The Sticky Files - Marisca Bakker

Letting your kids be bored is OK

Marisca learns boredom in children is essential to their mental and emotional development

My seven-year-old told me she was bored the other day. We aren’t even halfway through the summer and she’s telling me she’s bored already.

When I would tell my mom that when I was a kid, she would throw a dish rag at me and tell me to clean the kitchen. My siblings and I learned quickly to avoid that phrase.

I tried that with my daughter. She stared blankly back at me. So I offered her suggestions. We have a trampoline and a swing set outside and I can’t walk a straight line through my house without tripping over a toy. Our house is filled with Play-doh, crayons, markers and paint and yet my daughter is bored.

My instinct is to try to entertain her but after doing some research later that night when the kids were all tucked in, that might not be the best idea.

In turns out, being bored is good for kids’ brains and children these days don’t have a lot of opportunities to be bored because parents feel obligated to keep them busy.

According to the Child Mind Institute, boredom can actually help them develop skills, creativity and self-esteem. Maybe they need a little help coming up with a few ideas for unstructured time but they should be able to take the ball from there.

The institute also said that if your kid rejects every idea, they may just want your attention. I have a feeling that is what my daughter was trying to tell me.

Having a job, and two other kids and trying to keep a household together stretches me pretty thin. The guilt creeps in pretty quickly. But the experts at the Child Mind Institute said giving in to this kind of attention-seeking creates a vicious cycle.

Try giving your kid a choice of two activities. Say they must pick one. And when a project doesn’t go as planned, that’s just boredom teaching your kid how to come back from failure and try again. That makes me feel better.

I should let my daughter be bored, and find ways to be creative and learn some new skills. When a child has unstructured free time, they get an opportunity to use their imagination.

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Another parenting expert, Marien Richardson had an interesting approach on letting your child be bored. She wrote that bit of boredom is like a rainy day in the middle of summer.

“It’s a downer when it happens, but it makes us really appreciate the sunny days that follow. If there are no lulls in a child’s life, they may not appreciate the exciting times as much. It’s about perspective,” she said.

I think that is a great way to look at it. I want my children to appreciate when we do something extra special, like the upcoming fall fair or when we go camping.

If your children need a few ideas, suggest a teddy bear picnic, a bug hunt, colouring or building a fort and let them take it from there. We haven’t had the best weather this summer for outdoor play, but hopefully things turn around and we can enjoy more beach days and park mornings.