Before we share with you how to overcome the challenges of boredom, let us start by telling you that boredom is good for your children. You might need to read that again… boredom is good!
Now, we do know that hearing the incessant cries of “I’m bored” is enough to drive any parent to seek a quiet corner (probably the bathroom with a lockable door), but there is value in being bored. It’s in boredom that our children can daydream and daydreaming leads to being more creative. Creativity is a great cure for boredom – and if you read our previous blog last week on creativity, you’ll know what brilliant benefits it has for our children’s mental health and well-being (and our own).
We often work with children to support them in identifying and planning ways to be more creative to enable them to increase their serotonin (that happy chemical that we talk about so often). We will talk about the 3Ps (how children can have more positive interactions, take positive action and increase their positive thoughts). It can be interesting that children can find it quite difficult initially to identify the things they enjoy doing, especially if we challenge them to share things outside of gaming and YouTube!
You may find that your children (and teens) look to you to provide the entertainment over the summer holidays, especially if you are expecting them to take a break from their screens. This can be frustrating as your idea of fun may be quite different to theirs and we can feel that every suggestion we offer is not well received. Even if we do get a positive response, it means that the onus is always on us to entertain and we can be stealing away the opportunity for our children to be creative.
So, what other benefits are there for allowing our children to experience periods of boredom?
- Researchers agree that children experiencing periods of boredom develop their ability to be both creative and productive. Can you recall watching your children when they were younger sit and play for hours with a dolls house, Play Mobil or Lego? Creating their own worlds supports them in developing their imagination.
- Periods of boredom also provide a break from over-stimulating technology of gaming and YouTube. We all know the benefits of this! Encouraging those healthy breaks between screen time is so important for overall well-being.
- When we have the opportunity to be bored, we find opportunities to think outside the box. This also develops resilience and allows children to have opportunity to try things without the fear of failure
- When we allow our children to be bored and find their own solutions to boredom, they try new things. It also allows them to become more independent and boosts their self-esteem. When children are bored there is an opportunity for their imagination to spark!
Like all new habits, there are ways that we can teach, support and encourage our children in making better choices. In simple terms, our brains are made up of two parts, our intellectual mind and our primitive mind:
- When we are in our intellectual mind, we generally make good decisions, are more positive, can make a proper assessment of a situation and are more creative. Have you notice when your children have reached the ‘bored’ phase that they get locked into certain behaviours? They are frustrated and negative and no amount of positive suggestion from you is taken as a viable solution!
- We can get stuck in our primitive minds. It is really difficult to be creative when this happens and we can only respond with the three primitive responses of: anger, anxiety or depression. In their primitive mind, our children are unable to access their intellectual mind and so get stuck in the “I’m bored” phase – and you have probably experienced that this is now not the best time to start asking for creative suggestions as to how they are going to entertain themselves.
So, how can we support our children if they get stuck in being bored?
- Make Plans. Do this when they are in their intellectual mind – this is likely to be when they have just finished doing something they really enjoyed. Help them to create a list of activities that they enjoy doing, ideally things they can do independently and that are within their control. They could then number this list and use a random number generator on an app (or get you to select a random number for them). They could decorate a jar and write each activity on a piece of paper to select at random, or they could peruse their list at their leisure and select an activity that takes their fancy.
- Schedule outdoor time (harder with teenagers but still possible). Encourage them to include outside activities on their list. It might be a bike ride, walk with friends, playing in the back garden, or other activity they enjoy.
- Give them the opportunity to earn pocket money. This might involve asking them to earn money by doing in chores (we find this can be an instant cure for boredom!) or decide together how they might earn it.
- Remember to keep being creative! With younger children (or even teenagers – sometimes we forget how much they love stickers and paint too), put together a box of books, pens, card, blankets and pegs. Encourage them to think imaginatively about what they could make. You may be surprised to find them sat in a den happily reading or drawing.
- Provide structure. You can’t predict when they are going to be bored but you can let them know when there are planned activities and when you are expecting them to entertain themselves (perhaps with siblings). This can be especially helpful for teenagers. Let them know that there are days when you are happy for them to stay in bed on YouTube until lunch time but there are days when you expect them to come out for a walk or join you in visiting grandparents. It can be good to remember that although they like to have time to relax, our children spend a large part of the term time engaged in directed tasks and it can be unsettling to have no structure in place at all. It can be helpful to have a conversation with each child to identify how much structure they need as some may need more than others.
- Create goals. Summer could be a great time to set a goal or start a new hobby, or to put plans in place for the coming year. What might yours or your child’s be?
- Lead by example. Be a good role model. Remember that you need time to unplug and be creative too. Let them see you colouring or drawing, relaxing whilst listening to music or indulging in a creative hobby yourself!
And remember to take time for yourself as parents too. Create a quiet 10 minutes with a cup of tea to check out our Parent Pad blogs each week! (There is a wealth of resources now with over 50 blogs, covering topics from stress and anxiety, to creating good habits, resilience and getting our teens to talk).
To support your children with goal setting you could revisit a blog from the beginning of the year, such as: Goal Setting, the brain’s reward system.
We hope some of these ideas will help you and your children embrace boredom a little more easily and encourage you to let go of any desire for perfection – it doesn’t exist!
Do what you can and enjoy the summer in the way that works best for you and your family.