Aren’t we all familiar with boredom? That dreadful feeling that can take over any of us, regardless of how young or old we are. Boredom can manifest itself either as a feeling of emptiness, a lack of purpose, anxiety or a sense of loss. Hopefully, as adults, we would have learnt to observe these emotions and found alternative ways to tackle them. But what about children? How can we help them deal with this feeling and everything it implies? Are we worsening the problem significantly by continually trying to entertain them? What are the consequences children face when adults try to solve these feelings for them?
The truth is that boredom in itself can be an excellent gateway to a more fulfilling and creative inner landscape, and hence to a better life. In a world of constant instant gratification, it is challenging to sit with an emotion that is uncomfortable. However, this feeling is one that keep resurfacing until we find a way to handle it. When we take away the feeling of boredom from our children, we might be getting in the way of their emotional development unknowingly by teaching them that uncomfortable feelings are to be avoided at all cost.
So, what are the benefits of allowing children to remain bored:
- Boredom gives children a feeling of emotional self-awareness: As a parent, you might be able to notice that your little one is getting bored even before they do. When you notice this, ask them what it is they are feeling? Get them to stop for a second and assess if there is a part of their body which can recognise the emotion. This process will teach them to become attuned to and be comfortable with uncomfortable feelings.
- Boredom increases creativity: Boredom is, in itself, a seeking stage. Whatever it is your child is doing is not satisfying enough so their brains will naturally seek some other form of stimulation. You can allow them to step out of that state themselves, and they eventually will! Or you can help them to get out by just asking them the question, What do you think would be fun to do for you now?
- Boredom helps children to step into being more motivated and focus: To stop the boredom, children will need to motivate themselves and take action. This is an incredibly useful skill to learn. They will also help them gravitate towards what is of more interest to them, developing in this way, their crafts and hobbies in whatever it is they are good at and enjoy.
- Boredom will teach them to be self–reliant: How amazing it would be for your children to learn how to rescue themselves from uncomfortable situations! Learning self-sufficiency and understanding what they need to do to step into a satisfying emotion/situation is an importat stage in life which the child must discover on his/her own.
So how can you respond and assist your child in this process?
- Don’t rescue them or make it better for them: This might be a bit difficult as a parent especially with feelings of guilt which can be very compelling and powerful. Monitor and become aware of your own emotions, in order for you to be able to hold back yourself from solving the problem out for them. Allow them to figure out how to deal with such situations alone.
- Ensure they have some materials available: These need not be sophisticated; simple things such as paints, paper, scissors, glue, glitter, books, cardboard boxes are often more versatile. For older children, a magnifying glass, some planks of wood, a basket of wool, and so on, might be the start of many happily occupied hours.
- Give them time and space: Understand that children need time to go through this emotional process alone and allow them the space they need to conveniently and comfortably make a mess.
- Help your child if he is stuck: If you see that your child is genuinely stuck and can’t initiate an activity on his/her own, start doing something with him – maybe reading a book or colouring, and after you have done this, let him/her be so that they can continue the process of entertaining themselves alone. With time, your child will learn that all he needs to do is to start an activity.
- Avoid giving them electronic devices to help curtail the boredom: The TV, phone, iPad or computer will only provide them with a sense of instant gratification. However, it won’t teach them to step out for themselves and be creative.
As a final note and quick reminder, there is a big difference between a child feeling bored and a child in need of a little bit of attention from his/her parents. Your child might be looking for you to spend time together; in which case you two (or your little one) can choose an activity you can both do. Allow your child to take the initiative. And by observing him or her, you will be able to tell whether the child needs your attention or is just really bored.