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The Many Gifts Of Childhood Boredom

Written by: Kari Kling, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

I’m sooooo BORED… If you are a parent, I’m betting you’ve heard those words come out of your child’s mouth more than once, especially during the last two years or when on an extended vacation from school. Yes? As the mom of 20-year-old twin boys, I have heard it too. And…it doesn’t even have to happen after a long period of unstructured time. I know of a mom who told me her children were complaining about being bored on the third day of summer vacation. Have you been there too?

Those dreaded words, “I’m soooo bored,” may propel some parents into action by providing never-ending activities for their children, thinking they need to transform themselves into their child’s own personal CEO: Chief Entertainment Officer. I’m encouraging you not to do this.


It is my goal that by the time you are finished reading this article, you will have a deeper understanding about why boredom occurs, The Boredom Cycle, why you shouldn’t become your child’s ‘CEO,’ and the many gifts that childhood boredom may bring.


When my now 20-year-old twin boys were very young and would come running to tell me how bored they were, my animated and truly genuine response would be, “I’m soooo excited to hear this! I’ve been waiting for this moment and it’s finally here! Thank goodness!” As you can probably imagine, my boys would look at me, then each other, and give the ‘our mom is pretty weird’ eye roll and facial expressions that said it all.


Here's how I define what happens with children and ‘The Boredom Cycle:’

  1. Child complains, “I’m bored”

  2. Parent rushes in to make suggestions of activities that the child can do and stops what they’re doing to entertain the child

  3. Child tires of activity, repeats “I’m bored” and the cycle repeats.

The most important factor here is to be able to recognize when ‘The Boredom Cycle’ is happening and how to stop it. Let’s begin by exploring what may really be going on when your child tells you that they’re bored:

  1. Could your child be saying “I’m BORED” because they want your attention?

  2. Could your child be saying “I’m BORED” due to learned helplessness?

  3. Is your child being given choices about how they spend their time, or is his/her schedule being ‘done to’ them?

  4. Is your child a product of the ‘instant gratification’ in our culture, expecting everything in a nanosecond and hasn’t yet learned how to model patience while engaging in creative and imaginative activities?

Let’s face it, most parents are very busy. Raising children, having careers, taking care of the house, grocery shopping, preparing meals, etc., take up our time until we feel like we could collapse when we fall into bed each night. Sometimes, it feels like making one-on-one time with our children, even though we want to, is very limiting.


As a mom, parent coach, and educator/counselor, I understand and here are my thoughts. Try to schedule daily one-on-one time with your children, even if only 10-15 minutes. Children of all ages reach out to parents in different ways when they are trying to make a deeper connection and yearn for attention. For some children, that may look like, “I’m bored.”


When a child bemoans, “I’m bored,” that may also be a trigger for a parent to ‘fix’ the situation by giving the child something to do. Yes, it’s vital to give your child opportunities to begin to fill their time and inspire thoughts based on their own internal interests. It’s also important for a child, even a very young child, to learn how to make decisions about how they begin to spend their time and not always rely on a parent in the moment.


Most of us deal with constant stimulation from the external world. Providing our children with quiet time to think, ponder and wonder is a precious gift for the development of higher-level thinking and deep thought. It also models for the child that it’s important to have original ideas, creativity, and imagination while not always filling their brains with external stimuli or someone else’s thoughts. Learning how to think deeply and form creative thought doesn’t happen in a flash. It’s important for children to have some ‘down time’ to develop these cognitive processes. Being ‘bored’ could signify that these thinking skills need more time to evolve.


We live in a world consumed with instant gratification. Almost anything that we want can be delivered to our doorstep in a matter of hours or days. This leads to patterns of behavior that begin to expect that everything should happen in a nanosecond. I believe that increased instant gratification is partially responsible for the “I’m so bored” cycle in so many children.


Many children aren’t used to waiting for much of anything these days. When I was a teenager, our family didn’t have a lot of money, and we had to buy clothes on ‘layaway.’ After choosing the clothes that I wanted from a given store, a small deposit was required to begin the layaway process. From that time, I would babysit or do various jobs to earn a few dollars, then bring my hard-earned cash to the store to make another payment. This pattern continued until I had enough money to pay for my new shirt or outfit. It seemed that when I was growing up, everything I did or wanted took time.


As you raise your own children, I encourage you to create situations within your family that model ‘wait time’ and patience. Ordering something online? Use the slowest shipping method possible. Do your children want a new toy or piece of sports equipment? Take a large clear jar, tape a picture of the desired item on it and then provide opportunities for your kids to do extra chores/odd jobs to earn the money to buy it. When you have enough money, bring the money-filled jar to the store to purchase the long-awaited item. Your child’s level of appreciation of the item will soar when they have the experience of earning things slowly themselves. This will also have a direct impact on your child’s ‘boredom’ as it impedes instant gratification.


