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4 Great Reasons Boredom Can Benefit Your Child

If you're tired of hearing your kids spout “I’m bored,” don't worry! Here are 4 great reasons boredom can benefit your child (and you). 

By
Cheryl Butler
Episode #476
image of a bored kid

In the 25 years I’ve been raising my family of eight kids, I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve heard all of them spout off that they were bored! Imagine being bored among all the chaos a family our size has—I found it completely impossible to believe! Yet—in my kid’s minds boredom was practically the same staple as their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

As a very young mother, I vowed no kid of mine was going to caw like a crow that he/she was bored with nothing to do. If it happened once, I’d squash boredom like an annoying little bug and instill a life of wonder and excitement into each of them so I’d never hear the words “There’s nothing to do around here. I’m so bored” again!

A girl can dream.

Despite my most enthusiastic efforts to create endless play scenarios with glitter, homemade playdough, finger paints, and giant fort castles, or decorating cupcakes and even directing homemade plays, those two stinking words “I’m bored” continued to follow me wherever I went.

Not only was I not going to be able to change my kids' outlook and the rating on their boredom meter, I was also not going to spend my entire parenting life being their cruise director.

And so I finally began to realize a few things. Not only was I not going to be able to change my kids' outlook and the rating on their boredom meter, I was also not going to spend my entire parenting life being their cruise director. And perhaps most importantly—it’s perfectly fine to be bored!

In The Importance Of Letting Your Kids Be Bored, Teresa Belton, visiting fellow at the School of Education & Lifelong Learning at the University Of East Anglia and boredom expert, states that no work and no play doesn’t make Jack a dull boy—it makes his brain work better. She cites research that shows unstructured down time helps kids become creative, independent thinkers. “Boredom needn’t be feared, and it can be seen as an opportunity,” says Belton.

If you're tired of hearing your kids spout “I’m bored,” don't worry—here are four great reasons boredom can benefit your child—and you!

4 Reasons Boredom Can Benefit Your Child

  1. Boredom Encourages Creativity
  2. Boredom Helps Quiet Your Brain
  3. Boredom Helps Teach Kids to Foster Their Interests
  4. Boredom Lets Parents Off the Hook

Here is a closer look at each.

1. Boredom Encourages Creativity

One of the best things boredom brings to the table is that it allows our brains and imagination to go wild and come up with super creative ways to stay entertained. My favorite memory of this is when my four oldest children created a complete “outer space” afternoon because I pulled back and didn’t give them any guidance at all on how to save their sorry souls from a few moments of structured play. It was a rainy afternoon and I had five very young children. I had a newborn baby who was always hungry. I wasn’t able to concoct my usual three-ring circus for my kids so I left them to figure it out for themselves while I tended to my newborn.

Imagine my surprise when I returned from bathing and feeding baby number five, only to find my other four kids up in the attic pretending they were in outer space! This went on for over two hours, and I didn’t’ have to help them create or direct any of this celestial playtime! It was one of those ‘aha’ parenting moments for me. Boredom can be a child’s best friend. Without it, this space playtime may have never happened.

Next time your child screeches that he/she is bored, go with it! Let him/her figure it out for themselves. Maybe an outer space excursion won’t take place the first time, but left to their own devices, they will begin to rely on their own creative brain power to entertain and delight.

2. Boredom Helps Quiet Your Brain

The most peaceful memories I can recall from when my eight kids were very young is when I would take them on a nap ride. Back then I was a stay-at-home mom so each and every day revolved around caring for my family. Like clockwork, I would load them in my minivan after lunch each day and take them for a ride that would last about an hour. I would grab a cup of hot tea at my favorite coffee shop and take a scenic ride around our beautiful town while my young kids napped.

This was sacred time for me because it was a chance for my very busy mom brain to get quiet. I would either listen to my favorite music or a book on tape. Sometimes I had no music on at all and would simply enjoy the scenery and let my mind settle down and get peaceful.

Just as that time was so beneficial to me, the same holds true to our kids. When kids are bored, and don’t have all the hoopla and bells and whistles going off around them, they have the chance to settle down quietly away from the usual hectic pace their minds and brains keep and just have quality alone time with themselves.

Let those snippets of boredom take root and offer your kids the gift of quiet. It may not be a realization to them right away, but if you don’t try to orchestrate a zillion things for them to do when they announce they’re bored, you will allow them the gift of peace, which can definitely lay a solid foundation for the hectic years of adulthood to come.

3. Boredom Teaches Kids to Foster Their Interests

When I was a new mom to toddlers and pre-schoolers, I only wanted one thing—to create a stimulating environment that would help them grow and allow them to express themselves. The last thing I wanted to do was provide a ho-hum atmosphere that would limit their creative growth. And then, when I came back down to reality, I realized that I couldn’t solely be responsible for fostering their imaginations and interests—they needed to do that themselves.

Let those snippets of boredom take root and offer your kids the gift of quiet.

Our pediatrician was very adamant in stressing that no child, regardless of what his/her potential IQ might be, should have all his/her time planned out for them. Her thinking was that filling a child’s time for them teaches nothing but dependence on external motivators, whether that be material possessions or entertaining them with activities like going bowling, to the movies, or to the playground. Instead, her advice was to provide a nurturing environment and let your children become curious and use their imaginations when they announce they have nothing to do. This is more likely to produce independent, resilient young adults.

Some studies have found that children who engage in unstructured play are better able to develop their decision-making skills and discover their own areas of interest. They also have more creative freedom. 

I completely agree with this study. Once I let go of the reigns and allowed my kids to wallow in their boredom, I began to see a whole new side to them. They began thinking of pretend play scenarios alone or with each other. I was fading out as their director and coming back into the role of their mommy. It didn’t always work our perfectly, but over time my kids learned how to rely on their own devices to keep themselves busy and entertained. Go mom!

4. Boredom Lets Parents Off the Hook

Somehow, parents are really good at hanging a guilt trip on themselves if their kids aren’t thriving or happy most of the time. I know, because I used to be one of them. For me, I reasoned that it was because I had experienced infertility for so many years and now that I had finally become a parent, I wanted my family to be the happiest campers this world has ever seen.

When I finally allowed my kids to wallow for a bit and then figure out how they could stay busy without my interference, not only did they learn how to have fun on their own, I got to have a break myself.

Wrong! Kids are always going to be kids, no matter what their circumstances might be—and figuring out how to stay occupied and entertained just goes with the territory. This was not easy for me to embrace. But when I finally allowed my kids to wallow for a bit and then figure out how they could stay busy without my interference, not only did they learn how to have fun on their own, I got to have a break myself. This didn’t work every single time one of my kids whined about being without something amusing to do, but when I consistently ignored their plea their reaction was also consistent—they quit groaning and found a way to pass the time either alone or with one of their siblings.

By no means am I saying I gave up planning fun activities for my kids to do—I always enjoyed that part of parenting and still do, even with my teenagers. But for those dozens of times when my kids would drone on about how boring our house was, that’s when I quickly responded with my favorite line—“Only boring people get bored”—and let them start figuring it out for themselves.

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How do you handle boredom in your family? Share your thoughts in the comments section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommy, the Mighty Mommy Facebook page, or Twitter. You can also email me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com. Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT for more tips and hints! Listen and subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Image of bored child © Shutterstock 

About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!

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