Ah, summer. That wonderful time of year when magic can happen.
I love summer vacation. There is swimming, sleeping in, playing with friends, and camps to attend! The possibilities for fun are endless!
Our summer, like everybody’s, starts off with a lot of excitement and the boys embrace the joy and freedom of summer vacation.
For about a week.
Then the strains of I’m booooorrrred! There’s nothing to dooooooo… come wafting through the house.
I did have suggestions for them for what to do. Oddly, neither of my boys seemed to want to do any of the chores I mentioned. (Unless it was for money.)
All I could do was roll my eyes as Henry flopped on the couch, put his hand over his eyes in imitation of a swoon worthy of Scarlet O’Hara, and repeated, “I’m booooooredddddddDDDDAH!” for what seemed like the 100th time that day.
I was ready to scream. Instead, showing great restraint, I reached out to Google and Pinterest to find some suggestions for my boys.
While I was busy doing “research”, I suddenly realized… the whining had stopped. And in its place I heard the not-so-quiet sounds of two boys busy building costumes and making up stories.
And just like that I had stumbled upon the secret of unlocking a child’s inner creative genius…
Let them be bored!
Linda Caldwell, professor of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management and Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State, supports this view. Learning how to beat boredom is a crucial life skill. It takes effort and practice to figure out what to do with yourself.
When you have practice at being bored in an environment where you have autonomy and control over your actions you are able to more fully develop the ability to tap into your creative side.
Without this space of nothing-to-do-ness creativity, invention, and innovation would never happen. Think of what the world would be like today if Steve Jobs, Di Vinci, or the Wright Brothers had never had the chance to be bored?
Boredom is not a condition to be “busted” or disease to be “cured.” Boredom is a gift. It is empty time that allows you to get creative and raise your self-awareness. It’s a gift that 3-M, the giant that invented the Post-It Note, gives to every employee just for that reason. It’s a policy they call “15 percent time.” It is time – 15% of their 40-hour workweek – where they can be bored and get creative.
When it comes to using boredom to free your kids’ creative genius though, the key is to do it strategically and intentionally, so you get results before you are clawing at the walls with your kids whining of boredom.
If your child is bored they don’t need a cure, the need a SHAKE to break out their inner creative genius.
SHAKE: Schedule it in; Hide the electronics; Activities at-the-ready; Kick ‘em outside; and Exit the room.
Schedule It In
Because I am a planner I actually put “creative time” on our list of things to do along with summer homework and before they get any screen time.
Yes, I am a list person. I like order and structure. It sounds counter intuitive to schedule in something that experts say should be unstructured in order to give them an “opportunity to demonstrate creativity, problem solving, and to develop motivational skills that may help them later in life.”
However, there is something about an item being on The List that makes it “Okay.” Instead of an empty block of free time where kids complain about being bored, it is now a legit “creative time”.
I, and consequently my kids, have been well programmed by society to believe that every minute of every day must be productive and useful or we are lazy. Our society doesn’t really allow for times of nothing.
Scheduling it in solves the problem.
Immediately I felt better about doing nothing and letting my kids just do nothing as well. Legitimizing boredom suddenly opened up the space for them to be creative and inventive.
And they’ve found loads to do! For hours!
I felt that when the pressure to make sure their time was productive and busy was lifted from my shoulders, we were all happier and automatically more creative.
Hide the Electronics
Look around you. How many electronic devices do you see in your home? I can count 4 plus my computer just from where I sit at my desk.
Those little tablets and phones are everywhere. All my boys’ friends have them on the bus and tram to school and my oldest begs to take one along on sleepovers. Once my kids see them it’s all they want to do to fill the time.
Who wouldn’t, right? It’s not just the kids… it’s us too. Find a phone close by and we get busy telling ourselves we are being productive by answering emails, checking FaceBook, or texting.
We are all so used to staring at our screens (and feeling the dopamine high those screens produce) that we don’t know how to look inside ourselves for direction.
