Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Why We Need to Bore Our Kids

My title is meant to be outrageous, but I've also used it because I think it's also true!

We live in an age where children and adults alike never seem to stop! Rarely do we daydream, sit quietly on a park bench and stare into space, lie around at home resting on a wet day and so on. Lazing around does not seem easy in our driven lives. What's more, if there ever is a moment where we aren't confronting a task, conversation or activity, we reach for a device to help us fill this time with more activity. When there is a free moment, we often look to others or devices, to help us know how to use our time.

In one sense, dealing with bored children should be less of a problem than at any time in history, because it seems that there are endless things to do and many ways to use our time. But maybe, our children need to experience boredom? Might a lack of boredom be bad for our children?

What is boredom?

In essence, it is 'unmet arousal'. You are looking for something to do, or an activity to fill a space in your life, but you just can't motivate yourself to do something. Neil Burton suggests that there are many reasons for this:

"These reasons can be internal—often a lack of imagination, motivation, or concentration - or external, such as an absence of environmental stimuli or opportunities. So while you want to do something stimulating, you find yourself unable to do so;  moreover, you are frustrated by the rising awareness of your inability."1

What is significant about boredom is that it's a state that can be acted upon by the bored person. The typical bored child - who we have all experienced - will say, "I'm bored! What can I do?" Or, "Mum can you ... ". Note the onus is being placed on you as the parent to deal with their 'bored state'!

My simple answer to such situations is NOT to try to solve the problem, or simply give in and allow them to retreat to devices and more screen time. During times of boredom your children might just:
  • Find some new activities and interests
  • Lead them to use their imagination 
  • Offer opportunities to be creative
  • Assist them to develop mindfulness
  • Begin to enjoy the moment and their surroundings
However, you might just need to give them some prompts and help to get them started. Here are a few ideas.

How to respond to "Mum, I'm bored"?

At times, you should simply say, "what are you going to do then"? Don't feel that you need to solve the problem. Rather than always trying to solve the problem, it is often best simply to offer some prompts that will direct them towards possibilities. Here are some examples:

1. If it's a fine day, tell them to go outside, lie on their back and look at the sky, and think about 3 things that they might do. If it's bad weather suggest that they look out the window, what do you see? List ten things you can see. Draw one thing. Use one thing as a stimulus for a riddle or poem, "There was a ___  ___ in my yard, I didn't need to look too hard, but try as I might ...".

2. Suggest that they get a box (a shoe box works well) and go and find 5 things they would like to place in it that they could use, or do. This might lead children to put in a favourite toy, a game, crayons, craft materials, a book and so on. Ask them to consider one the thing they could do first. If you have more than one bored child, ask them to compare boxes and come up with a shared activity.

3. Give them a large cardboard box and ask them to consider what they might turn it into. Having a large cardboard box or two in your garage (perhaps in flat pack form) is a great resource. Perhaps a cubby, robot, space vehicle, animal and so on.

4. Suggest that they create a play to prepare and present to the family or some friends. You might help them to come up with some characters and a simple plot. For example, you might have a policeman, a dog, two children, and a school teacher. How can you create a story around these characters that you could present to others?

5. If the weather is fine, suggest that they devise a scavenger hunt, where 'treasure' is collected from the home (with your assistance) and which can then be hidden. The treasure could be edible, or treats of some kind. When the hunt is completed everyone shares the booty.

6. Why not create a family artistic mural, sculpture or map of the local community.

7. Alternatively, plan a photo frenzy (yes, I know a camera is a device, but it's special and only to be used for photos). You could come up with a list of things to photograph in your house and street and give them a time limit to hunt them down, photograph them and return. Give a prize (make it food and ensure it can be shared with everyone) for the most successful scavenger.

8. Or, why don't you suggest they create a board game around a specific theme. A simple game can be made in a race format, and with a dice and simple markers for each player. Use large pieces of cardboard and ask your children to choose their own theme and draw the squares or spaces that you progress through from start to finish (e.g. a car race, race around the world, quest for Mars, climbing Mt Everest etc). The game can have a simple format with spaces marked that can progress or retard the players. For example, in the space race, they could strike a meteor shower that forces them back home, or a time warp that accelerates their ship to another galaxy. Everyone should get to play the games at the end.

