It’s the two words every parent dreads come summer vacation: I’m bored. But before you start racking Pinterest for ways to entertain your little one or typing “what to do when you’re bored” into the ol’ Google machine, take a page out of your predecessors’ books and just … let the kids be bored. According to science, it can be seriously beneficial, so we talked with a few experts on the subject. Keeping reading to find out more.
1. Boredom helps kids get to know themselves better.
In order for your child to get to know themselves—their likes, dislikes and general life preferences and nuances—a little boredom is in order. Though it may be a little uncomfortable at first, experts agree that quietude and the absence of stimulation is a developmental must. “Children need to sit in the nothingness of boredom in order to arrive at an understanding of who they are,” notes psychologist and author Vanessa Lapointe in a Huffington Post piece. “And just as important, children need to sit in the nothingness of boredom to awaken their own internal drive to be.”
2. Boredom forces kids to be creative.
It’s no secret that some of the best ideas are born out of boredom. In fact, creativity is a by-product of boredom has been scientifically proven! A 2013 study found that “bored” participants outperformed those who were relaxed, elated or distressed on creativity tests. And in case you’re wondering why creativity is so important in everyday life—it’s one of the cornerstones of an interesting and fulfilling existence (Remember that play you and your friends wrote and performed or the clubhouse you built in the backyard? There’s a good chance you were bored beforehand.).
3. Being bored allows kids to discover their life passions.
How many times have you walked into your kid’s room after an “I’m bored!” declaration to find him doing the most random (and adorable) activity, like organizing his stuffed animals or setting up a makeshift restaurant? As Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist, says on her site Aha Parenting, “Unstructured time challenges children to explore their own passions. If we keep them busy with lessons and structured activity, or they ‘fill’ their time with screen entertainment, they never learn to respond to the stirrings of their own hearts, which might lead them to build a fort in the backyard, write a short story or song, or simply study the bugs on the sidewalk.”
photo: John Morgan via Flickr
4. Boredom makes for the best memories.
Think back to your childhood. What were some of your most fun times and memorable experiences? Surely, it wasn’t vegging out in front of the TV or having your parents entertain you like a couple of court jesters. It was the times you used your imagination and creativity to create something totally unique and magical. You have boredom to thank for that. And your kids should have that opportunity, too!
5. Being bored makes kids happy—eventually.
When you rattle off suggestions or tell your kids to “find something to do” after they tell you they’re bored, you’re likely to be on the receiving end of a few grumbles. Eventually, though, when your child drums up a way to entertain themselves, they’ll be happy—happier than if you caved and gave them the iPad. “Kids are always happiest in self-directed play,” Markham notes on her site. “That’s because play is children’s work. It’s how they work out emotions and experiences they’ve had. Watch any group of children playing outside and they will organize themselves into an activity of some sort, whether that’s making a dam at the creek, playing pretend or seeing who can jump farthest.”
6. Kids are more likely to be physically active.
Given that childhood obesity rates are significantly higher than they were generations ago, it’s vital for kids to get outside and get moving. Children are more likely to be physically active when there isn’t a screen around, and you haven’t laid out a Pinterest-inspired craft for them that involves them being sedentary. Not only is exercise (which can come in the form of fort-building, hide and seek or dancing) crucial for little ones’ health, it’s a great way to get out pent-up energy, which is something all children are in ample supply.
7. Boredom helps children learn new skills and become a little more self-sufficient.
Research has found when kids are bored they’re more apt to do—and learn—things that may become lifelong interests, or at the very least, be important life skills. After Dr. Teresa Belton, a researcher at the University of East Anglia’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning, interviewed author Meera Syal on her childhood boredom, she commented: “Lack of things to do spurred Ms. Syal to talk to people she would not otherwise have engaged with and to try activities she would not, under other circumstances, have experienced, such as talking to elderly neighbors and learning to bake cakes.”
photo: kucierka via Flickr
8. Boredom makes kids more content.
Just as catering to your child’s every need will bring about unfavorable (read: bratty) behavior, so will solving your child’s boredom dilemma—be it with a screen or a new toy—every time they can’t come up with something to do on their own. Nearly 90 years ago philosopher Bertrand Russell waxed poetic about the makings of a happy life in his book The Conquest of Happiness, and in it, he said: “A life too full of excitement is an exhausting life, in which continually stronger stimuli are needed to give the thrill that has come to be thought an essential part of pleasure … There is an element of boredom which is inseparable from the avoidance of too much excitement, and too much excitement not only undermines the health but dulls the palate for every kind of pleasure …” Need we say more?
9. Boredom can be motivating.
According to psychologist and author Michael Ungar, being bored can help foster long-term motivation for kids. “Children who experience a lack of programmed activity are given an opportunity to demonstrate creativity problem solving, and to develop motivational skills that may help them later in life,” he notes on Psychology Today. “It might sound nostalgic, but we parents influence our children’s level of motivation. A motivated child is one who is raised to seek new experiences, not one who is endlessly protected from boredom.”
10. Boredom is good for parents, too!
Not caving every time your kids say “I’m bored” teaches them how to amuse themselves and have fun on their own—which means less time you spend entertaining them. What parent couldn’t use an hour to get a few things done or have a conversation with their spouse? Teaching little ones life skills while having some time to yourself? That’s a win-win.
— Nicole Fabian-Weber