So I hide our electronics. That old adage “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” holds true. If the tablets aren’t on the desk tempting them one no from me is usually enough to send them to the bookshelf, the toy room, or the art box.
Everyone has their go-to activity that brings out their inner creative genius. Mine is baking. When I am free and I can’t find a book that grabs me or I can’t quite get my thoughts together to write, I go into my kitchen and bake.
I found out baking was my go-to activity when I was 11 years old. I was in 4-H and wanted to take something baked to the fair for judging. It turns out I come from a long line of bakers which I never would have discovered if I hadn’t started going through Mom’s recipe box when I was… yes, bored.
From then on my Mom made baking my at-the-ready activity. She always kept some basic baking ingredients on hand for me just in case. Butter, eggs, sugar, chocolate, flour were always in our pantry at my level. She also kept her more favorite recipes that she liked to bake when she was my age where I could easily find them.
Find out what your child’s at-the-ready activity might be. It might take a while or you might already know. If you aren’t sure you’ll have to let them be bored and flounder around a bit. But soon they will know what they like and you will know what they like because they will ask you for the materials they need.
My boys’ at-the-ready activity involves Legos, paper, and colored pencils. They spend hours downstairs planning creative scenes, dialogues and whole plays, and staging the set using Legos.
Kick ‘em Outside
Back in my day, summer time was outside time.
At the first sound of “I’m boooooored,” my mother kicked us out and told us not to come back in until the sun went down. There were days she had to practically pry our fingers off the doorjamb, but outside we went. Sometimes we even had sandwiches and a thermos of lemonade.
And we always found something to do.
There was a hose outside which provided hundreds of options; from water fights to washing Dad’s truck. We also had the benefit of living in the country so we would gallivant across the fields to our cousins’ houses or go into the cow pasture to build dams in the creek.
There were also bikes to ride, balls to throw, and neighbors to play with. We had dogs to train and cats to dress up as dolls. We would come home dripping with filth, extremely happy, and very tired.
Among the myriad of health benefits that being outdoors offers, studies have found that people who spend time outside are able to think more clearly and more creatively.
Outside is the ultimate unstructured environment. Outside is a world full of possibilities and probabilities where kids can make their own discoveries and where they are in charge.
Exit the Room
Back out of the room. Leave them alone.
You don’t need to be your child’s playmate every time they are bored. Of course it’s different if they need time with you and are asking you to play a game or read a book with them. That is connection time that every child needs.
However, when my boys come to me bored to tears and complaining that their deaths, caused by boredom, are imminent, I have a little phrase I say to them.
“Go and create something new and show it to me.”
I am telling them to explore on their own and promising to be an audience to their creativity and invention.
Something magical happens when I excuse myself from entertaining my children and give them a chance to connect with their inner selves without me interfering.
Their health and sense of identity both improve. They learn how to self-direct and develop internal motivation. This ability to self-direct and connect to an inner motivation also helps develop grit and a growth mindset which then leads to future success.
So, let them wallow in the discomfort and restlessness that comes with boredom until inspiration strikes. Tell them to go and create something new. You are doing them a favor by excusing yourself.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
For our quick contemplation today think about the following questions:
- How often do your kids complain I’m bored?
- What do you do when they complain they are bored?
- What do you like to do when you are bored?
- How much time do they have for nothing? How much of their time is scheduled? How much time do they spend on electronics?
- What summer plans do you have?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
It takes time to change habits, and rushing to alleviate your child’s discomfort from boredom and opening up the space for creativity, is a tough habit to change. So, consider these questions, think about if any of these strategies will work for you, and write up a plan for what to do when they come to you saying they are boooooooored.
- What is their favorite thing to do?
- What can you do to make them feel like they can do their favorite activity whenever they want?
- What are some basic toys and tools you can have around the house to encourage them to experiment and explore their world?
- How can you remind yourself to be firm, yet calm and gentle, about not helping them out of their boredom?
- What can you say to them to inspire them to explore and invent?