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Let them be bored

By ALETHEA PRICE

Community columnist

These days, every second of a child’s day is filled with something. There are videos on YouTube. There are apps on the iPad. There are movies on Amazon. The list goes on and on. It seems nice not to hear a child cry out, “I’m bored!” 

However, some very important things happen when children have downtime.

  • Downtime helps kids become creative and independent thinkers. Parents should see boredom as an opportunity, rather than fear it. It makes the brain work better.
  • Downtime helps kids take initiative. They won’t be dependent on adults having something ready-made for them. This helps them to arrive at their own opinions and ideas.
  • Downtime helps kids become curious and playful. This can help them develop interests in new things and gain confidence.

Parents often feel guilty when their kids have nothing to do. However, the exact opposite should be true! In fact, parents should plan to have “no plans” a few times a week. Parents should not feel like it is their responsibility to fill up every moment of their children’s time. 

This might be uncomfortable at first, but remember that boredom equals opportunity. Brains that aren’t occupied with tablet swiping, puzzle completing or anything else are more likely to try new things, experiment and partake in something they wouldn’t normally do or learn.

Kids can occupy themselves — for a while. Here are some ways you can help nudge them in a more creative direction when they’re spaced out.

  • Give them prompts. Ask them what they should do with that wrapping paper tube. What snack do they think their stuffed animal might like to munch on (hopefully, wrapping paper tubes)? This type of nudging is more difficult for little kids because they have less to draw from than pre-adolescents and older ones. But it’s necessary for them to flex those creative muscles and tap into those yet-do-be-discovered personality traits.
  • Be bored with them. Lie on the grass and look at cloud shapes. Grab a flashlight and make shadow creatures. Make a grand feast out of play dough. Parents can benefit from downtime as well. Let your mind wander while it is awake. It has great benefits for adults as well as children.
  • Don’t rescue them. If they are struggling, help but don’t do everything for them or give in to the discomfort of the moment. Rescuing them keeps them from learning to come up with creative ideas and problem solve for themselves.

In today’s fast-paced world, we all need to have some downtime. A mind that has a bit of time to relax is better at coming up with ideas and creative solutions. We all need time to reflect together and alone. The most important takeaway is that wasting time is not time wasted. 

The brain gets to recover in an overstimulated world and kids get to become less reliant on you as their source of fun and excitement. So, the next time you’re about to bust out all the toys on a rainy Sunday, why not step away and let boredom get this one?

For more information on building strong families call the Boyle County Extension Office. Feel free to email me at a.price@uky.edu