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.”

“Supervision Doesn’t Mean Being Attached at the Hip”

Hi Readers — This comment,  from a gal named Elizabeth, puts things in perspective — especially when it comes to the current obsession with never letting go of our kids, ever. Not even for a minute. Literally.

Yes, free-range is about empowering children, no doubt. But it’s also about not living in fear and realizing that other human beings can be sources of help, suppors, and understanding. Sometimes, taking a deep breath and realizing that  it is infinitely more likely that nothing bad will happen than that it will does make parents’ lives easier in the moment, and it also makes kids proud to be trusted.

My 4 1/2 year old is smart, confident, capable, and understands more about what’s going on around her than many adults I’ve known. Leaving her in a locked, turned-off car for three minutes to go pick up dinner isn’t about me being lazy, it’s about me not being paranoid about the nearly impossible.

Remember, supervision (which I am generally in favor of) doesn’t mean being attached at the hip, it’s about being AWARE and paying attention. And, yes, that can happen from 15 feet away!

We need to remember that while there are some bad people who do bad things in the world the vast majority of people are good and decent and enjoy helping one another.

Free-Range Success — Thanks to Laziness!

Dear Readers — Here’s a success story from Plano, Texas!

We live about 200 yards from the school.  Our block ends across the street from the front of the school.  The crossing guard is one street over (on our same block, so no need for kids to cross a street).  Yet, every single child on our block either had their parent walk them to school or stood outside their house until they could see their child walk into the school.  Even our neighbors with fifth graders did this!

Under peer pressure, I did this while my oldest was in kindergarten and first grade.  When my girls were in kindergarten and second grade, I got laid off.  I admit it was laziness (I wasn’t dressed yet, because I wasn’t going to work) that finally made me act by my convictions and let the girls walk to school by themselves.  Since I was unemployed, I took them out of the after-school program, and they started walking home from school by themselves as well.

At first, I thought all of my neighbors would be talking about what a slacker parent I was.  Then a funny thing happened.  All of the parents on our block started letting their kids walk to school by themselves.  Another funny thing happened, the kids started walking together with other kids from our block.  They started to actually get to know one another.

It’s funny to think that I was so worried that the other parents would think bad things about me for letting my girls walk to school by themselves, but it turns out they were all so relieved that they could finally let their kids walk by themselves!