Simplifying Childhood is Making Your Kid Bored….. and That is a Very Good Thing

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:

  1. Creativity

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.

  1. Relaxation

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.

  1. Sleep

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.

  1. 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?

Our New Two Wheeled Minivan: The Yuba Mundo Cargo Bike

We did it. We’re a cargo biking family as of a month ago!

For many years I have watched and read wistfully about families using cargo bikes for most of their transportation. It looked like so much fun and the health, environmental and financial benefits were compelling. Stacy over at A Simple Six was the first person I stumbled upon who was moving her large family around by bike. They went ‘car lite’ five years ago and go by bike as much as possible. I was impressed and inspired. Cargo biking with my children seemed like an ideal way to get around because a) I don’t like driving, b) Vancouver has a growing network of bike paths and bike lanes and c) cycling would allow us to go places that are too far for us to walk. Also, d) it looks really fun!

But I also had some hesitations about cargo biking. Could I really do this? I’m a former athlete but I’m not naturally athletic. I don’t pick up new sports or movements easily. Also could I find a cargo bike that all three kids could fit on that would also fit in my condominium bike room. The bike parking stalls are small and you have to exit bikes through two doors and up a fairly steep ramp. I wasn’t sure a cargo bike could fit through the doors, in a bike parking stall or easily go up the exit ramp.

Am I strong enough to pedal my three kids around on a bike? Okay, I was once an athlete but in this current stage of life I’m far, far away from my past career as a rower. Actually right when I was in the process of getting my cargo bike I tore a muscle in my calf and had to stop running. When the bike arrived I had lost a lot of my cardiovascular fitness. Here’s another concern: I’m a big person. Cycling is all about power vs. weight. My fitness wasn’t great and I was going to haul myself, the bike and my kids up a hill? I was intimidated. Intimidated and my husband thought I was a bit crazy.

Can I navigate the streets with my kids on board a cargo bike? I did have some experience road cycling pre-children but it felt like a lifetime ago. I sold my road bike when I was very pregnant with my oldest son seven years ago. Since then I’ve been on a bike exactly once when we rented bikes and I hauled our younger two in a trailer. I went through the archives of Stacy’s blog and took a lot of comfort in her candid posts about her first rides with her cargo bike: yes, it took some getting used to but she was quickly able to ride with several children on board. Also comforting to read: Stacy hatched her plan family biking and going car lite and she hadn’t been on a bike in ten years! This is exactly the kind of blind faith success story I was looking for.

It’s been a month since we got the bike and I’m happy to say yes I am strong enough (and getting stronger!) and yes I can navigate city streets with kids on board. I slowly built up to riding with more weight on the bike and if my three year old will finally get on the bike for more than a photo (he’s our stubborn one!) I’ll be riding with all three on board this summer. I’ll be sharing more about getting started and using our bike but for now, here’s more about our awesome orange family hauler:

Our new minivan bike is a Yuba Mundo 21 LUX.

It can carry up to four small children and has a hauling capacity of 440 lbs. We’ve kitted it out with a Yepp Maxi Easy Fit seat for the baby, soft spot and monkey bars for our older two, a bread basket on the front that can carry up to 50 lbs and one Go Getter pannier bag with an 85 liter capacity. This thing truly is a minivan on two wheels.

Awesome things about our Yuba Mundo cargo bike:

  • it fits in our bike parking! A cargo bike with a box on it would be too wide and long for our bike parking but this long tail fits in nicely.
  • it rides like a regular bike. It has a mechanism called a ‘deflopilator’ that makes the steering heavier to compensate for the weight on the back of the bike. The deflopilator is a must in my opinion – I have ridden the bike with and without this small piece added and it was night and day. It takes some miles to get used to riding a bike with that much weight but after a few rides I was up to riding with two kids (50 + 30lbs) and another 30lbs of gear.
  • it is incredibly fun. Here’s a little video below of two of my boys on the back enjoying themselves. What you can’t see is the grin on my face.
  • this bike could help us become car free again. In the next 1-2 years some things will change for our family – school location, smaller car seats – and with the Yuba Mundo cargo bike, walking, transit and car-sharing we could once again be car free!
  • the Yuba Mundo is an affordable cargo bike. Bigger box style cargo bikes can be in the $6000+ range. A long tail Yuba cargo bike starts as low was $1000.

More to come on cargo biking! If you have any specific questions or photos/videos you would like to see of the bike in action please let me know.