Summing Up

Boredom is NOT bad, it can drive children to explore new things, think creatively and move beyond the most common props in life today; screens and devices! Boredom can be used to prompt children to daydream, create, explore, imagine and play. Embrace it as a normal part of life and an opportunity, not just a problem. 

1. Neil Burton (2014), 'The Surprising Benefits of Boredom', Psychology Today'.


Alexis Halkyard said...

The title of this blog post really peaked my interest. Today, children seem to be less imaginative than when I was a child. When given the choice to play on the computer or play outside, most of the students I work with will choose the computer. This breaks my heart because as I child I spent most of my time playing with my dolls or playing some made up game with my siblings and neighborhood friends. Rarely was I inside playing video games or on the computer, yet today this seems to be the norm for many kids. I have found this type of behavior to be most evident in restaurants. I hate looking around at all the children engrossed in some kind of technological device their parents gave to them to keep them occupied. For this reason, I often blame parents for their child’s boredom. Fortunately, this article provides its readers with many creative prompts to help guide children in finding something to do when they are bored. My favorite suggestion is having children create a play because it allows children to express themselves. Ultimately, children are telling a story without even realizing it. The ability to tell a story will help children be more successful in school, especially in writing and creative thinking. Overall, this post got me thinking about how I can apply some of these same strategies with my students in order to help them use their imagination more at school.

T. Corbin said...

I found this blog most interesting because my husband and I discuss this all of the time. We both mutually agree that children are not inclined to play or use their imagination very often anymore. Most of their spare time is taken by technology such as games, phones, computers, or tablets. I think it is so very important for children to have time where they are not occupied 100% of the time. A lot of time, when technology is removed from the equation, children will complain about being bored. There are many different methods of entertainment that a child can partake in that does not involve technology or boredom.

When I was a child, my mother used to make me go outside and play the second I got home. I did not watch television during the week. My parents would give my television to me on the weekends, but I would spend the week participating in different activities that my parents had planned for me to do. I was never bored, so that is why I support this blog so much.

Being bored gave me the opportunity to be creative and to explore my own world outside of my comfort zone. I am glad that there are people still encouraging this imagination and discovery. It will do wonderful things for our growing generation. I constantly tell my students that if they are "bored" to make something. Read a book, draw a picture, create something they can be proud of. I enjoyed reading this!

Ronald Destra said...

Give your child the gift of reading and imagination, and help them find their purpose in life by author Ronald Destra.......

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Alexis, thanks for your comment. I share some of your frustrations about the way children have become locked to their devices. The challenge is to ensure that our kids can use the varied devices in their lives to learn, explore, imagine, and yes, have fun too! The devices aren't the problem, it's the way we allow children to become dependent on them. Parents need to be active in their children's lives, offering them some alternatives to their devices, and simply making sure that they don't use their devices for just the one thing. But returning to the more general idea that children need to be encouraged to use their innate imaginations and creativity to explore their world and learn! Thanks for dropping in. Trevor

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks for your reply as well T.Corbin, I'm glad you found the blog interesting. Being involved with your children is the key, as is suggesting that they explore other things. And yes, some good family rules that place limits on their use of devices. Don't get to the stage a mother did in Sydney this week where in frustration she took the Xbox to the bag yard and through it into the pool! She said it felt good. One thing to note is that all children are born to be creative and imaginative beings. This can be driven out of them through the limitations of their world (I talk about this in a new book that will be out in about 6 weeks). We need to expand their worlds. Come again, Trevor

Taraohara said...


I found your blog very interesting and I agree with you completely. I have 2 boys, ages 22 and 17 now, who would often complain of being bored when they were younger. I would always reflect for them of the ways that I would entertain myself as a child. You see, being bored to me meant that it was raining and I could not go outside and explore with my brother or I was out of books to read and needed to go to the library. I was able to instill a love of reading and adventure in my oldest child, but my younger child was much more difficult to inspire to do things using his imagination. We did many of the ideas you suggested together and by middle school he had found that he could find things to do and read that interested him and kept his attention. As I was able to encourage my children to open their minds to new and different genres of reading, both their imagination and literacy skills increased. Because reading opens up the mind and imagination, boredom quickly became a thing of the past.

Trevor Cairney said...

