Up With Boredom!

Hi Readers! The other day I wrote a column on ParentDish called, “Just Chute Me.” I was saying — I thought — that we really do not have to play with our kids. We have to love and nurture them, yes, but unless we are really psyched for a game of CandyLand or make-believe, there’s no reason we have to do it. Kids can and should be able to entertain themselves.

Well I got a lot of blowback about how play is essential for kids. (Yes it is. That’s why they should learn how to do it.) I also kept hearing that any decent parent knows it is our job to get down on the floor or join our kids in the  sandbox, so that they can see we really love them.

It was hard to read all the comments, because many suggested only a lazy, awful parent balks at participating in playtime.  Also, that kids feel unloved unless we “show” them we care by doing the things they want to do, endlessly, even if we are tired or bored or busy.  A child’s desire to engage should always come first, many commenters implied. It would be interesting to see what would have happened to our species if we took this attitude when subsistence farming. (“I was GOING to plant next year’s wheat, but junior wanted to play tag and it’s so developmentally crucial!”)

I actually think there is something to be said for parental preoccupation. Not to the point of negligence, but definitely to the point of forcing the kids into a certain basic self-reliance mode.  A woman named  Emily Geizer agreed, pretty much, and wrote this defense of kiddie boredom. She’s the creator of Child Perspective, a site parents for parenting solutions that takes questions from readers, and also A Crash Course in Mindful Parenting.  Here’s her piece:

The Benefits of Boredom by Emily Geizer

Do your kids a favor. Let them get bored. Painfully bored.

Boredom is good for kids. It forces them to entertain themselves, which ignites their creative intelligence. From this, they learn that they can solve their own problems. This is HUGE!

Some parents will suggest boredom leads to trouble, or that we should want to play with our kids. True on both accounts.

But, since most kids are good kids (and hopefully yours is!), boredom usually leads to ingenuity rather than trouble. Bored kids recover by turning to books or art. Their initial frustration, if left unfettered, forces them to turn inward to solve their own problems.

While parents do need to connect with their kids, connection is different from entertaining or micromanaging. If you are a chronic child entertainer, then it’s time to change your game.

This doesn’t mean cutting all ties with your kid. Do take time to meaningfully engage with your child. But stop providing his entertainment! Set him free to discover his own ideas and interests. Gradually remove yourself from the role of entertainer.

  • Keep “doing nothing” or “relaxing” as viable options for your kids.
  • Limit all screen time significantly.
  • Send your kids outside, in all kinds of weather.
  • Get out a book and invite your kid to read.

None of us intend to raise kids who can’t figure out how to entertain themselves. Yet, a highly-sheltered, over-structured childhood is a by-product of the society in which we live. This results in kids who are dependent on constant direction. In other words, they have not learned to play by themselves or entertain themselves. Our kids have become entertainment junkies.

When your child complains of being bored, remind him that bored people are people who can’t figure out what to do. With all the confidence in the world reply, “I’m sure that you can find something interesting to do or simply relax.”