In this structured world with hundreds of activities aimed at helping children learn and experience life, does it shock you that I intentionally schedule in some time for my children to be bored?
I try to be an intentional parent- my goals include making sure that my children know they are loved and that I am so happy I was trusted with the job to raise them, and to be mindful that I am raising future adults rather than focusing on only the stage the child is at at this current time.
Planned boredom is part of how I am attempting to prepare my children for the future. In adult life we often have to choose to be happy in situations we don’t think are fun at first. We have to pay the bills, wash the dishes, clean the toilets, and stay home with sleeping children when we may prefer to be out doing fun activities. We are no longer limited by the limits our parents set for us, and we have to use self control when making purchases and planning our time.
Once a child learns the self control to not act out or insist that some outside force entertain them when they are feeling bored, they start to think of ways to entertain themselves. Unknown to them, this usually involves things that are excellent for their development: Learning, cooperating with their siblings, and pushing themselves physically.
I believe that this will be much easier to teach at age 3, 4, 5 than it would be to learn when the real world starts hitting them at 15, 16, or 25.
A Good Boredom Space
In the afternoons we have quiet (boredom) time, when the weather is nice it’s outside, and when it’s too hot or cold it’s in the kids’ room. A good space for learning independent (boredom) play is defined- either one room, or area, or the fenced back yard. There are a few safety ground rules, but this is the time that children’s actions aren’t micromanaged.
I transition to this time with an afternoon snack after school or after a morning activity on a non school day. The kids bring their snack outside, and when they’re done they play independently. Having an outdoor area that isn’t perfectly manicured is ideal for allowing digging and bushwhacking, but even a small yard that can’t be altered can allow for lots of creative play if there are bikes, lumber for stacking, and other materials.
Some Tips for Encouraging Independent Play
- If your child is used to being directed in play and thinking either by constant parental involvement (which I totally get- I love playing with my kids!), TV, or school activities, they may need to be prompted by you to start up some creative play. When we moved here I spent a few minutes cutting up 2x4s and 2x6s in the yard and doing a few different things with them (balance beam, jump for the bikes, stacking into a tower) to spark their imagination. Back off as soon as you see them starting to continue the play on their own.
- Do something nearby- when my kids are in their room I’m often in the adjacent kitchen cleaning up. When they’re outside, I started out doing some yardwork so they can see me being active. If they’re having trouble with whining and wanting my constant attention, it’s often because I’m trying to do something sedentary like read or blog. So I move to something active instead and this usually clears it up.
- If they have trouble following rules and are bickering with their sibling or breaking rules out of the desire to get your attention, introduce chores they can do alongside you. This isn’t punishment, but it’s another way to encourage their mind to come up with something more interesting to do. Some things I have my kids (4 and 6) do with me in this case: Clean around the baseboards with a damp cloth, wash the cupboards and fridge, move laundry from the washer to the dryer, put away clothes, pick up fallen fruit in the yard. Usually I say something like, “it looks like you need something to do, here, come use this cloth and clean down here with me” – nothing stressful or demanding.
- I happily provide field guides for the local plants, bugs, and animals for my children. (this one is a favorite)
- Keep an encouraging you-can-do-it attitude. Children pick up on our emotional cues and thinking more than any words we every say.
- Gently stretch the amount of time they do this and don’t expect much at first. The goal isn’t to have the children completely leaving you alone and never wanting your involvement, it’s just for them to have some unstructured time every day where they learn to make their own fun.
This isn’t always possible for children with special needs, my daughter really struggles with coming up with things to do on her own. I got her a puppy and taught her how to do various things for him (brush him, walk him in the back yard on a leash, let him out to potty, feed him, etc). So this boredom thing isn’t going to work for all children, but gently stretching them to be content with less and content independently is still important.Pin It