Many families schedule their children’s lives to avoid boredom, with trips, social gatherings, camps, and extracurricular activities. But never letting your child experience boredom is not doing them any favors; in fact, you are missing an important opportunity to develop cognitive and social skills in your child.
That’s right. Boredom is a good thing.
In fact, boredom is such a good thing for kids and families, that I recommend all families have an unstructured day or afternoon once a week. During this time there are no specific plans. Just hanging out, empty, time. This sort of time is important because it creates an opportunity for boredom.
Why do I recommend boredom? Because there are clear cognitive and social advantages to the experience of boredom.
- Boredom increases creativity and builds cognitive connections. Time when our brains are at rest gives us the space to achieve mindfulness and flow. During this time, our minds wander to the world around us and we can build connections that allows us to solve problems. We notice more in states of boredom than we do when we are moving from activity to activity, which increases creativity. Period of boredom operate like a cognitive reset, allowing you to work through ideas and think deeply.
- Boredom develops the skill to figure out how to entertain oneself. Figuring out what to do when you don’t have anything in particular to do is a skill. And if we never develop this skill, we find ourselves relying on distractions, like smart phones. But sitting in our boredom, having focused time where we find something to do, practices cognitive skills required to do something even though we don’t want to. Because lots of tasks we have to do are not particularly exciting (like homework or dishes), the skill to continue doing something even though it’s not exciting is important. Giving your child chances to learn how to entertain themselves during states of boredom or during boring tasks is a critical life skill.
- Boredom means your family is having unstructured time. Having things on the calendar is a good thing, but it can be overdone. Time, unstructured, with no plans, is important for your family dynamic. Unstructured time is when you ebb and flow, follow your whims, and are present with the members of your family, without any “Hurry up and put your shoes on” moments. Moments of boredom are a chance to build family connections and to spend time together without expectations. This is good for your relationship with your children.
So how do you react to your child’s boredom?
When your child states, “I’m bored” provide up to 3 ideas of activities that they can do. Provide your child an idea from each of these three categories:
- Independent activity, like reading a book or drawing a picture.
- Social activity, like doing a project with you or seeing if the neighbors can play.
- Change of scenery, like going to the park or on an errand.
After you provide the three options, leave the choice to your child. Most of the time, your child will be horrified by all of your suggestions. That’s fine. You don’t need to provide any more options. Your child needs this down time to think and decide how to manage their own boredom.
If your child tells you that they are still bored after you respond with ideas, simply respond with, “Okay.” Boredom is something that your child needs to figure out on their own. And while you should help them think of a few things to do, it’s up to them to engage.
While your child laments about what to do, start doing something yourself. Cooking, reading, a puzzle, or a chore. Most of the time, your child will come and join you in whatever you are doing and you’ll have a chance to have quality time with your child.
Embrace the value of boredom for your child’s brain and for your relationship.