 

Home Tour: Living with 3 Teenagers in a 2 bedroom Apartment

Sharing our home in a series of posts on the blog the last few weeks. Not included in the tour: our kitchen and bathrooms – they are straight up boring but you can see our super tiny kitchen here. The final installment: but what about the teen years?

The oft heard phrase I hear when people find out we have three children and live in a two bedroom apartment and that we hope to stay in this space is: just wait until they are teenagers! In fact there were some funny and informative comments of that exact nature in a few posts in this series. Carmen told me I may want to move out when the boys hit the teen years because of the smell. Maybe that is the solution? I rent a small apartment in my building during their teens years? Strangely enough there is a family in our building with that exact set up. Parents have one apartment and the teen/early college boys have another.

Don’t worry, we are both scared and daunted by the idea of our three boys – likely to be in the very tall range – living in this small-ish space with us. Scared but also aware that we have some choices.

One choice would be to rent a townhouse or upper portion of a house for three to five of the high school years. I think this is becoming a very acceptable idea in Vancouver’s crazy real estate market. Buy a home that works for most of your life, rent somewhere for the relatively small window where it doesn’t work. This would also give us more options for choosing a high school that has programs our children are interested in and a neighborhood that is walkable and has all the amenities we need and enjoy. I like this idea and I think it could work very well. The downside of course would be the hassle of moving and the increased cost. Plus, renting has some drawbacks in that you could lose your lease or the owner could sell and then you are stuck with the expense and hassle of moving again. We’d also pay tax on the rental income from renting out our home plus continue to pay condo strata fees each month and of course any repairs to our home. A townhouse or part of a house would also rent for more than what our apartment would rent for. This choice would significantly increase our cost of living for the duration.

Another choice, one that I also like very much, is to invest in some space saving furniture and renovations to create more space and privacy for teens and parents. Our space usage is terribly inefficient right now: our kids go to bed early and are small. We haven’t needed to increase our efficiency and make rooms multi-purpose because right now it works. Besides the baby sleeping in a portable crib in the office each night, most of our rooms are single purpose. But I can see that older bigger children will want more privacy and our small second bedroom won’t be a comfortable space for three teen boys.

And as someone who experienced having her own bedroom for the first time my sophomore year of college, I would like to give them their own space for some of their teen years. The great thing is, we can actually do that even in our small space. It will take some work and some money but investing in furniture and some small renovations is cheaper than moving and renting a bigger home for three to five years or selling and buying a bigger home.

Here are some of my favorite ideas for making our two bedroom apartment work for a family of five that includes three teenage boys.

renovatingourspace2

Master bedroom becomes younger children’s bedroom and parents take the smaller second bedroom. Our master bedroom is large for a condominium and fits a king sized bed. We could move all the kids in there in the next two or three years and then our oldest could have the den/office as his own room later on. Double wall bunk beds would greatly increase the floor space – I’ve linked to a few options below.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 11.08.47 AM
Photo credit Resource Furniture

 

Second bedroom becomes the parent’s room. We move down to a queen sized bed and perhaps even a fold down queen size bed with a desk. When our oldest moves into the office the second bedroom works nights as parents room and days as a home office. 5kids1condo has this set-up with a fold down bed that is a desk during the day and it means his master bedroom can be used 24 hours a day instead of the usual 8-9.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 11.53.50 AM
Photo credit Costco.ca

Our little office/den becomes the oldest child’s room. Technically this room is an enclosed balcony per city building codes. Semantics really but it doesn’t have a closet and has a glass wall and door that faces into our living room. Because of building codes and rules we will likely never be able to pull the glass wall out and enclose it though we could remove the wall and leave it open (maybe the plan once the kids leave the next!). It’s a very small room but it can fit a twin bed and maybe a small dresser if we were able change the door to swing out instead of in. From memories of my teen years I know that getting your own space is worth it even if it’s a very small space. When the oldest moves out the next in line gets it, we move back into the master bedroom and then the two children still at home each have their own room.

The closets in our home are very small but I recently saw a smart idea from fellow Vancouverite Alison who writes at 600sqft.com (lovely blog! go check it out) about a small renovation that increased their closet storage space. A light went on for me – we could do this with our few and small closets too. So to keep up with the increasing size of the kid’s clothes we could knock the headers of the closets out and have more usable space. If we can keep all or most of the clothing in the closets we can have fewer dressers and more floor space. Which will be needed with five people in the 6ft to 6’5″ or taller range sharing 1100 square feet.

