“I’m bored” is something parents hear on a regular basis, and parents usually respond by letting their child have screen time or organising some sort of structured activity for their child to do.
Up until children are in their early teens, they really don’t understand the concept of time, therefore they don’t know how to manage it. Parents are so worried about their kids becoming upset, angry or feeling left out, they try and schedule something every day.
A lot of kids struggle with initiating free play themselves, and it could be because parents have always driven it. Times have changed and letting your kids gallivant around the neighbourhood is simply not an option anymore.
My first two children were born 12 months apart and I made it a priority to organise every day and create routines to make life easier and less overwhelming. Every hour of the day was accounted for and what I hadn’t realised until years later was that I had created a mindset in my son, that he always had something to do whether it was at home or outside the home. Fast forward six years and my husband and started teaching him to enjoy alone time with nothing to do but use his imagination. It was challenging at times but we persisted because we knew he is naturally curious and loves learning about the world around him.
It feels like this generation was born with FOMO (fear of missing out) so we started with free play for the whole family. We gave my son some ideas for free play. He enjoys skating, drawing, lego, building things and reading, so when he does tell us he’s bored, we suggest a few things he can do. Out of boredom, comes imagination. These days my son is happy to play by himself when his sisters are busy or want to play on their own.
Another way to show your kids they too have control over what they do is to allow your kids to drive extra-curricular choices while they’re young. This gives them the freedom to try new things and find ‘their thing’, however, we must remember to create boundaries around how much stuff they do, because as we know kids will happily fill up every afternoon plus weekends if they could! If they find a sport or activity they want to try, explain to them they will have to commit to the entire season, and show up to all the practices and games. Along with their extra-curricular activities, you can explain that they need free play and unstructured time to balance everything out. Explain that in this time they need to entertain themselves and not rely on anyone else. With that balance, they learn about down time and resting their bodies and minds.
Parents shouldn’t feel like they have to fill the boredom with something productive or educational. By giving your child time to think and create and use their imagination, you are allowing them to learn skills which aren’t teachable by you. They learn qualities such as:
Being bored also helps kids recognise and work out their emotions on their own. They can work out if what they’re doing is making them happy, sad, angry or anxious. This is an important part of life development. Through unstructured play, kids can start to work out solutions for problems on their own.