So so happy to bring you a post from ScreenFreeMom who writes at ScreenFreenParenting.com. You can read more about her credentials and work at the end of this post. I know summer can be a tough time for managing screen access/hours with school being out so when ScreenFreeMom asked me if she could share a post with Minimalist Mom readers I was thrilled. Here it is…
As a kid, I was bored a lot. I had a good friend who was often bored with me. We were not put in summer camps and we did not have a ton of different “activities.” I am not a gymnast, black-belt holder, or musician; but I think I am a pretty well-rounded adult nonetheless. We also didn’t have an Ipad with a myriad of games and programs to choose from. Our childhood was filled with boredom.
Boredom had a big effect on us. Our neighborhood was a new development. My house was one of the first ten built and by the time we moved out, when I was teenager, there were over 40 houses in the neighborhood. This meant that there was a lot of construction going on in the neighborhood throughout my childhood. My friend and I often found ourselves watching the construction, sometimes “touring” the sites, and often digging through the treasure chest of discarded materials when the building was done. Soon, my backyard had scraps of lumber, unused roofing tiles, and leftover drywall. We quickly decided we would build a fort. We constructed a chicken-co0p like structure – permanently half-finished but, boy, were we proud.
Also motivated by our boredom, we wrote a soap opera, built a town out of boxes, and founded “The Explorers Club,” a group dedicated to maintaining the woods behind our houses. Reminiscing about childhood is an enjoyable activity in and of itself. We had a fun childhood. We also learned a great deal through our play. Given the freedom, we created worlds with social order, wrote long narratives, and built a semi-useful structure. I would argue that we learned a great deal more through these activities than we could have through structured academic activities or organized sports. And, we certainly learned more than we could have through educational applications and television programming.
But, when I compare my childhood to the overscheduled busy childhoods of today, I see one big difference. Children, today, do not seem to have enough opportunity to be bored. There is a frenzy, in fact, to protect them from boredom (and often all negative emotions). However, boredom is a very good thing for children (and adults).
Here are four reasons to encourage boredom in childhood today:
Boredom is related to creativity. Boredom leads to daydreaming which often leads to creative insights. As a writer, I know this, as I often go for long runs before writing. My mind wanders and in that semi-conscious space, the ideas start to flow. I am not alone in this as many writers have discussed how boredom is essential to their process. Parents of young children know this as well. If able to tolerate the whining that may come with the initial feeling of boredom, they get to witness their children creating very inventive and enthralling games.
Constant on-the-go-ness is exhausting. It is exhausting for parents, but it is even more exhausting for children. For children, every experience offers some novelty and therefore their brains have to work harder at observing, deconstructing, and encoding all that they are taking in. Downtime, which may seem boring at first, is essential to allow children the opportunity to replenish their energy and give their brains a break.
Relaxation and sleep are related. Your child should not immediately pass out when their little heads hit the pillow. If they do, they are overtired. So, if they don’t pass out immediately, what do they do? They process their day. This is important work. They also may experience boredom before falling asleep. If they are not permitted to experience boredom throughout their day, this emotion will be intolerable for them and they will have difficulty falling asleep. However, if they are accustomed to boredom and the daydreaming that accompanies it, it will offer a seamless passage from wakefulness into sleep.
- Tolerance and Insight Into (all) Emotions
John Gottman has done some great research into emotional intelligence. He’s taken it a step further to analyze what parents of emotionally-intelligent children do. His research has found that they tolerate and even encourage all emotions in their children. The parents also help the children by “coaching” some tough emotions via labeling and searching for solutions. But, a big key is that the child is allowed to experience emotions, including ones we might consider negative. Emotion-coaching parents do not inhibit their child from experiencing sadness, anger, frustration, or boredom. Rather, they accept these feelings as an important part of the human experience. These children grow into adults who can accept and cope with their emotions and tolerate them.
Conclusion: Embrace the Boredom
So, when your child is bored, give them space. Don’t see their boredom as a “problem” you need to solve. Be supportive and have confidence in their ability to learn to cope with all emotions. Praise them when they are able to use their boredom to create something great for themselves.
How about you? What creative thing did you dream in your boring childhood? Or what sort of inventiveness have you seen in your children when they are given the opportunity to be bored?
Screen-Free Mom is a psychologist, writer and a university psychology instructor. She has her Doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of Miami and Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University. She is happily raising her two kids sans screens. She runs a website: www.screenfreeparenting.com where she writes about tech-wise parenting and provides tons of screen-free activities. She has developed psychologically-based system to help organize the activities young children learn and grow from: the S.P.O.I.L. system. Before you turn on the screen, she asks, “Have you S.P.O.I.L.-ed your child yet today?