Last week we hit THAT stage. You know, the one where the kids no longer think the whole "emergency remote learning" thing is fun any more, cookies have been baked, muffins have been baked, rocks have been painted, books have been read, yada yada yada and every afternoon starts and ends with "I'm sooooooo bored.". Yeah, that one.
Not gonna lie, at first those words were like nails on a chalkboard. "What do you mean you're bored?! You have schoolwork to do and toys to play with and grandparents to call, and and and!" In between Zoom calls and emails, I was not really in the mood to find them things to do (and out came grouchy mama, who, let's be honest, no one really likes).
But then, I sat with it a bit and realized that this was exactly where I wanted my kids to be. Bored out of their trees.
Yes, it was totally annoying at first and yes, it made for some tense discussions ("No, I do not know what you should do right now, just like I didn't know 10 minutes ago!") but once my kids realized that they were on their own, they began to get creative. They spent hours up a tree in the backyard, hauling up notebooks & snacks so they could design the tree house of their dreams (also, I'm pretty sure they were spying on the neighbours). They built Lego and made up stories and discovered stop motion animation. They built forts in the front yard and made up dance routines and re-read books and learned about science on Wonders with Charlie. In short, they got creative.
Research tells us that there are benefits to boredom. Among other things, it has been shown to spark creativity, develop problem-solving skills and enhance interpersonal skills. Coincidentally (or not?) these skills are what make up the so-called "soft skills" or "21st century skills" that schools are embracing and employers are demanding. By letting my kids be bored, I am literally preparing them for the future.
Let me repeat that - By letting my kids be bored, I'm giving them the very skills they need to be successful as adults.
In our hyper-scheduled, tech-filled lives there isn't a lot of space for boredom. We bounce from activity to activity, pulling out our phones any time we have to wait for even the slightest amount of time. Rarely do we just sit and stare off in to space, rarely do we have lazy Sunday afternoons where the kids roam the backyard while we pull weeds. Paradoxically, our attachment to technology is actually making us more prone to boredom, as we never give ourselves the chance to actually practice being bored (who knew it took practice?). By never letting our kids (or ourselves) be bored, we are preventing them from developing the skills that they need to be successful as they get older.
Boredom has also been shown to improve mental health, which is undeniably important in this day and age. Although it can seem uncomfortable at first, boredom allows our brains (and our children's brains) to process thoughts and feelings, instead of pushing them away by mindlessly scrolling our social feeds. It allows our kids to work through social challenges by encouraging them to seek out other kids and negotiate the terms of reference for play. And it gives us all a chance to rest and recharge by being alone.
So the next time your kid says "I'm bored", don't hand them your phone. Respond like we do in our house - "I'm sure you'll figure something out" or, my husband's personal favourite, "There are dishes to be done and toilets to be cleaned" (the kids disappear faster than you can say go with this one). Give them the opportunity to rattle around the house and the yard, picking things up and putting them down, bouncing from one activity to the next before they finally settle on something (and not the TV). Feel good about the fact that you are actually helping your kids by not entertaining them every minute of every day.
Because maybe we need to focus on letting kids be bored more than we need to "teach" them 21st century skills. Maybe our goal as parents in this time should be giving our children the gift of boredom so that they naturally develop the skills we have been relying on the schools to teach. Maybe the kids who are allowed to be bored through this will actually come out ahead, curious, creative and ready to take on the world.
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!