“Mom, I’m booooored.”
Ask any parent what phrase they hate the most and the majority will say that they loathe hearing their kids whine about being bored. We’ve all been there too. Whether you are working from home or trying to accomplish daily tasks of parenting and child-rearing, a kid whining that they have nothing to do is just plain annoying. And as any parent can attest, a kid following you around demanding to be entertained gets old really fast.
But, here’s the thing: If your kid is bored, it’s not their fault.
It’s your fault that your kid is standing in the kitchen bellowing that he doesn’t have a single thing to entertain him.
If kids don’t have the skills to handle boredom, it’s because we as parents haven’t taught our kids how to be bored. Just as we taught them how to brush their teeth, ride a bike, and tie their shoes, we have to help kids foster their creativity during the times they feel that their environment isn’t stimulating enough. When a child says to you, “I’m bored,” what they are really saying is, “Mom, I’ve run out of things to do, and now I need you to fix it because I don’t have the skills to create my own fun.”
Sorry, kid, but I don’t give a shit if you are bored. Run along and go build a fort or something because this mom isn’t your playmate.
And while yes, I have a very blasé attitude toward boredom, it’s taken me years of helping my kids feel comfortable in their boredom to get here. I decided early on that I was not cut out to be the parent who entertained her kids from sunrise to sunset. At the risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon, I often referred back to my own childhood and realized that save for a few times my mom sat on the floor and played a game with my brothers and me or piled us in her green Granada to get an ice cream at Dairy Queen, my mother was most certainly not my playmate. And I was fine with that.
My brothers and I were literally forced to find our own forms of entertainment. We’d stage musical shows in our family room. We’d run around our neighborhood like hooligans, giving chase on bikes and Big Wheels. We played unending games of Monopoly and UNO and had arguments over who cheated. We sought out our friends when we got tired of hanging out with each other, and — gasp — once in a while, we even picked up a book and spent an afternoon in solitude.
Boredom lead to creativity when I was a kid, but that is no longer the case for many of the kids of today.
Somewhere along the way, we decided that every minute of the day has to be entertaining for our children. We have cars with DVD players and restaurants with iPads on the table. We have Netflix and Hulu, ever at the ready for electronic babysitting. We have afternoon schedules jammed with sports, activities, and clubs, and we have a staggering number of sports games and birthday parties on weekends. Kids can play video games virtually anywhere, thanks to the aforementioned electronics, and kids get very little downtime to just sit and be bored and figure things out for themselves.
So when the rare situation arises that a kid perceives that he has nothing to do, boredom can feel strange and unnerving. But a kid who knows how to channel boredom into creativity is a kid who will rarely utter the phase, “I’m bored.”
We have to give our kids the tools to self-motivate and feel autonomous when presented with unstructured time. We have to challenge them to want more for themselves than just sitting on the couch, waiting for someone to present them with a new option. And we need to help them feel in control of their situation and develop confidence in their creative skills.
But how? How do we foster creativity when we have a hard time separating ourselves from our devices and social media apps?
We start by simply letting our kids work through their boredom when the time arises.
We can resist the urge to come up with suggestions for activities when our kids announce they are bored.
We can build scheduled downtime into our daily lives. Even a half-hour of daily quiet time for everyone in the house will lead to an increase in creativity. Or an increase in the books they read. And that means you, too, Mom: Put that phone down and ignore the laundry.
We can say no to the iPad at the restaurant table and to the DVD on the way to the grocery store. Seriously, does a kid really need to watch Peppa Pig on the seven-minute ride to get milk and eggs? I mean, I love screen time, for my kids and for myself, but sometimes it just gets to be too much, right?
We can turn the television off, change the password to the household Wi-Fi, and see what happens. Sure, there will be bickering and histrionics at first, but if you stand firm, the magic of boredom will begin to shine. Your kids will eventually find something to do. The more they do it without your help, the less you are going to hear the “I’m booored” whining.
And though fostering creativity in my kids means I now have more art supplies than A.C. Moore and my house is a repository for forgotten science experiments and blanket forts, the sounds of my kids putting their minds into something creative (and working together) reminds me that my life is never boring.