When my first child was born, I decided to be a stay at home mom and focus on raising him, using all the tools and resources available to me, given my experience in early childhood learning. I constantly created activities to keep him engaged. My home resembled a little playschool. My son loved it and I loved that he was happy, productive and learning so much. When my twins were born, my capacities were stretched a bit…okay, a lot. And I wasn’t able to organise as many activities as I could when it was just one child. They had to find ways to entertain themselves.
And now when I look at the way they all think and play, something very obvious strikes me. My older one struggled to play by himself. He constantly needed me or someone else to engage his attention. He was never left alone long enough to figure out what he felt like doing or where his interests lay or how to occupy his time. He needed constant stimulation.
On the other hand, my younger boys spent far more time in role play. Each of their stuffed toys had a name and a backstory. They created games out of a stick, a piece of paper or anything else they found lying around. Inadvertently, I had provided them the space and opportunity to develop their creative thinking skills.
When we were young, we spent many hours daydreaming endlessly. We would lie in the gardens and watch the clouds go by. We would make up games that would entertain us for hours. When it rained, we would sit by the window and follow raindrops as they raced against each other. The world was our playground. Literally.
When our children are bored and come to us saying they have nothing to do, our instinctive reaction is to engage their attention using technological devices or structured activities. Rarely do we allow them to figure it out for themselves. But, boredom is important. The ability to sit in one place and do nothing is an important life skill. In our highly stimulated world, with screens at every corner, we don’t get the chance to just ‘be’. The chance to connect with our thoughts and emotions.
Even as adults, we spend our lives scurrying from one activity to another, one project to another, one day to another, revelling in the idea of being ‘busy’. And we are unconsciously training our children to do the same. By constantly keeping our children engaged, we take away their opportunities to connect to themselves. By providing endless playdates, use of screens or enrolling them in activities, we are not allowing them to listen to their inner voice. Their inner voice that tells them to make a fort, or write a story or draw a picture. To find what interests them. To explore their needs. To develop creative outlets. To discover their voice and have their own opinions.
If our child is bored, we feel responsible. We feel that we need to create opportunities and ways for them to expend their energies. Their weekly schedules are jam-packed with school and after-school activities. And on weekends, family time is always scheduled. If you don’t have a plan for the weekend, then you’re failing as a parent. But, research has shown us that children need time to just be. They need time blocks of doing nothing. When your brain slows down long enough to not be actively thinking, that’s when the creative juices flow. Speak with any artist, writer, musician, inventor…they will tell you that some of their best ideas and thoughts came when their mind was drifting.
The next time your child comes to you and says he’s bored, pause for a minute. Don’t immediately feel the need to fix the situation by offering an electronic device. Sometimes, all they need is your full attention for five minutes before they run off to do something else. Give him a hug or cuddle for a few minutes, talking about different things. Think of it as a way to refuel and recharge your child’s emotional tank. Having recharged and connected with you, they might move on to an activity of their choice. If not, and they still insist they are bored, giving them a slight nudge in a direction will help. Suggest ways in which they can occupy themselves that combines their interests and abilities. You can sit with your child and make a list of things that they might like to do when they are getting bored. Drawing, reading, painting, craft, building blocks, role play, the options are endless. Allow them to choose options but refrain from getting involved yourself. Give them the space to navigate on their own. Be prepared for them whining or complaining about it. You are creating a situation that they are not used to and completely unprepared for. But, if you are consistent, eventually they will figure it out. So go ahead, allow your child to be bored. Because when he is bored, is when creativity takes over.