Being Bored Won’t Kill You; The Importance of Being Bored

“Mom! I’m bored” moans your child. The pressure is on to come up with something! Are you failing as a parent if you cannot come up with a great idea that your child is excited about? What will happen if your child stays bored, will it inhibit his growth and development?  Today’s parents feel an intense pressure to keep their child from becoming bored. Somehow, parents feel that keeping their child occupied and engaged 24/7 has become part of their job description. It seems as though most childrens’ schedules are busy every minute of the day with school, clubs, groups, tutors, sports, play dates, etc. So when there are a few minutes of down time parents often feel obligated to fill it for their child. At some point, boredom became this dreadful phenomenon that must be addressed immediately, and somewhere along the line it became the parents responsibility, instead of the child, to remedy the situation.  The truth is, boredom can be extremely beneficial for child development. When adults immediately jump in and create a solution to the child’s boredom, we interfere with their chance to be creative and imaginative. Boredom enables self-play, generates creativity, encourages self-engagement, and promotes problem solving skills.  Research suggests that the brain does not slow down and take a rest when we are bored, in contrast boredom shifts activity to the creative and imaginative parts of the brain. In essence, when we are bored and our brain wanders, we come up with our most creative and inventive ideas.  Additionally, being bored and having down time gives our brain time to recharge. Constant stimulation can create “cognitive overload” and inhibit the effectiveness of the brain’s functioning. Although we often give our bodies a break when tired, we rarely allow our brains the same courtesy. As adults, our lunch break tends to involve checking email or browsing social media, and children follow the lead.  When there is a break in activity children are quick to turn on the TV. Sometimes it is beneficial to just stare off into space and let the mind wander.  Boredom can also be a great opportunity for goal setting and planning. It turns out that when your mind is wandering, it is also considering multiple goals and options. A wandering mind is often very future oriented, and can be a good time for children to consider what their options are and what they could do next.  Now that you understand how positive boredom can be, how do you make the switch to allowing your child to sit with their boredom? Here are a few ideas:
  • Create a list of things to do. Sit down with your child and help them come up with a list of activities they enjoy doing. When they complain about being bored, have them reference the list and choose an activity for themselves – do not pick for them. 
  • Have designated play areas. When children have a play area that was designed just for them, they are more likely to come up with their own games when they are bored. 
  • Create unstructured time. Schedule “free time” for your child, during which they must entertain themselves and choose their own activities. 
  • Encourage outdoor play. Research suggests that children are more likely to create their own games in nature than in structured settings. 
  This may all seem like a daunting, but you are not alone. Therapy can be a helpful space to help your child start learning how to problem solve, think creatively and flexibly, and start to challenge themselves. Parent coaching is also available to support you in smoothly making some changes in the household to cope with boredom and its many beneficial effects. Please reach out for help if you need support in implementing these ideas at home.