Oh, those dreaded words – they can make a parent’s heart lurch. Kids eagerly await summer vacation, only to discover (after just a couple of days) that they have no idea how to fill these long, unstructured hours of free time.
So what do we do as parents? All too often we jump to the rescue – we send them off to summer camp, we fill their hours with so many activities they drop into bed exhausted at night, or we plop them in front of a Disney movie or video game and let electronics take care of the entertaining for us. We fill up their time in order to be good parents… and yet, this is precisely what we should not be doing.
Boredom is good for kids.
- It helps them become more creative: unstructured play is a chance for them to use their imagination as they invent their own activities.
- It allows them to explore the world and develop self-awareness. Whether children build boats out of leaves and sail them in puddles, or organize the neighborhood kids to put on a play, or take toys apart to see how they work, they’re discovering their own interests and passions.
- It helps them develop independence and learn how to manage their own time. When we overstimulate children and make sure every moment of their day is filled with activity, we stunt their development in this area.
- It gives them time for reflection. Everyone needs the freedom to just hang out and let their minds wander. Too much activity tends to cause anxiety in children – a healthy balance between structured activities, outdoor play, and unstructured time is essential for mental health.
In spite of kids “being bored,” it’s important to limit their tech time. You can say, “No, sorry, you can only play on the computer for two hours. Now you have to find something else to do.” At first, kids will whine and fuss, but eventually they’ll learn to entertain themselves. If your children have a habit of using technology eight hours a day, transitioning to free play will require support. Don’t just pull away the gadgets and expect kids to amuse themselves instantly. They will need materials and ideas at first. Stock up on things like clay, crayons, Legos, scraps of material, beads, puzzles, glue, string, pebbles, and paint. Spend time with them and model creative play.
Even kids who are used to entertaining themselves may occasionally need a helping hand to get their creative juices flowing. Consider using an activity jar to help them come up with ideas. More activities to put in your activity jar can be found here and here. But remember: don’t come up with ideas for them all the time. Give your children the freedom to explore their world and use their imaginations as often as possible.
And then, since you know you’re giving them the opportunity to develop their imaginations and independence, you can smile and let go of your guilt the next time you hear the words, “I’m bored…”