What about screen time?
Keeping a child entertained constantly is a tall order, and screen time is an easy way to fill the gaps in your child's day and give everyone some downtime. Although children can easily find entertainment in just a few clicks or by playing a video game, however, research has indicated that TV-watching can lessen a child's imaginativeness, so it's a good idea to leave your child to their own devices now and then (and we don't mean electronic devices!).
How can parents help provide boredom solutions?
Instead of parking them in front of a screen, prompt your child's imagination and steer them towards self-play by setting creative challenges. Here are six fun things to do when bored that can be so much fun that parents can suggest to their children when boredom strikes them in their free time:
- Make up a song/dance routine or learn the routine from his/her favorite music videos
- Invent a game, e.g. dinosaur hunting outside or a board game inside
- Write a book or diary, including drawings and/or photos
- Create a backyard obstacle course (if you have outdoor space) or build an inside fort
- Invent a recipe like making his/her own homemade ice cream or sandwich
- Challenge them to learn/find three new things like learning a new language or finding out three new things about a family member.
You could also suggest that your child recreates his/her favourite restaurant meal, or learn an old family recipe and have that at your next dinner party.
What parents should do once children find their own things to do when bored?
Once your child is preoccupied, you can use this as your parent downtime. It's a time to relax and enjoy little pleasures like concocting a great new cocktail recipe and enjoying a glass of it or a great time to be hyper-focused and look into your savings and checking accounts. You can also spend this time doing something for your spouse like writing little love notes and putting them in your significant other's coat pockets or planning your next dinner date.
And on that note, let's help children move through boredom and beyond!