If manufacturers could produce it, if marketers could promote it and if advertisers could sell it, the gift of boredom would be a multimillion-dollar industry. Conscientious parents would be lining up outside of Target, praying that they would be able to get a hold of this wonder product, a gift which has the ability to stimulate their child’s imagination, bolster feelings of resiliency, raise self-esteem, spark creativity and support their child in growing up to become an independent, self-starting, outside of the box thinker.
Our current generation of children has become so accustomed to being overscheduled and overworked, that many have never had the opportunity to sit back and smell the roses, or lay on their bedroom floor and watch the dust motes float. Many parents have lamented the strain on their children and themselves of constantly being on the go, driving to sports practices, art classes, play dates, sleepovers, after school clubs etc. The good news is, that while we are on lockdown, we can absolutely give ourselves permission to stand-down!
What does this mean? Right now, at this moment, without any preparation or financial investment, on your part, you can give your child the gift of boredom. All that it is required is the ability to let go of any preconceived notions or expectations of what you or your child “should” be doing or achieving. Of course we have to set limits to keep our children safe, place boundaries on screen time to keep our children healthy and support our children to keep on track with their school work, but beyond that, we can absolutely give ourselves permission to let go.
If your children are old enough, you can gently and firmly tell them to go to their room for an hour and occupy themselves, if you have children who are too young to be left unsupervised, you can childproof an area and give them space to explore. Our children don’t need any special equipment or involvement from us, in fact, complaints from our children that they are bored is our best indicator that they have received the gift and we are doing it “right”. If we are persistent enough and fight the urge to breakout the paint sets or the trampoline, something magical can happen. Our children begin to fill the void with their imaginations, they have time to daydream, to create and to use the resources that are immediately available to them, rather than bring in something new.
This is not parenting for the faint of heart, it certainly isn’t easy to sit with the discomfort of feeling that we are not doing something that we “should” be doing. Our children may fill the void by picking fights with their siblings, the “resources” they choose may be broom handles turned into swords, or bed sheets turned into slides. It is not a completely hands off approach, it is more of a willingness to step back, observe from a distance and intervene only when redirection is necessary.
Allowing our children to sit with their boredom is a gift and it is one that will last for the rest of their lives. Children learn to tolerate a state of discomfort without the ability to turn to the common distractors available to adults (e.g. alcohol, drugs, porn), they learn to manage down time that is free of expectation, siblings learn that they can either choose to play cooperatively or risk losing a playmate, imagination and creativity grows and the brain has chance to recharge, so that it is primed and ready to receive the next time information is available. Being on lockdown is the perfect time to give your child the gift of boredom, it is free, it supports social distancing, it requires no specialized equipment and it might just free up an hour in your own schedule to sit back and smell the roses or lay on your bedroom floor and watch the dust motes float.
Dr. Joanne Scott Ed.D is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY31240) here at Cottonwood Psychology Anaheim Hills. She specializes in maternal mental health, birth trauma and intergenerational conflict. Call her directly at: (657) 210-8300 to schedule a consultation.