Glad you enjoyed the post Taraohara. It's also helpful to remind readers of the blog that boredom isn't a new phenomenon. Glad your boys have turned out just fine with your support over the years. Sounds like you gave them a good grounding in literature and other things. Thanks for reading the post and for your comment.

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks for your comment Ronald, you have some interesting kids books that (as you suggest) have the potential to stretch a child's imagination. Trevor

April Morrison said...

Children can learn a lot from play. As you said, now in the age of technology, children don’t play like they used to. Although there are some great games and apps for children they can learn from, it cannot replace physical imaginary play. The ideas you provided gives children the chance to be creative and problem solve. Problem solving skills are life skills that all children need to learn, and you have provided many fun ways to learn how. This idea of letting children solve their boredom problems can also lead to more social interactions with other children. Now, children play together on video games, but not as much in person imaginary play. If your child gets out there and finds something to do, he or she may can get a friend to join. Not only can your idea help children to become more creative and imaginative again, and encourage more personal social interactions, but it will also get kids more active. Many of my students don’t play outside…at all. When we share in class what they did over the weekend, they say they just watched TV, or play video games. When I ask if they went outside, they simply reply, “No”. There are so many things these kids are missing out on by being stuck inside, only playing with technology. I listened to a podcast by Vivian Vasquez titled, “iPods, Puppies, and Podcasts”. This podcast mentioned a child drawing a picture of his family, which included an iPod in each of their hands. It also mentioned a child playing, who got in a play car, and asked for the keys and phone. This shows that technology is a normal part of our lives in the world we live in. However, we do not need to center everything around technology. We as adults need to model other ways to spend our time if we want our children to find other ways themselves. Also, like you mentioned, we do not need to give in and use the technology as a babysitter. I agree that we should challenge the children to explore the world outside of technology. Again, there are many great apps and games out there for children, but it should not be the only type of play they are involved in. They should have a variety, and we are in charge of showing them the possibilities!

Ashley Henry said...

I could not agree with you more! I absolutely loved your post. I do not have any children of my own yet, but I am a teacher. With that being said, I feel like I have 32 children at times. When I work with my students to complete a narrative writing piece, I would typically expect excitement. I mean what elementary student does not like to make up stories, right? Wrong. This is often the hardest type of writing for my students. Simply put, they lack imagination. They lack creativity. Of course, not all of them have a difficult time, but majority of them do. They are so use to things being provided for them, given to them, right in front of them, etc., that they do not know how to create something of their very own. With this struggle also comes concentration issues. It is as if they are thinking so hard tying to come up with something, they completely lose focus on what the task actually is. When I was growing up, technology was available, but not like it is today. I have two older brothers, so that was who I went to when I got “bored.” I did not go to the computer or iPad. If they were not around to play, I would go find something to do outside. I, still to this day, find comfort in being outside. Thank you for all of your great ideas! I will be sharing this with my friends.

Candace L. said...

First off, the title grabbed my attention very quickly, and I could not look away. Second, I absolutely love this post! Currently, I am a Physical Science and Algebra 1 ninth grade teacher and truly have issues with the students in my class not knowing how to occupy themselves. When I say this, I do not mean that I am not using up all of class time to entertain and teach. In retrospect, I give them minimal down time between labs and lectures, but when I do…. They have no idea how to use this time properly and to their benefit. I truly want to say that if this article was implemented in many homes, then our down time could be productive. Our students have seemed to have lost creativity and do not know how to function without technology. There have been many times that I have seen very small children be pacified by a cell phone or tablet, instead of being allowed to play or have parental interaction. We have begun to allow our children to become technology dependent and not creative. I appreciate your outlook on this subject and the ideas that you have given so many people.

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks for your comments April, Ashley and Candace. Glad you enjoyed the post. You're right April that allowing children to "solve their boredom problems can also lead to more social interactions with other children". You are also right to stress that technology is an important part of life (I'll say more about this in my next post), and that many children don't get outside to play much.
Ashley you raise an interesting point about the way a lack of experiences 'in' the world, does detract from the raw material of story writing.
Candace, you are spot on with your comment based on your observation that you've seen "small children pacified by a cell phone or tablet, instead of being allowed to play or have parental interaction. We have begun to allow our children to become technology dependent". Once again, I will say more about the parents' part in this in my next post.
Thanks, all three, for your comments.