Let your kids be bored, it's good for them

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

"I'm booooored". It's a cry that parents hear way too often and it can make for very long days.

But are we guilty of fuelling our children's inability to be bored? Are we guilty of sending the message that life always has to be busy?

Nowadays, we're all busy doing something all of the time. Busyness has almost become a status symbol, a reflection on our success as a person. 

We rarely sit still to take time out. Boredom is a foreign concept. Phones, Netflix and technology provide the constant stimulation that we seek. 

So, it's no surprise that children are unable to be bored. They see our behaviour and mimic it, and, as we jam pack their schedules with activities, we could be perpetuating this further. 

"Parents want to enrich the lives of their children and offer them the best, so over filling their child's schedule doesn't come from a negative place," says registered psychologist, Rachel Tomlinson.

"Unfortunately, this can be stressful for children and having so many scheduled activities doesn't teach them the skills to self-entertain or self-regulate if they do feel bored. 

They miss out on the opportunity to independently explore their environment and choose toys or activities."

Tomlinson notes that there are many reasons why parents worry about their children being bored. 

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Sometimes it's because their child may start bothering them when they're trying to do something important or need a break, some fear that their child will become destructive, and some may worry for their wellbeing or the possible impact of boredom. 

"Children are actually very well-equipped to rid themselves of boredom with their creativity and imagination," says Tomlinson. 

"Sometimes 'boredom' is a reliance on their parents to entertain them because they haven't been used to self-directed play. But this is so important to help them work through new skills, worries or just process their day."

Tomlinson says that social media and technology plays a big part in our children's inability to be "bored". 

The sense of instant gratification means they don't learn to wait or delay what they want. They also see the adults in their lives being constantly engaged with technology and learn that this is normal. 

So how can we overcome this? What are the benefits of our children being bored? 

"Boredom is necessary," says Tomlinson. "It allows children to process and work through what they need to, not gain some skill or achieve a learning objective from a scheduled activity or class. 

"It also teaches them to self-entertain and be comfortable with their own company."

Tomlinson says that we can help our children to embrace this disengagement from formal activities by scheduling in unstructured play each day, detoxing or removing technology, changing or rotating toys and only having a few toys available at any one time. 

She suggests leading by example and practising speaking out loud about how you're going to manage your own boredom "Hmmm it's really quiet and I'm feeling a bit bored so I think I might paint a picture or read a book". 

"Explore and talk about the importance of quiet time, or time without forms of entertainment," she says. 

"Talk to your children about how it lets our brains have a little rest after being busy all day, much like our bodies need a rest after exercise."

Experts at the Australian Government funded parenting website, raisingchildren.net.au echo Tomlinson's advice and have recently launched a video series outlining the benefits of boredom. 

Benefits include increased resilience and the ability to work through something tough. 

"When children are required to find something to do, they're forced to use their problem-solving skills, creative thinking and imagination to play," says Associate Professor Julie Green, Executive Director at raisingchildren.net.au 

"It can really be worth parents holding their nerve when the kids complain about being bored as it shows them that it isn't the end of the world to be a bit bored and to work through it. 

It's important for parents to play with their children but they don't have to entertain them all the time."