School is out and my kids are bored. Not just “bored” they are “BOOOOOOOOOORED” (said while flopping over the edge of the couch). I know this can be the cue for some parents to sign them up for robotics camp or ship them off to Grandma’s or hand them a screen of some kind. Resist, Moms. We can get through this summer slump together, but it requires repeating what has become my summer mantra:
Their boredom is not my problem.
Boredom is not a problem to be solved at all. It’s an accomplishment in and of itself. It is the step right before innovation and discovery. When we jump in to “rescue” our kids from boredom, we’ve taken away their ability to develop an important life skill– entertaining yourself.
Mothers are not cruise ship entertainment directors. We are not responsible for making our children’s lives into some enchanting Disney musical. We need to keep them safe, fed, loved and then back up and let them be people who learn how to deal with life and the challenges it throws at them. Even the challenge of boredom. So here’s what to do when your kid gives you the “I’m BOOOOOOOORED!” whine:
Keep doing what you were doing. Keep bopping through the house putting away the laundry. Go ahead and keep working on that email to your mom. Handle your work phone call (if the whining isn’t too loud). Go out and water your plants. Let them sit there on the couch in their own boredom until their brain comes up with a solution.
Or, you can offer them some solutions. Solutions that combine empathy with practicality. “Oh no! You’re bored? Shoot. I know just how to fix that. Here are the 10 potatoes I need to have peeled for dinner tonight. Good luck!. . . Oh, did you come up with something else to do? Look at you! You weren’t that bored at all!”
In fact, I think the source of a lot of boredom is us. We do too much for our kids. They’ve got free time because they didn’t make their own breakfast or make their bed or empty the dishwasher. When you’ve got a certain amount of responsibility in life, you come to appreciate the down moments. How many times when your kids are whining about boredom do you think (or even SAY), “What I wouldn’t give to be bored right now.” We cherish boring times because we appreciate that break from our responsibilities.
We may even jump in to “fix” their boredom because their potential creativity inconveniences us. It’s much easier to hand my kid a screen than have to manage the conflict that inevitably comes from imaginary play with their siblings or clean up the mess that happens when you decide to make a pirate ship out of the couch cushions and EVERY BLANKET WE OWN. When we jump in to give them boredom solutions we are often imposing our adult priorities on their kid brains instead of letting them figure out their own imaginative and out-of-the-box responses to their boredom.
Before my kids can play, they have a small list of tasks they need to complete. SIMPLE things: Eat breakfast, get dressed, clothes in the hamper, tidy room, brush teeth, make bed, help Mom with one chore. By the time they’re done with that list, they are anxious to bust out the front door and find something to do. And when they come back in 30 minutes later, they know if they tell me they’re bored I will remind them of the host of toys, games, books and craft supplies we have. If they can’t find something to do from those options, I will be HAPPY to solve their boredom by giving them ways they can contribute to the family by helping me. Chores aren’t a punishment, they’re just my kids assisting me with what I’m doing anyway. Our home is where I do the work of homemaking and they are welcome to participate with me if they’ve run out of other options.
I know you can find plenty of lists out there of “10 Summer Boredom Busters” and the like, but I think that misses the heart of the problem. I remember my mom saying, “Bored people are boring.” and I think there’s truth in that. We don’t want our kids to be the kind of people who need constant entertainment in order to be content. We want them to be creators and not just consumers. Creation requires a moment of boredom followed by a moment of inspiration. Why would I want to “bust” that process?
So leave your kids alone. Let them be bored and consider that an accomplishment worthy of celebration. In a world of constant entertainment and consumerism, your kids have achieved boredom! Well done. Now sit back and see what they do with that opportunity.