Our beloved IKEA Stockholm sofa could be traded in for a sectional. Not a chance it can seat what will be five adults. We’ll get something larger, give up our side table and maybe I will finally have a coffee table once there are no crazy toddlers in the house. The dining room table that now sits in a four person configuration will expand to it’s six person configuration permanently.

We put up a sliding barn door or put a wall with door up to divide our living room from the two bedrooms. This would create a better sound barrier between the living room and more privacy for our main bathroom.

Another way to create more privacy: spend less time at home. I know this sounds a bit strange but hear me out. I’m hoping my teens are fairly independent and that due to our proximity to so many things, including transit, they can manage their own lives and schedules without mom and dad chauffeuring them around. With so much at their door step I expect they will spend some evenings studying at the Vancouver Public Library a few blocks away, playing pick up basketball at the local outdoor courts or at the Community Centre, swimming in our condo pool downstairs or at evening band practice at the high school that’s a 20 minute walk or eight minute bus ride away. Or working their part-time evening and weekends job at a local coffee shop. Yes, this is a small space for two adults and three teenagers but one of the reasons we live down here is that we have a lot of public space and amenities close by. Our living room is limitless if we think of all the options in a few blocks radius to us to study, meet up with friends, read a book or listen to music.

Are you living in your ‘forever’ home or will you need to upsize or downsize as you age or your family grows/shrinks?

Home Tour: Master Bedroom & Office

 

Showing you our minimalist-ish two bedroom apartment for a family of five in this series. You can see all the posts here.

This is the most wasteful room in our home. But I love it. Our king sized bed is a space hog and a real luxury for an apartment dwelling family. We still have the occasional night where a kid or baby is sleeping between us and weekend mornings where all five of us are piled into bed together. Plus my husband is 6’5″ and I’m 6 feet tall. Big people love big beds.

Wasted and inefficient space usage gives us a lot of hope for the future. It means we can create more space without moving. Rooms can become multi-purpose, we can invest in some stowaway furniture, mix up who sleeps where or works where and create more kid friendly play space and, later, more teen friendly spots for privacy.

mastroom1

King bed, one nightstand (only room for one) and a dresser are all that we have in this room. While it is a big room there aren’t that many spots for placing furniture: the closet, two doors (one to the ensuite) and the floor to ceiling windows that wrap around one side limit our furniture placement options. There is a nook in one corner that could be useful for a desk someday for older kids but we will have to get creative and likely invest in some wall bunk beds when we move all three kids in here.

The laundry bag on a hook over the door was a gift for my husband last Christmas (lost the battle with him on no laundry hampers) Sometimes the kids table and chairs live in the corner nook if our toddler is in a climbing it phase or if one of the other kids wants to draw/build/do in peace. Having free floor space comes in handy for creating impromptu work areas and solutions for infrequent or temporary needs. I’ll share our future planning in another post but I think with a light renovation on the closet in this room we could do away with the dresser and be able to store all of our clothing and household linens in the closet.

 

masterbedroom3

Our master bedroom is very simple and I haven’t put much on the walls. I think our three kids could be in here sooner than I have planned and that has held me back from decorating. Plus, when I am in here and not sleeping I am reading. A book and this night view is really all I need to enjoy this space.

mstrbedroomnight

The second most wasteful room in our home is the office. Another good sign for making this home work for us in the years to come. We’ve been living here for almost a year and I still haven’t decided on what or if we should put a book shelf or storage unit in the office.

office1

 

This room is south facing and it’s a challenging space to use. It’s very hot in the summer and the light in the afternoon makes it very hard to work on a computer. I’ve turned the desk around a full 360 degrees to find the right spot and nothing works for the full day. In the evening our youngest sleeps in here in a portable crib so if I face the desk to the large window it makes it very awkward to bring the crib in with enough room for the large glass door that opens inward. Eventually this will be our oldest’s bedroom and eventually my work space will be in my bedroom so I haven’t felt compelled to figure out a better solution or invest in furniture or black out shades or screens. If I’m working in the afternoon I just move to my bedroom and use my dresser as a standing desk.

office2

Everyone has a place or room they throw stuff to deal with later – even me the minimalist-ish mom – and for my family this is the office. I have a box with a kite to be repaired, small electronics to sell or recycle and the Hungry Hippo game that we’re trying to keep out of our baby’s sight line (he loves the small red plastic balls for the game). There are three picture frames I haven’t put up since we moved and this foam dinosaur construction kit thing that the oldest got as a gift that we started but haven’t finished (it has dozens of tiny foam pieces that our youngest would love to eat so we have it stowed in here to keep him out of it). The desk drawers quickly accumulate things and I find myself sorting through them every other month to return Lego bits to their proper home and recycle old school notices and receipts. Our office is definitely the family clutter hot spot. I’ve spared you the photos but know that it is there!

babyinoffice

The office also doubles as the baby’s room at night right now. It works quite well as the older two are staying up a bit later now that it’s so light out. Does he look like he minds sleeping in an office in a portable crib with no nursery to call his own?

