As a teacher, I get it. Boredom is terrifying.
We dread those unstructured moments between one activity to the next. Part of my practicum training included learning multiple strategies to effectively manage student transitions between subjects. Students who finish their work early have several options: read a novel, draw a picture, journal, solve a riddle, try a math puzzle, or work on other unfinished assignments. All of these activities are designed to keep students quietly busy while their classmates finish up. But mostly, these options alleviate boredom.
Fast forward to present, I’m now a mother to two active preschoolers who clearly have yet to develop a concept of boredom. They jump from playing to exploring to building to drawing to reading to climbing to dancing to singing (I could go on forever) like there’s simply not enough time in a day to fit in everything they’d like to do. They get lost in their own company, creating imaginative worlds of adventure and experimentation.
Why do our children lose this sense of insatiable curiosity? At what stage does boredom turn into such an unendurable experience? And when did boredom become a parent’s problem?
One of my favourite parenting advisors, Janet Lansbury (Elevating Child Care), views boredom as “the time and space between ideas… and sometimes the wellspring of genius.”
Child and developmental psychologists agree that learning to pursue personally interesting activities during our free time is an important life skill. Children with over-scheduled summers miss out on this opportunity. We may not enjoy being bored, but boredom isn’t actually a bad thing. And it’s certainly not a waste of time.
Boredom is crucial for nurturing creativity, self-reliance, and imagination.
Technology makes it easy to believe we should live in a state of constant entertainment. We reach for our devices before the seed of boredom even has a chance to sprout.
It’s time to re-evaluate the importance of developing our capacity to self-engage. When children say they’re bored, what they actually mean is they have nothing to distract themselves from themselves.
Over-scheduled childhoods reinforce the false idea that we are not enough. That’s not a message I want for my kids. Let’s view boredom for what it really is: a gift of time.
It allows us to be with ourselves, to reflect on our own thoughts and feelings. Psychotherapist Nancy Colier believes that boredom helps us understand that, “we are a worthwhile destination for our own attention.”
Now that’s a valuable experience I want for my children and students. So next time our kids tell us they’re bored, simply smile and say, “You’re welcome. You’re worth it.”