“I’M BORED” ……. That is a phrase that can bring abject terror to a parent’s heart. Does this make you feel guilty, feeling that you should have timetabled that spare thirty minutes with a class on advanced origami skills? Does this boredom mean endless moaning, whinging and attention seeking? Does it place a burden on parents to entertain “Blue Peter” fashion or, will it lead to something better?
As parents we often see children’s boredom as a failure; we have failed to schedule, we have failed to give them opportunity, we have failed to entertain. As a result we over-schedule our children’s lives hurtling them from one thing to the next, piano lessons, karate, a tutor, tennis and of course advanced origami …. Giving them so many opportunities that they rarely have time to perfect any skill, they do not have time to calmly do homework, mealtimes get rushed, essential general conversations and bonding does not happen in the telling them that they need to practise the trombone and ensure that they have done the extra tutor’s homework.
Let’s travel back in time, back to when you were children. We have all grown up with different experiences due to our age so please bear with me as I draw some examples.
Think back to a time when iPlayer, Sky, Netflix and Amazon Prime did not exist, there were just a couple of channels on TV mainly showing what you didn’t want to see. Perhaps you had access to a video player and you were fortunate enough to own some videos – or you had hired them from Blockbusters. But watching those was more of a treat, not the norm. What did you do? Perhaps you played with teddies, toy animals or dolls – not the ones that we have now that speak, do tricks and coo, but inanimate non-responsive toys. What games did you play? Maybe you had Lego, that was simply a box of bricks, not a kit to make into the Millennium Falcon or Hogwarts – what did you build? There was no kindle and no mobile phone or tablet for face time calls and games so what did you do?
I believe that “back in the day” our childhood lives were simpler and free from clutter and this enabled us to grow in different ways. Not having endless television, or electronic games to play, meant that we had to entertain ourselves, parents were busy working so it was down to us. We played in the garden and found woodlice under stones, built dens and played with teddies and dolls We created scenarios perhaps a vet or a doctor’s surgery – aspirational play. Maybe Little Ted was a spy; the princess had scared off the dragon and the prince decided that he wanted to go into construction and build a great monument with the lego. Nothing told us how to play, we didn’t have a preconceived idea about what the voices sounded like, where the story would go or what our construction had to look like. Our imaginations were free. We were not bored. These prolonged periods of unscheduled time were, in fact, essential for our development, they encouraged us to be pro-active and creative.
Boredom can lead to frustrations and whining a bit like going through cold turkey until you figure it out. Then the human natural response kicks in. Innovation, creating games, writing stories, acting things out which in turn develops imagination, broader thinking and problem solving. We built things, and when they went wrong, we built them again, and again, reflecting and refining each time until we created something with which we were satisfied.
When we allow children to get bored, they learn to be self-motivated, self-starters, they practise decision making – what amazing life skills to possess, skills that will really help them in business when they are adults – the sorts of skills you are looking for in people when you seek to employ.
Were those children of thirty years ago different? I don’t think so. I believe the difference was in belief. Those generations of parents believed that children were responsible for managing themselves and their time, but now there seems to be pressure on parents to manage every aspect of their children’s day. There is no time for boredom, no time for imagination and that is a great loss to our children.
I ask you to pause for a moment. When do your children get the chance to sit, to process their day, to think through any issues and remember their joys? When do they have that time to relax and allow their brain to process their learning? These “chill skills” are important for children to develop their self- awareness, to regulate their mood, they are essential for children’s calming and their wellbeing.
L P Hartley begins his book, “The Go-Between” with the sentence,“The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.” All those years ago, we did do things differently and it is what has made us into the strong, resourceful people that we are today, but let’s take the best of those days and integrate them into all the great opportunities that we have today.