Here are some parenting strategies to support your breaking of the ‘Boredom Cycle:’

  1. Attempt to decrease ‘instant gratification’ by limiting video games, which are designed to give instant gratification, and purposefully increase the time needed to obtain something.

  2. Encourage “wait time” for anything. Model for your child what to do while waiting those few extra minutes, hours, days, etc. This will look different based on the age of your child. Some examples could include: singing, thinking, wondering, observing, reading, playing, drawing, etc.

  3. Empower your child with their own decision-making about how they spend some of their time by providing guided choices. Is ‘free time’ built into their schedule or is all of their time accounted for?

  4. Teach ‘patience’ by pointing out this character trait when you observe it in your child, with others either in real life, in a movie, or in a character in a book. Discuss how your family has used patience in the past and give specific praise to your child when he/she exhibits it. Increased patience leads to less boredom.

The ‘I’m Bored’ Jar


Introducing an ‘I’m Bored’ jar is a fun and tangible way to help end ‘The Boredom Cycle.’ Work as a team with your children before they complain about being bored. Take some time to brainstorm activities with your children that they would enjoy and can be done independently once the supplies to do so are available. You’ll want to have possible supplies in a safe place that your children may access by themselves.

To begin, brainstorm multiple categories of enriching activities with your child. Activities will vary based on age levels and interests. You may even want to color-code them into broad categories. This way, your child can know, for example, that blue would be a type of arts and crafts activity or that green would be something to do with nature. There’s no right or wrong, just use your imagination and go for it! Some examples of categories include:

  1. Inside/Outside Games

  2. Reading/Writing

  3. Kitchen: Cooking/Baking

  4. Thinking/Daydreaming Time

  5. Music/Drama/Dance

  6. Arts/Crafts

  7. Games/Puzzles

  8. Create an Invention

  9. Mapping Skills

  10. Math Games/ Problems

  11. Science Experiments

  12. Geography: Map Reading/Locations/Capitals

  13. Computer Games/Coding

  14. Water Games

  15. Building: Legos/Wood/Blocks/other

  16. Outdoor Riding: Bike/Scooter/etc.

  17. Research About A Current or Future Pet

  18. Help a Local Charity by Collecting Old Toys/Clothes at Home for Donation

  19. Indoor/Outdoor Play

  20. Puppet Play

Then, the excitement really begins! With your child, create folded cards of specific activities to put in the jar, such as the examples in the photo. Model for your child that if they ever have time and they’re not sure what they can do, they can simply pull a card from the jar for an idea. Write a different idea on a folded piece of paper, or you can draw a picture if your child isn’t old enough to read. If your child chooses a card and decides they don’t want to do that activity, no worries, they can just pick another one.

The ’I’m Bored’ jar acts as a way for children to have enriched opportunities at their fingertips while becoming more independent, self-reliant, confident and creative in the process. Good-bye, ‘Boring Cycle!’


In summary, the 'many gifts of boredom' include:

  • inspiring creativity

  • guiding children away from instant gratification

  • empowering children to learn more about their own interests

  • allowing for the development of more independence/self-reliance

  • encouraging patience

  • encouraging independent/higher level thinking

  • fostering intrinsic motivation

  • allowing for helping others/charity work

Soooo…the next time your child tells you ‘I'm soooo bored,’ feel free to respond with some of my favorite words: “I’m soooo excited to hear this! I’ve been waiting for this moment and it’s finally here! Thank goodness!” As your child gives you back the look that says ‘my mom (or dad) is pretty weird’ and rolls their eyes, you’ll feel so excited because you will know that you’re about to give your children some of the greatest assets of their life…the many gifts of boredom.


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


 

Kari Kling, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Kari Kling, M.Ed., Parent Coach


Kari’s 40 years of experience as an internationally recognized educator, counselor, parent coach, and author/speaker has given her the expertise to guide thousands of parents to reach their parenting goals. Kari’s solid understanding of how we behave and learn is grounded in neuroscience.


Kari is a sought-after keynote and featured speaker for national and international conferences. She loves to meet and work with parents and their families in her home state of Arizona, nationally, and globally.


Kari states that her most powerful learning experience about parenting has been being the mom to her 20-year-old twin boys, as they have been her greatest teachers.


You can email Kari to learn more about her parent coaching services at: kari@karikling.com

or check out her website and social media.

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