Christmas is over, the presents are no longer a novelty and there’s still weeks of the holidays left to go. So what do you do when your child utters those inevitable words: “I’m bored”?
You could drop your head into your hands with despair or tell them how you only had two stones and a toilet roll to play with in your day. Or you could view their boredom as an opportunity rather than a problem.
Unlike our generation who had to self-amuse under a church pew or wait in the station wagon outside the pub, today’s kids are bred to be constantly entertained whether by friend, food, toy or electronic device.
Yet boredom gives their brains an opportunity to reset themselves and find creative solutions. Indeed, Jessica Alba recently revealed that her kids, Honor, seven, and Haven, four, complain of being bored but she’s less than sympathetic. “I was like, ‘I spent my entire childhood being bored!’ That’s how you figure out who you are is by getting bored and having to use your imagination.”
Kathy Walker, author of Future Proofing Your Child, says one of the most frequent comments she hears from parents is that children don’t know how to entertain themselves. Yet how can they learn if we’re always scheduling activities and allowing them to fill the gaps with screens?
Kathy suggests starting small if kids are not used to unscheduled time. Start with an hour every second day and work up to an hour each day. She also suggests giving them options rather than telling them simply to go outside and play. As she says: “Children will feel more confident about coming up with ideas if they see you being enthusiastic about creating something or trying something new.”
So, some tips:
• Turn lunch into a picnic which they set up.
• Pull out the dress ups and suggest they stage a play.
• Give them chalk and tell them whoever creates the best picture gets to hose it off afterwards.
• Suggest an obstacle course.
• Get them to draw a diagram of how they’d like to rearrange their bedroom.
• Bag up loose change to take to the bank.
• Give them a large box and ask them what they could make with it.
• Help them make their own playdough then leave them to colour and sculpt it.
• Set up the sprinkler.
• Go on a walk and let them take photographs.
As kids get better at finding solutions to boredom it’s important to leave them to simply daydream or watch ants crawl across the concrete. It’s great to empathise with their frustration but don’t try to fix it. If they whine, Kathy recommends using reflective listening and telling them you understand it’s not easy but you can’t wait to see what they end up doing.
Finally, remember that boredom can lead to success. Sir Donald Bradman credited his cricketing talent with having to amuse himself with a stick and ball. Likewise, the Beatles were raised in the grey English city of Liverpool - look where they got by having to entertain themselves!