“I’m bored!” I hear the sad refrain, yet as I cast my eyes over the trampoline, the bikes, scooters and skateboards, the puzzles, lego, forgotten blanket fort and siblings, I find it hard to believe that there is NOTHING there of interest to this small, petulant person in front of me. The declaration of boredom comes with the unspoken accusation of my failure to come up with the goods when it comes to immediate entertainment.
“Are you sure you’re bored? There are so many things to play with.” What this ‘bored’ little person doesn’t know is that I’m throwing them a lifeline – a one-time-only opportunity to back away slowly from the impending life lesson.
“There’s nothing for it,” I say, “But to get out the Boredom Box.” Interest is piqued and I can see a smug, triumphant smile at the edge of that little mouth. As this small person is about to find out, smugness and triumph are soon to be lost on the journey of discovery as to what REAL boredom is. It’s a valuable life lesson and one that each of my lads has only ever had to go through once – which is no mean feat when it comes to boys and learning life lessons.
I carry the box out to the lawn and carefully peg out a square meter. I present the child with the box and watch as their eager anticipation turns to puzzlement as they open it to discover a single pair of nail scissors and tweezers. Mow the lawn with the scissors – every blade in that square of doom must be attended to or weed it completely with the tweezers. What a choice of equally boring tasks. And then… I retreat, leaving an unhappy child to their own devices to experience REAL boredom.
Do you want to know what came out of that experience? Firstly the learning about what being bored actually is. Secondly, each boy who sat miserably on their marked of square of lawn, declaring my ineptitude to be a mother, soon created the fun in the experience. One used the clippings to fashion a small city. Another keenly observed the army of ants and then set out to create his own ant farm. Another got sticks and used towels from the washing line to make a teepee and ate his dinner out there. Hilariously, the ‘stubborn’ child used the tape from the perimeter to wrap around his mouth and arms, declaring himself to be a slave. It was a protest that turned into hours of ‘gladiators’ with brothers who quite enjoyed breaking out of masking tape bondage to fight the evil tyrannical overlord to the death. (I think that was me.)
You see, boredom is the gateway to creativity and curiosity. It allows your child’s brain to emerge from the noise and busyness of doing into the magical world of creating and imagining. In our fast-paced, always on world, there are just not enough opportunities for the gift of boredom to be given to every child on a regular basis. Once upon a time we would all have experienced a parent locking us outdoors with the instruction to, “Go and play!” Within minutes a new game was born, sticks and garden chairs became dragons and swords and in those magnificent moments the human brain performed at its optimal level. It became resourceful, it learned how to cope, cooperate and collaborate, it identified and solved risks and problems, it thought beyond the confines of what was in front of it to the infinite possibilities offered by a box of loose parts.
The next time boredom rears it’s promising head in your home, here are three considerations:
Springboard – help your child to springboard into an activity of their own creation by providing just enough to get them started. A box of loose parts – or just a bunch of empty boxes. A little bit of something will open an opportunity to get going.
Responsibility – don’t take on being responsible for your child’s boredom and always having to provide something for them to do next. Giving in to the inevitable whining about nothing good to do is making a rod for your own back. Hold steady and watch as boredom weaves its magic – your child will find something to do and create with the time and space to do so.
Persist – while it’s easier to hand your child the iPad or to direct their play in the time that you were going to get through that load of washing or start the dinner, persist. Be resolved even though your child may lie on the floor moaning about the unfairness of living in your home. It won’t take long for your child to figure out that you mean business when you say, “Time to play outside” or, “Time to play by yourself.” Conversely, it will also not take long for your child to figure out that enough moaning and whining will mean that you give up and provide the entertainment.
It’s important to remember the value of boredom for your child. It’s not a punishment although it may feel that way – to you and them in the early stages of working out your boredom-busting approach. Stay strong and be determined to allow your child to experience all the joy, magic and satisfaction that grows out of the gift of boredom.