All school year long, kids dream of balmy months of nonstop amusement. But in reality, the season tends to tee up long, hot day after long, hot day of sweaty boredom.
As parents, we worry about keeping our kids occupied during the seemingly endless summer. An enlightened mom I know with four children from Kindergarten to high school age has written dozens of things to do on index cards that the kids can grab when they’re bored. It’s a smart idea, but I can tell she’s already tired of being the family camp counselor.
Do our children really need us to solve their summer boredom problems? I think I found the answer in the perennial bestseller Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. The tip is so basic, it’s quite shocking. Author Richard Carlson suggests that when our kids whine “I’m bored,” we simply respond, “Great, be bored for a while. It’s good for you.”
Go on, get bored!
What? Won’t all that boredom turn our kids into marshmallow-brained zombies? Carlson says no. To him, boredom doesn’t mean hours of idle laziness. Instead, it’s giving in to the art of relaxation, of just “being” rather than “doing.”
When we allow our overscheduled kids to be bored, even for just a few minutes a day (watching TV doesn’t count), we take an enormous amount of pressure off them. Carlson says that kids’ brains, just like their bodies, need an occasional timeout from stimulation. “When you allow your mind to take a break,” he writes, “it comes back stronger, sharper, more focused and creative.”
Reframing “just doing nothing” as a benefit, not a waste of time, is a strong theme in David Elkind’s book The Hurried Child. His belief is that children today are not allowed their childhoods; instead, they are pressured and rushed to perfect skills, achieve and constantly strive to further their development. Elkind feels that children need many opportunities and plenty of time for free, unstructured play in order for them to grow in a healthy and balanced way.
In her book Kids Are Worth It, Barbara Coloroso states that “we as adults are often uncomfortable with being alone, quiet and reflective.” Solitary contemplation is not encouraged or valued in our society. And yet, for children to grow in inner discipline and to get to know and like themselves, “They need time to be alone and be still.”
Madeline Levine, author of the bestselling Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success, agrees: “Kids who have no down time never get to know themselves. They know only who others tell them they are. Learning who you are takes place not in the act of doing but in the quiet spaces between things. The more of these quiet spaces you can provide your kids, the better.”
Find those quiet spaces this summer and watch the kids bask — and grow — in the boredom.
Claire Gawinowicz is a certified parenting educator at the Center for Parenting Education in Abington, PA.