‘I’m bored!’ How many times do we hear those words as parents? I have lost count of the number of times my precious moppets have whined over the years that they are ‘bored’ as they demanded some form of entertainment be provided (or at the very least that their electronics be returned after being confiscated yet again). But boredom is good for children; it’s part of childhood; it’s the catalyst to spark their imagination; it’s the pathway to creative play and to finding solutions to problems themselves.
Between work commitments and school, our time with our children is often limited and, of course, we want that time to be ‘quality time.’ However, by providing a constant carousel of activities, entertainments and days out, we are failing to teach them how to amuse themselves, to develop inner resources and be happy with their own company. It’s natural to want our children to have fun, enjoy their childhood and have happy memories to look back on, but in our quest to do that, sometimes we forget that some of their best memories will come from the things they learned, discovered, explored and sometimes struggled with themselves, not the things that were handed to them on a plate.
When my children have friends over, it’s always obvious which ones are used to boredom, and which ones are accustomed to a constant programme of events. My usual response to the plaintive wail of ‘I’m bored’ is ‘Only boring people get bored’ to which my children roll their eyes and huff at me. The children whose parents are like me and allow them to be bored, soon start inventing games, building worlds and coming up with things to do, whereas those children who are used to being given a series of suggestions and things to do, struggle with the concept of being told to just ‘go and play!’ After a little while though, when no entertainment is forthcoming, most of them do get the hang of making up games, and using their imagination, instead of being directed through a series of crafts or activities. In some cases, they even declare being handed an old blanket and told to go and make a den, to have been ‘the best fun ever!’
My conviction about the benefits of boredom partly stems from fairly lazy parenting. I’m just not one those parents who enjoy spending hours making playdough creations (in fact, although my children have outgrown playdough, the very thought of the texture still makes me shudder). So I always encouraged my children to play independently, whether that was building Lego, mooching round the garden, or spending hours sitting in a box that was variously a castle, a racing car and an aeroplane. They did have real toys too, but for some reason empty boxes were always extremely popular – perhaps my kids are part cat? But think back to your own childhood. How much of it was spent with your parents organising you into activities, undertaking craft projects with you, or taking you on days out, and how much of it was spent complaining you were bored and being told to go and read a book, or find something to do? Mine certainly involved a great deal of boredom, that in turn led to imaginary worlds and people and that perhaps then led to me become a writer. Without a healthy dose of boredom, there is no incentive to learn to think for ourselves, or to change things to alleviate boredom!
Of course, I’m not suggesting that children don’t deserve some fun, special treats and parental input. Just that sometimes, it doesn’t hurt them to be bored. There are enough things we are made to feel guilty about as parents and our children occasionally being bored should definitely not be one of them!
If your child complains frequently of boredom, fill a jar with paper slips with tedious tasks written on them, like ‘tidy your room,’ ‘do the dusting,’ ‘weed a flowerbed,’ ‘sort out your sock drawer’. Any time someone complains of boredom, they have to pick a slip out randomly and complete the chore on it. When faced with this, it was astonishing how quickly my children found themselves something more interesting to do!
So, embrace boredom! Your cherubs will thank you for it one day. And even if they don’t appreciate what you are so selflessly doing for them now, you might get a tidy house with impeccably ordered sock drawers out of it!
Gill Sims is the bestselling author of Why Mummy Drinks, which spent a staggering 30 weeks in the Sunday Times Top 10 and was the bestselling debut hardback novel of 2017. Her second novel Why Mummy Swears was published in Hardback by HarperCollins in July 2018 RRP £12.99.