As I have said before, it’s a positive that we are using two of our rooms inefficiently. It means we have room to grow in this space.

Are you using any rooms in your home inefficiently? Do you have single purpose rooms that only get occasional use like a home office or guest bedroom?

Home Tour: One Bedroom For Three Boys

Sharing our home in this series on the blog. More here and here.

Three boys. One bedroom.

My best tip for making a small space work for three kids isn’t a design hack or even a space creator like having less stuff. My best tip for making our small space work for three kids is this: get outside. We don’t have a yard nor space to have an indoor mini tramp or rec room you could play soccer in. Our home has to meet our big needs – place to sleep, relax and dine – but it can’t meet all of our needs. We can’t own all the toys or all the books. So we let the library and our friends and the tot drop in at the Community Center own and store a lot of toys and books that we use on site or borrow for a few weeks. Grandma has the water guns and the mini soccer goals and big remote control cars at her house. If you don’t have an attic or garage or basement you are forced to just own what you use most of the time and find other ways to enjoy your occasional toys and activities.

kidsroom2

Technically this room houses three but at the moment the youngest sleeps in the office in a portable crib but plays and has his toys and clothing stored in this room. Our plan is for the three boys to share this room for the next two to three years and then do some shuffling to give them more space.

kidsroom5

The IKEA hack toddler bunk beds (originally our neighbor’s 5kids1condo.com) are fantastic space savers. Our older two – age 6 and age 3 – fit nicely in them. I won’t disclose too much about the design (because it’s not mine and I don’t want to be sued!) but this is two IKEA Gulliver beds stacked on each other with four supports keeping them together and a custom ladder. It’s very sturdy and we all love it.

On the other side of the room we have a play corner centered around the ubiquitous IKEA Expedit unit. I try to keep the toy collection contained to just these boxes plus another box in the living room but I will confess there is a Paw Patroller and Air Patroller out of view. The boxes: two are full of wooden trains and train set pieces, the rest is Duplo, Lego, dress up clothing, wooden puzzles and some Hot Wheels cars and tracks. We cull the toys a few times a year via the methods in Simplicity Parenting. Some of the books are displayed on picture rails that just fit in next to the closet and there are more books stacked around the house.

kidbooks

The small but deep closet in the kid’s room holds two IKEA units for clothing. Sometimes I KonMari all the clothing… sometimes the three year old pulls all of it out looking for his pajamas (they were on his bed). Sometimes the baby pulls all the clothing out just because it’s fun. So yes, I don’t KonMari their clothing frequently. I have a rule that if the clothing can’t fit in unfolded then we need to pare it down.

kidsroom7

The rug is very second hand Pottery Barn and was incredibly dirty when I got it. A number of runs with the Dyson later it’s nubby and worn but pretty clean. The little chairs can fit at our kid’s table to increase our hosting options.

A big comfy reading chair that the kids could sit in with me would be nice. But it would eat a lot of floor space and make the room feel crowded. Instead I sit on the carpet or the kids come into our bed or we all sit on the living room couch. When the kids are waking each other up or pestering each other and not falling asleep I think it would be nice for them to have their own rooms. I’m not immune to the “wouldn’t it be nice to have” thoughts but when I go there, and I do go there, I then try to remind myself what the nice to haves come with: eventually feeling squeezed out of our small-ish home.

kidsroom6

What about when they’re teens? It wasn’t until second year university that I first experienced having my own bedroom. Oh how I loved it. The privacy and the ability to decorate and do as I please was such a luxury. I would really like our children to have a year or two of their own bedroom in their teen years. Which is why if we stay in this home we will do a room shuffle every few years so each boy can have a year or two of high school with his own bedroom. Here’s another “it would be nice to have”: It would be nice that they spend enough time sharing a bedroom with a sibling(s) that they learn how to navigate the rough and calm waters of living with people and also, that they really appreciate having their own bedroom when it finally happens.

Did you share a bedroom growing up? When did you first have your own bedroom? I feel like most kids these days don’t have to share but I like the skills learned from negotiating with a sister over what poster goes on the wall and who gets the top drawer.

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