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What To Do About Boredom

Often, when I hear my children complain “I’m bored” or “That’s boring” – I feel myself getting triggered. I get reactively annoyed, thinking: “How can they be so spoiled? All the toys and activities I arrange, all the abundance in their lives… and still it’s not enough?!”

But then, I try to remind myself what I really think about boredom. Boredom has gotten a really bad rep in our Western, industrialized, busy-bee culture. It’s as though ‘doing’ is the only state we should ever be in.

As soon as our busy work has a lull, we’re at a complete loss and panic sets in: “We are wasting time! We are not getting enough done! We are falling behind!”

I wonder if you’ve heard of Slow Parenting or the Slow Movement? This is a philosophy of life, and of parenting, that believes that faster isn’t always better. That people, and children, need less scheduled activities and more time in nature, less climbing the ladder and more stopping to smell the roses, less entertainment and more inner peace.

As I grow and mature through life, I’ve begun to develop the opposite way of thinking. Deeply changed by the mindfulness, yoga and meditation traditions, rather than constantly searching for the next thing to do, I have begun to gravitate toward the present moment of silence, reflection, inner peace. The present moment to check in with my internal world, to calm my monkey mind, to experience mindfulness.

This is something I so want for my kids, too. And I believe that boredom – and how I treat it – is one of the keys. Why? Because saying “I’m bored!” is basically like saying: “Help! I have nothing to do! Nothing is alluring, thrilling, exciting enough to me feel immersed in busy-ness right now! help! heeeelp!”

So here is my approach to boredom, or one I try to implicate, anyway.

10 Ways to Approach Boredom

  1. Boredom is the Birthplace of Creativity
    And problem solving. Think of it as a clean slate or an empty canvas that invites us to reflect and create. Perhaps we could embrace time for boredom, for nothing-time, for unscheduled life every single day to make it a practice.
  2. Don’t Save Your Child from Boredom
    Solving children’s boredom with a list of ideas or jumping in to organize an activity straight away is to castrate their own problem solving abilities and to undermine them as authors of their time.
  3. Meet Boredom with Empathy
    Getting angry about “being bored” and lecturing them on how children in Africa aren’t bored just creates shame, but doesn’t help them. Empathize, reflect or reframe: “You’re not sure what you want to do now.” or simply acknowledge with a heartfelt “hmmm”.

  4. Encourage Simply “Being”
    Are you uncomfortable with silence? I know I am. But I have learned that it is a gift to be cherished. So when my child is staring into space, dawdling, scribbling or rolling around lazily in bed – I need to remind myself that this is a good thing. Never criticize a child for “doing nothing” – most of us will spend our adult lives trying to learn how to do nothing.
  5. Leave Open-ended Invitations for activity, without direction
    If your child really needs help, rather than getting super busy and coming up with a list, make a minor shift… open a window, play some music, simply place a book or puzzle on the table without comment. Start small before you amp it up to full on mom-savior. Let them pick up the nudge-like invitation on their own terms and in their own time.
  6. Don’t Interrupt
    When a child is immersed in their own activity – don’t interrupt or comment. This undermines their focus and flow and sets them up to be constantly searching for the next sensory input, the next distraction. Don’t distract and they will be less distractable.
  7. Plan Less
    Going to a museum? A park? A play date? Great. Let that be the one scheduled activity for the day, heck for the week. Have a lot more time to just be and your children will develop their inner guidance systems for how to use that time.
  8. Take It Slow
    When you go to a museum, a park or a play date, don’t have a “see it all” attitude. I know this sucks when you’ve paid a bundle for the tickets, and all your child wants to do is dinosaur slide again and again (or when you’ve bought an expensive gift and your kid just wants to climb in the box). But it’s important to communicate (to ourselves, primarily) that each activity has value and that we’re in no rush to “get it all done” at the expense of really experiencing.
  9. Model Stillness
    When’s the last time your kids saw you really enjoying your tea? Or a book? Or just some meditation or listening to music? Do it in front of them. Sure, they’ll climb on you or talk to you to begin with, but trust that they can totally “get” it, if you do.
  10. Allow Children Time Alone
    Time alone is a luxury parents often crave. What we don’t realize is that children (even the youngest ones) sometimes crave it too. They want to feel safe, and know that we’re right there. I’m not suggesting being unavailable, but stepping away from them and allowing them their play and privacy can be an empowering way to allow them to develop their own pace and interests.

I highly recommend reading Simplicity Parenting on this topic! It’s a life changer. And if you want to go deeper on what it means to find daily flow while slaying the busyness, look into Present Play.

Have you embraced slow parenting in your home? How does this manifest and how does it feel?

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