I Force 'Bored Time' On My Kids

by Sarah Cottrell
Originally Published: 

If you had been within earshot of my house last night then you would have heard my child calling me “the meanest mom in the world!” Sizzling shouts of protest ricocheted through the house as my kid stomped to his room to sulk in defeat.

I wouldn’t let him go swimming at the neighbor’s house. Again.

Now that my son is in school, his days are packed with activities that start as the sun is rising and he boards the school bus and end at bedtime after he has come home, done his homework, and (twice a week) gone to and returned home from kung fu lessons. That’s a lot of activity for a small kid.So, I have force “bored time” several days a week.

In an effort to combat the creeping schedules that threaten to overtake the full attention and zap the energy of my son, I ensure that he still gets to be a kid who uses his curiosity and has time to explore. When I was a kid, this was simply called free time or quiet time. At our house, we call it bored time, and it means that we must use the power of our own imaginations and the skills of our creativity to come up with interesting ways to pass the time.

During bored time, there are no screens. No iStuff. No calling friends. No visiting people. Instead, there is a small library of books and a craft table with a giant plastic bin filled with supplies to build all sorts of crazy things. There is the option to go outside. There are stories to be made up and songs to be sung. There are goofy dance-offs. We had a staring contest once that left my eyes twitching for the rest of that night.

Childhood is short enough already, so why jam it up with too much to do in an effort to skip time forward? When there is slowness, when I stop and breathe and pay attention to my kid, I notice the things that matter most to him, like how much he loves this one particular ash tree in our backyard because he once spied a butterfly cocoon in its branches.

I hear my son telling me long elaborate stories filled with funny characters like farting pirates and kung fu monkeys. He tells me his hopes and fears and trusts that talking to Mom and Dad is always a safe thing to do. Bored time—those hours carved out for just being a family or for my son to explore and build and create on his own—is the catalyst for these conversations and our bonding. That is a thing worth protecting.

As he grows older and school sports and social activities becomes more alluring, it will be harder to keep the bored time ritual alive. I won’t let my child sign up for more than one extracurricular activity in a school year. He’ll always be expected to eat dinner with us and spend at least some time home on the weekends. Screens will always be unplugged while we observe this house rule of using boredom to spur creativity and fun.

After my son finished his stomping and sulking, we chatted about how uncool he thinks bored time is. And as he yawned his way through his critical take on my “silly rules,” he showed me a picture he drew of a rocket ship that he wants to build out of cardboard after school. He wondered out loud how much duct tape we would need to make an escape hatch in case of alien invaders.

And while my kid throws an angry fist into the air when bored time is decidedly not what he wants to do, I know that in time he will begin to see the worth in it that I can see now. All of these pockets of time spent without the distractions of screens and schedules, social pressures and expectations, will help my son to mature into a man who can appreciate the ability of marveling at something so simple as a butterfly cocoon.

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