Beneficial Boredom

Having nothing to do can be best

It is the end of summer, and the pool is no longer a novelty. Camps are coming to a close, and school is not in session for a few more weeks. This is when the “I’m so bored” chant begins. While those words and the tone in which they are uttered are like nails on a chalkboard, they also can open the door to encouraging healthy creative skills in your child.

“Children are often used to having activities planned for them, so when they have time that is not structured, it can lead to the “I’m bored” scenario. And they struggle with what to do with themselves in this seemingly unfamiliar situation,” says Jessica Woodruff, a licensed clinical social worker (MO) and licensed specialist clinical social worker (KS).

While it may seem important to keep your child busy with activities, allowing him to face times without structure is beneficial.

“Unstructured playtime can result in their finding out what they are really good at, and it encourages them to be creative,” Woodruff says. “Many of our most successful ideas and inventions in this society came from people having time to sit and daydream and envision what they wanted to make or become in the future.”

Children may be overwhelmed by this free time. But guiding your child with ideas and modeling healthy free time behaviors can help to ease this overwhelming feeling.
“A younger child may need suggestions and supervision for his free time; however, a child of age 7 or older should be able to find activities to keep him busy,” Woodruff says. “Although they should be able to do this, they don’t always take that initiative to do so. In these cases, you can help your children brainstorm different things that they could do, or have a jar of previously brainstormed activities to choose from.”

Meagan Patterson, a Kansas City-area mother, says that over time her only son has become accustomed to filling his time, but that it took modeling those behaviors and encouraging him to structure his own time.

“When our son, who is now 7, was younger, we made a conscious effort to not give into his every demand to be entertained or for constant attention from others,” says Patterson. “We knew how important it was for him to be able to fill his own time.”

Woodruff also encourages families to have a supply box that can be pulled out when that boredom bug hits, to provide a source for the creative freedom to get started.
“When our son complains of boredom, we usually give him some suggestions or choices of things that he could do,” says Patterson.

So next time the pouting, moping “I’m so bored” situation begins, embrace the opportunity to encourage brainstorming skills, foster problem solving abilities and strengthen the natural curiosities that make childhood such a great time.

Karah Chapman is a school psychologist in the Kansas City area who believes that some of the best childhood creations are started by using boredom effectively.

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