Letting Kids be Bored can be Constructive
“I’m bored”, the words that make every parent cringe and sigh when they hear their child who is surrounded by an array of toys and things to amuse them. Somehow there has become this culture that it is our job to keep our kids entertained and happy. A belief that if our kids are bored that we aren’t doing enough, when actually the opposite is true. It is good for our kids to experience boredom and when we swoop in and entertain them, we are stopping them from problem-solving, becoming creative and ultimately building resilience. That doesn’t mean that they should be sat in a bare room with nothing to do because “boredom is good for you”. Boredom with no options can lead to frustration and is not beneficial at all. However, the type of boredom that is beneficial is what researchers have labelled “constructive boredom” (Gasper and Middlewood, 2013).
Constructive boredom is when children are given opportunities to be creative without structure or direction. For example, you may suggest that there is a cardboard box and craft material, but not tell them what to make or how to make it. The benefits of this type of boredom come when kids are allowed to have some control in what they do, they are challenged and have to problem solve the challenges themselves. It is the opposite of over scheduling of activity after activity or screens that flood their brains with stimulation and not much else.
Have you ever noticed that when you are doing something mundane, you start to daydream? That is when you come up with the most amazing ideas. Research confirms that when we have some boredom, we become more creative thinkers (Belton, 2013). So when children are bored with an environment that supports creativity, they become incredibly resourceful. This is when children write and act out plays in the backyard, make magic potions from mud and leaves, make spaceships from egg cartons or build the most amazing Lego. This is where they learn to manage failures and come up with ideas to make things work and this is where they build their self-esteems when they can see what they have created.
As you can see constructive boredom inspires creativity, builds autonomy, gives opportunity for problem-solving and ultimately supports self-esteem and resilience. So how do we create opportunities for creative boredom?
Make a creative list: Every school holidays I sit down with my kids and we brainstorm what they would like to do in the break. They can have a few external activities like going to the movies or going to a café, but we try and come up with creative ideas that they can do at home. By doing this, I can make sure that we have everything that we need to be able to do these activities but also, by having them written down, when the kids say “I’m bored” they have a list of ideas that they have created themselves. Again we are building autonomy by giving them the freedom to choose what they do. As we do the activities, they tick them off which also gives them a sense of achievement and the holidays don’t just slip by like nothing really happened.
The list in the picture below is an example of one that was made when my kids were
little (about 4 and 6 years old). It might be bit hard to read because it was the 6 year old
at the time who wrote it, but their ideas were; go fishing, find a pet caterpillar, play
cricket together, go to the park, gardening, go to a café, learn to tie shoelaces, cooking
and toast marshmallows on the fire. Be as creative as you like. The most important part
of this activity is to allow your child to come up with ideas and let them have some
responsibility for the activities that they will do.
Have resources available: You know your child, you know what they like. If they don’t like drawing, it won’t matter how many art supplies you buy, it won’t help when they are bored. Find the things that they love and have them available. If it is sport then make sure that their football isn’t flat. If it is Lego, then make sure that you haven’t sucked it all up the vacuum. If it is cooking, then have the ingredients for their favourite recipes. We can’t expect kids to pull something out of nothing. We do have to set the up the environment for them, but then let them run with it.
Where possible be out in nature: Being outside gives so many opportunities that it is hard to stay bored. There are bugs to find, trees to climb, sticks to turn into magic wands or simply lay and make picture out of the clouds.
My kids have stopped saying “I’m bored” because my reaction is always “fantastic!!!!! I wonder what creative things you will come up with”, to which they usually roll their eye and we have a good laugh. While I am there to offer suggestions and help when things become too difficult, ultimately I know the benefits of letting them feel some boredom and I will allow them to feel that.