As common as beach trips, ice cream, and BBQ’s is the familiar sound of children everywhere saying, “I’m bored.”
In a world where “busy is better”, some parents tend to rush to fill their children’s time with activities to keep them entertained. From screen time to camps, clubs, and classes, parents fight to keep their children occupied. The desire to fill your child’s world with excitement and adventure stems from your love of them… or your obsession with Disney movies… and we can’t judge either. However, child experts suggest that there are some major benefits of letting your children have unstructured time/play- the kind of activities that children can do without the guidance of parents, uncontrolled, with no clear object or rule. In the time it may take for children to initiate this kind of play, we hear the dreaded cry of boredom.
Here are 5 reasons it’s okay for your child to be “bored”:
2. They will learn how to “adult”. Lynn Fry, a child psychologist in London, says, “If parents spend all their time filling their child’s spare time, then the child’s never going to learn to do this for themselves.” Your child will need to know what activities they enjoy so they can use their free time wisely. Give your child the time to discover what interests them. Researchers in Germany found that, “people who recall having plenty of free time in childhood enjoy high levels of success as adults.” Lynn Fry also adds,
“Your role as a parent is to prepare children to take their place in society. Being an adult means occupying yourself and filling up your leisure time in a way that will make you happy.” (via Quartz)
3. They will be more reflective. Doing nothing is important. Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips writes, “The capacity to be bored can be a developmental achievement for the child.” Huffington Post has a great article entitled “Why You Should Do Nothing When Your Child Says, ‘I’m Bored’”. In it, the author explains:
“The constant stimulation of today’s reality makes arriving at [a] place of stillness really challenging for a lot of kids. Screens are everywhere and become a mind-numbing outlet… School demands are significant… And busy has become the new “cool” — almost like there is an unspoken message to all of us that you have worth if you are busy.”
Recently there has been a focus on the benefits of quiet time and meditation. It is easy to get caught up in the perpetual motion of life, making it even more important to stop and examine yourself. Boredom is a chance for your child to contemplate life, let the world around them grow quiet, and listen to themselves.
4. They will learn how to manage their time. Time management is a constant struggle for many adults. Unstructured time challenges children to not only determine what they will do, but also how long they will do it. Free time allows them to explore their own passions. Managing time well is a learned skill and it needs to be developed. Life is full of completing tasks and moving onto the next one, making unstructured time even more important. Children need to discover and grow their interests, exploring and pursuing them early in their childhood. Give them the gift of time they can consume freely, spending it how they like.
5. They will be more creative. An article on Aha! Parenting quotes Nancy H. Blakey who says,
“Preempt the time spent on television and organized activities and have them spend it instead on claiming their imaginations. For in the end, that is all we have. If a thing cannot be imagined first — a cake, a relationship, a cure for AIDS — it cannot be. Life is bound by what we can envision. I cannot plant imagination into my children. I can, however, provide an environment where their creativity is not just another mess to clean up but welcome evidence of grappling successfully with boredom. It is possible for boredom to deliver us to our best selves, the ones that long for risk and illumination and unspeakable beauty. If we sit still long enough, we may hear the call behind boredom. With practice, we may have the imagination to rise up from the emptiness and answer.”
Artist Grayson Perry also believes boredom is beneficial for adults:
“As I get older, I appreciate reflection and boredom. Boredom is a very creative state.” (via BBC)
Your child’s cry of boredom is not necessarily a call to action for you to find ways to occupy their time. After all, children have the rest of their life to be busy. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your child is nothing.