When I’m with my son, I’m a constant entertainer. I don’t dare let him go through a single moment of boredom. I set up activities and, when we’ve run through them all, I play with him until he falls asleep.
On paper, that sounds like top-notch parenting, but it's a bit less impressive in practice. Sometimes it gets to the point where I’m afraid to step away to clean the dishes, lest he start crying, “But Dada, I want someone to play with me! I’m bored!” At the end of the day, when he goes to sleep and my wife and I finally climb into bed together, I realize that this is the first time that we’ve really talked all day.
My wife tried to teach me this from the start: It’s okay for a child to be bored. For years, I’ve resisted it. I was convinced that, when it comes to parenting, more means better. I have been slow to accept the dawning truth that I'm actually making things much worse. Letting your children be bored can be terrifying the first time you do it, but it's a lot easier than it seems.
They'll complain at first. Just wait a few minutes and they'll find something to do on their own. That’s more than just okay, it's an essential skill they'll need for the rest of their lives. Boredom is something we fear, but it’s a major part of our lives. And making our kids handle it head-on just might be one of the best things we can do for them.
The mind doesn’t always go where we want. It likes to wander, especially when we’re trying to get it to keep still. And it’s never more active than when it has nothing to do. Countless studies have shown that people are more creative when they’re bored – and that’s true for our kids, too. It’s just how the human mind works.
When our minds are bored, they start to daydream, and that daydreaming sparks creative thought. When our kids have nothing to do, they exercise their imaginations and that just might be the most important skill they can develop. The workplace our children are going to enter is changing rapidly, and we don’t have the ability to prepare them for that world. It’s going to take a lot of creativity to adapt.
Boredom is what gives life meaning. That’s not just a quaint thought. This article from the American Psychological Association shows that when people are bored, they tend to look back on their lives and feel like the things they’ve done are more meaningful. They also start putting more meaning into the next things they see.
It happens because our brains are afraid of inactivity. When we’re not doing anything, to keep us from spending our whole lives staring at the walls, our brains try to make life more interesting. More weight and purpose are given to what we are processing. If we reflect on something when we’re bored, it feels more meaningful, and when we experience something new, it seems more significant.
Being bored is an important part of finding meaning in life. When our kids are bored, it helps them find value in their own experiences and develop their own unique worldview, which makes them psychologically stronger for the future.
When our children grow up, we won't be there every moment of every day. We won’t be able to entertain them or to fill their schedules with educational events. At some point, we have to let go and hope for the best. That’s why kids need to learn how to motivate themselves. Letting them be bored plays a big role in learning that skill. Boredom gives children practice in making their own decisions and finding ways to be interested in what's going on around them.
Only boring people get bored. That’s one of the most important life skills a child can learn. When we spend all of our time entertaining our children, they never have to learn how to entertain themselves. We may think we may always need to be there for them, but there’s actually no link between the amount of time you spend with your kids and how they turn out.
They don’t need us to be there every minute. They need to learn how to handle things themselves. Giving our kids too much attention can create some major problems. Inadvertently, it can teach them that they’re the focus of the world and that everybody's here to serve them. It can also cause kids to accept an identity developed by their parents, instead of developing their own.
Letting your kids have a little time on their own gives you time with your spouse. You don’t have to wait around for your child to fall unconscious before you acknowledge one another. Getting some mommy and daddy time is vital to keeping your relationship alive and to being a good parent. Focusing on parenting 24/7 does the opposite. It cranks up your stress and anxiety, which can actually hurt your kids.
Children pick up their parents’ anxiety, which can hurt their performance in school and can create behavioral problems down the road. You don’t need to kill yourself trying to keep your kids happy. In fact, it may make things worse. If you’re not happy, your kids aren’t either, and if you’re not mentally well, your kids aren’t either. So put down the juggling balls and let your kids be bored for a while. Take a little time for yourself. Not only is it good for you, but it just might be the best thing you can do for them.
It takes a village!
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