We all have busy lives filled with activities from the moment we wake up until our head hits the bed. Yet quite often, at some point in the day, you might hear, “I’m bored” or, “I don’t have anything to do” from one of your kids. Some child-development specialists say we often fail to teach our children one important life skill, dealing with boredom. In addition, children’s days are filled with activities planned by others and can find it difficult to direct themselves to an activity of their own interests.
In her research, Sandi Mann from the University of Central Lancashire looked at what we often associate with boredom — lack of something to do. When we view boredom from this lens, it allows children to depend on others for their activities and restricts their creativity. This is not just at home but in our educational system, as well. Our schools have cut recess times for students greatly over the past 20 years. This has impacted children’s abilities to develop friendships, work with others, and create activities with others independently.
Who would have ever thought making sure that our kids always had activities and events to attend or do might be harming them? Developing and learning how to create their own interests and fill their downtime is a life skill we expect our children to execute. Yet, as adults, we often experience frustration when our children face downtime. The child hasn’t learned or developed the skills to fill this unknown time. Instead, they become dependent on others to fill their day with activities, and when faced with unplanned or free time, we hear, “I have nothing to do, I’m bored.”
Providing a “downtime” where a child has to spend time on their own is not free time for the parents at first. Learning not to be bored is a process and takes time. You cannot start with 60 minutes of “downtime.” You have to build up to 60 minutes. Start with 10 minutes and provide a couple of choices, such as reading a book or drawing a picture. When you hear those beautiful words, “I’M DONE!” All you have to say is, “You still have more time to choose something else.” This is where the learning takes place, so be ready for the pushback. Stick to the 10 minutes. After a bit, you’ll be able to increase by five-minute intervals. Just as you cannot run a marathon the first time out and must build your endurance, the same is true in learning how to deal with boredom. By providing your child with downtime, you can teach them how to engage in activities independently and not depend on others to create activities for them.
Some schools have cut their recess times during the school day because of the demands on instructional time and to avoid dealing with student misbehavior. They found that cutting recess time cuts down students’ misbehaviors, yet is that best for them? Instead of using this time as a teaching/developmental time, schools shorten the time to run and play, shortening the time to practice these developmental skills.
We so often assume children can use free time for productive things when it is a skill that parents and teachers need to foster. Take the time to guide children out of boredom and model and share what you are doing during your downtime.