Soccer games, piano lessons, trips to the zoo zoo, summer camps. Add that to school and homework and you have one busy kid. Feeling lately like you have to keep your kids occupied at all hours of the day, lest they feel bored? Recent studies suggest that it might actually be more beneficial to let your kids be on their own and to cultivate chances for boredom.
Boredom can be Valuable to Kids
First of all, boredom gets a bad rap. In the age of smartphones and tablets, to be bored is a sin. Gone are the days when people sit idly and let their minds wander on the commute or while simply sitting under a tree. Now we’re constantly engaging with virtual worlds, or staying engaged in busywork. This constant pressure to occupy oneself can lead to abnormal levels of anxiety and depression–and kids follow the examples we set. We’re teaching them that there’s something wrong with being quiet, sitting still, resting, staying unoccupied.
But low-intensity emotions, such as being calm or restful, are just as important in daily life. Meditation and stillness encourages productivity and creativity, and helps to replenish energy and attention. Children who are taught that stillness is a virtue may find more value and satisfaction as adults in mundane activities, such as taking a walk–and thus lead more content lives.
Kids are more Creative when they’re Bored
Countless studies have shown that people are more creative when they’re bored — and that’s true for kids to. When minds are bored, they start to daydream, which sparks creative inspiration. An idle mind naturally searches for solutions to boredom, and helps children redirect their focus and attention to new goals.
In her creativity podcast, “Magic Lessons,” bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert recounted how her mother would send her and her sister out to play so she could sew in peace. Left to themselves, the girls would concoct stories and imaginary worlds, and both went on to become writers.
Kids Develop their Personalities when they’re Bored
My mom used to say, “Only boring people get bored.” She meant to encourage me to use my own inventiveness to solve my boredom problem. If you spend your whole day entertaining your children, they’ll never learn how to entertain themselves. You take away the responsibility of occupying themselves, and they become dependent on you to entertain them, to solve their problems, instead of looking within.
Leave them to their own devices, however, and children will quickly find their own ways to explore the world around them. When a child says, “I’m bored,” ignore them–they’ll find something on their own. They’ll follow their own curiosities, develop their own interests, and find new ways to solve problems. They won’t be dependent on you to entertain them, instead, they’ll pay more attention to the world around them.
You may think that you always need to be with your kids, but there’s no link between how much time you spend with them and how they turn out. They need to learn how to handle things themselves–because you won’t be around forever.
It’s great for Parents, too
Letting your kids have time on their own also gives you time with yourself and your significant other. Getting some “me” or “us” time throughout the day is important for the wellbeing of yourself, your relationship, and your family unit. If you focus all your attention on the kids, you neglect your own welfare and that of your partner, and open yourself up to all kinds of stress and anxiety. And if you’re not happy, your kids won’t be either. Take some time for yourself and for your spouse–it can be the best thing for everyone.
Boredom is a Virtue during Travel
So the next time your kid says, “I’m bored,” especially on a trip–don’t stress out. Ignore them and walk a little behind them. Step a bit behind, so that the child doesn’t focus so much on you. Their attention will gradually slide away from you the parent and into the world around them. If they’re a bit older, let them explore on their own: while you’re waiting at airport security lines, during long journeys in the car, walking on cobblestone roads in old towns. Encourage them to discover what’s new on their own, and the world will open up to them.
When our children become adults, we won’t be there to entertain them, to fill up their schedules. So let them be bored. Let them sit with themselves and discover who they are. Let them learn how to motivate themselves and look to themselves for initiative and creativity. They’ll find their own ways to venture out into the world.