Although summertime means warm weather and chilled lemonade, many parents dread the vacation simply because it means having the kids back at home for weeks on end. The hallways are no longer quiet, the house is no longer clean, and perhaps worst of all is the whiny phrase, “I’m bored!” repeated at least 12 times a day.
There are a million ways to keep the kids busy before school starts with summer camps, sports teams, and music practice. But actually, psychologists say that it’s healthy for children to be bored from time to time.
Confused? Allow me to explain.
The Benefits Of Boredom
Boredom is a natural human emotion and instinct; even the busiest of people will feel bored now and again. The purpose of being bored is to motivate change. Boredom urges you to seek more cognitive, emotional, and social stimulation that otherwise would never have happened. (1)
I mean, think about it. If you never got bored, you would probably spend your life staring a wall for no good reason. Why do anything else if there’s no motivation? Being bored gives you a reason to seek out new goals and experiences.
The problem with filling your child’s summer schedule with endless activities and projects is that they never get a chance to feel this motivating boredom. And when it does come, they won’t know what to do with it! Hence the whining and complaining.
Part of growing up is learning how to fill your free time with things that make you happy. If you don’t have the chance to explore new possibilities from a young age, you will find yourself always relying on others for entertainment.
As psychoanalyst Adam Phillips says in his book On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life, “It is one of the most oppressive demands of adults that the child should be interested, rather than take time to find what interests him. Boredom is integral to the process of taking one’s time.”
What Can You Do?
As pretty as it sounds in writing, letting your kids complain to you day after day about having nothing to do is enough to drive anyone up the wall. So how can you let your child have a healthy amount of boredom while still maintaining your own sanity throughout the summer?
Here are a few things you can try.
1. Make An Activity List
At the beginning of the summer, take some time to sit down with each of your kids and help them make a list of everything they might enjoy doing during the summer break. They can be elaborate activities like putting on a play, going on a picnic, or taking a hike. They can also be smaller activities like making a craft, biking around the block, or reading a book. Then anytime they feel bored you can pull out their list and have them choose an activity.
2. Listen, Don’t Talk
A parent’s first instinct when a child says they are bored is to immediately offer up ideas of things to do. However, this gives your child the opportunity to turn down your ideas for sounding boring, which can turn into a fight. Before giving out solutions, try listening first. Sit a moment with your kid and let them tell you about how awful it is to be bored. Maybe they just want some attention from you, or just need a moment to vent. By listening to what they have to say you are validating them about feeling bored, and teaching them that it’s natural. After they’ve had a moment to complain about it, they will more likely be open to ideas about what to do.
3. It’s Okay To Be Bored
If your child has exhausted their list, you’ve run out of ideas, and they are still complaining about being bored, it’s okay! It’s important to realize that being bored isn’t bad. Children need to learn how to be bored in order to find that motivation to find a new way to use their time. It teaches self reliance. So don’t worry if your child sits around for a while being bored. Let them battle it out themselves! If they spend enough time being bored they will eventually find a way to pass the time.
Win The Battle With Boredom!
Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with summer camps and activities, especially if it’s something that your child enjoys! And chances are even with a few planned summer activities, your child will still find boredom from time to time.
The most important thing is that kids learn to battle it out with boredom themselves in order to become more self reliant and motivated. Before you know it, you may stop hearing the phrase “I’m bored” once and for all!