Two little words that strike fear in the hearts of parents everywhere. There is little worse than a super whiny child who’s just soooooo bored. He wants TV! He wants video games! He wants a plan! He wants you to entertain him!
I’m not going to lie: I give in…a lot. I certainly did this spring when life was just so damn busy. I didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with the parental stress the comes with a bored child while we were in the middle of school, packed sports weekends, never-ending birthday parties and oodles of work. When the kids wouldn’t let up, I eventually would because it was just too much.
“OK, fine,” I’d relent. “But I’m just letting you know that we’re going to work on being bored this summer. It’s good to be bored. It’s how you figure out what you want to do and what you think is really cool. It’s how you find your passions.”
It wasn’t a threat, even though it kind of sounded like one sometimes. It was an honest-to-God desire to give them something that was good for them and for me to parent the way I really wanted to. There are a slew of studies to support this, with experts saying that boredom can foster creativity, boost learning, confidence and motivation, and teach kids to enjoy their own company.
I learned to rely on myself to make myself happy, and I discovered the things that I really loved doing. I wanted the same for my kids.
Plus, I experienced it firsthand as a child, so I knew it was a good thing, despite the pressure of 21st-century parenting that makes me feel like I should occupy every second of my kids’ days with amazing, phenomenal, memorable activities. Yes, my parents provided me with plenty of fun and educational opportunities, but they also let me choose what I wanted a lot of the time. Sometimes I played outside with my brother and my friends. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I created my own little books that I “sold” to my parents and neighbors.
Yes, sometimes I experienced the crushing weight of bordeom, but you know what? I eventually figured it out. I learned to rely on myself to make myself happy, and I discovered the things that I really loved doing. I wanted the same for my kids, and I thought that my 7-year-old was definitely old enough to tough it out.
So, I did it…and you know what? Not only is everyone surviving—but it has been the most freaking amazing thing I’ve experienced lately as a parent.
Now, I didn’t completely leave my kids to their own devices (and, of course, there were no actual devices), and there were some bumps in the road.
Our first day o’ boredom happened by accident. We started with some TV while I did some work. (Being a work-at-home mom during the summer ain’t easy.) And then I actually suggested that we go to the pool. My 7-year-old said no because—and I quote—“we went to the pool yesterday.” Um, OK. He just wanted to chill out after a really busy few days of parties and hangouts with friends, which, when I thought about it, was actually pretty terrific because he was self-aware enough to understand what he needed in that moment.
I panicked for a second and then decided that today was as good a day as any to start being bored. First we did a second round of painting with these really cool stencils from Stencil Revolution (post on that coming soon!), and then it was time for the boredom. Well, that’s not quite how I phrased it. It was more like, “OK, now it’s time for you to figure out what you want to do! You can read, play the piano, write a play, build something, draw—whatever you want!”
No TV? Nope. You’re not going to do something with me? Nope.
Whining. Maybe even a few tears.
I stayed strong. Figure it out.
He locked himself in his room.
Er, OK, this wasn’t going as I’d planned.
He stayed there for a few minutes and apparently played with his new Yu-Gi-Oh cards, which I’d gotten him as a little gift for finishing the first grade. They’re from his new Netflix obsession, which I can best describe as a slightly darker, more grown-up version of Pokemon. There’s an Egyptian-god element to it, which I guess reminded him that he was in the middle of reading the third installment of The Magic Treehouse, which was about a time-traveling trip to ancient Egypt.
So he came down and read. Great.
Even better? He started asking me some questions about ancient Egypt and what the “eye” symbol meant. We looked it up online, I printed out some materials for him, and he was off. He started reading about the Eye of Horus and the Eye of Ra, then obelisks and ankhs and ancient temples. He grabbed a little red notebook, and he started drawing and writing his observations—doing, as he titled it, his “Egypt studys.”
He has come back to his book every day, and sometimes he writes about Egypt, sometimes his other TV obsession, Ultimate Beastmaster, and sometimes just totally random stuff. Watching his little brain at work has been a joy, and he’s doing exactly what I’d hoped he would. He’s also painting more, playing with his sister and making up songs on the piano.
Don’t get me wrong: We’re still not at the point where he’s totally comfortable with being bored. There always seems to be that initial moment of: “Ugh, I’m so bored! There’s nothing to do!” And not only does he have to get through that torturous moment but so do I, because all I want to do is rush in and make everything easy and perfect for him.
But in not doing that—well, not all the time, anyway—I hope that I’ll be making things easier and more perfect for him in the long run.