Do your kids a favor: Let them get bored this summer

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As a mom, I reject the idea that I’m some kind of cruise director who must keep my kids entertained every minute of their lives.

Once kids get out of the preschool stage, the most common complaint parents hear from them is “I’m bored!!” 

None of my kids were old enough to say this much until recently, but now my oldest has hit the “I’m bored” stage to the max. I hear this complaint almost every day, especially during the summer months when we have fewer activities on the schedule than usual. 

When he first started doing this, I copied my mom’s classic response. When my six siblings and I complained of boredom, she would say, “Only boring people are bored!” It was kind of a flippant reply, but I appreciate the underlying idea that kids can make their own fun and entertain themselves.  

What a parent’s job isn’t

As a mom, I reject the idea that my vocation is to be some kind of cruise director, responsible for keeping my kids happy and entertained every minute of their lives. My job is to keep my kids safe, cared for, and loved, but not to fill every minute with fun. 

One of my favorite bloggers summed it up so well when she said that her own mom had taught her that boredom is a mom’s “best friend“: 

… because it’s when you’re bored that you start figuring out something fun or creative to do.

I think as a parent, it’s so easy to want to make sure your child is NEVER bored, especially because the whining that comes along with it BEFORE they figure out something to do is so deeply annoying. But I’ve discovered that the more I just allow my children to figure out ways to entertain themselves, the stronger those imaginative play muscles get. And no one is as crabby afterward as they would have been if I’d defaulted to turning on a show to avoid a few minutes of whining.

So we don’t do screen time during the week, even throughout the summer. We have a home full of toys, books, crafts, and siblings to play with, so if my kids are bored, that’s 100% on them. 

I have added on to my mom’s response in one big way. When I hear the complaint “I’m bored,” I assign a chore or extra schoolwork. “Bores get chores,” if you will.

There’s always laundry to be folded and put away, dishes to be done, toys to be picked up, and plenty of other work for people who can’t find a way to keep busy in a home full of interesting things to do.

Letting kids get bored

Given the recent “I’m bored” explosion in my home, you can imagine my enormous delight when I saw an article in The New York Times called, “Let Kids Get Bored. It’s Good for Them.” In it, Catherine Pearson writes:

Boredom is “normal, natural and healthy” … Boredom can offer a valuable learning opportunity, spurring creativity and problem solving and motivating children to seek out activities that feel meaningful to them … Boredom offers children an opportunity to experiment with the kinds of pursuits that feel fulfilling and interesting to them. 

I ended up reading parts of the article out loud to my kids. I told them, “Let’s remember this the next time you’re bored. Boredom is a good thing. It’s an opportunity for you to be creative and explore what you like doing and what’s interesting to you!”

Embrace the boredom

Now when my kids tell me they’re bored, I remind them to embrace this opportunity, and I help them brainstorm activities they enjoy doing. And when all else fails, we’ve still got plenty of chores they can do!

My summer goal is to resist the temptation to think boredom is a bad thing. Often the off-the-wall creative projects my kids come up with when they’re bored end up being their most beloved memories. 

So let’s let our kids get bored and not try to resist it. Those times when they’re bored and have to entertain themselves very well might end up becoming the best parts of their summer.

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