Why are we so afraid to let our kids be bored?
This is the question a friend of mine asked me a few weeks ago, a question her father had asked of her. It got me thinking about the topic of keeping our children occupied and how we as parents seem to have become consumed with avoiding any situation where our kids might actually be bored.
Why is that?
When I think about my childhood, back in the dark ages, I think about things that used to be my reality. Here’s what I remember growing up as a child in Zimbabwe:
- School finished at 13.00, but TV only came on at 16.00. So what did we do during the afternoon?
- I remember riding bikes in the yard, down the dirt road, with the dog chasing us.
- Homework? Well, let’s be honest, homework didn’t take ALL afternoon, even if it felt like it. So what did we do?
- I remember building forts behind the fir trees on the ‘dark side’ of the garden.
- We did have afternoon activities at school, like tennis, hockey or swimming, but that didn’t take all afternoon and it certainly wasn’t every day. So what did we do?
- I remember reading books! Books, after books, after books! The Famous Five; anything by Enid Blyton; the Faraway Tree series!
- I remember climbing trees. I remember playing Barbies up in the tree!
- Go and play outside! My mom’s voice clearly ringing in my ears, even now! What did we do outside?
- I remember cutting into the fallen mangoes with a real knife, and guess what – I still have all my fingers.
- I remember making mud pies and then my mom making us bath in the laundry sink outside the kitchen door so we wouldn’t trapse mud all through the house!
What don’t I remember?
I don’t remember ever being bored.
Travelling Back Then!
When we went on road trips to visit family two hours away, or trips to South Africa on holiday, I remember reading books in the car whilst listening to cassette tapes on my walkman. We would rewind the tape to play the same song over and over again until the tape literally stretched. I remember staring out the window, a lot.
This is not a post about ‘the good old days’ because life is different now for our kids than it was 25 years ago (eek!).
We live in town. My girls don’t ride their bikes in the streets, they don’t even ride their bikes around our high security complex. We also don’t really want them making mud pies in our perfectly designed and landscaped garden to be honest.
I also don’t want them watching TV all day, or YouTube videos of kids unboxing toys. I’m a huge fan of the internet, and I do believe that the girls have widened their vocabulary and been exposed to so many exciting and positive things about the big wide world by watching TV and being exposed to the internet, but everything in moderation!! A post for another day, perhaps!
When we go on road trips, which we do a lot, I used to make sure that the girls each had a backpack with toys, colouring books and crayons. They also have a tablet each which I would load with games and music to keep them entertained. This was about a year ago. I even had a whole Pinterest Board about ‘how to keep kids busy in the car’. I’m not even going to start on all the snacks and food and sweets and drinks that I would pack to keep them busy too – not to keep them full, to keep them busy!
I’ve Had Enough
Whilst I did charge their tablets, etc. and I did pack their colouring books, I did not pack their extensive toy collection. They were allowed to choose two small toys each, and that was it!
I also did not pack endless snacks and treats, I packed some, but I was very selective because I am also fed up of the inside of my car looking like a tip and so the food I packed was carefully selected NOT to destroy the inside of my car – so no chocolates, nothing that melts, no crumbly biscuits. Juice bottles had those pop close lids, and no sticky fruit!
After a few hours, the batteries on their tablets went flat, then the snack supply ran low, and the crayons became scattered on the floor. I decided it was tough; I wasn’t going to stop the car to look for the red crayon and I wasn’t going to unplug my phone to charge their ipads. Not this time.
Well, let me tell you! It was shocking! They looked out the window!!!
Yup … They. Looked. Out. The. Window.
They didn’t cry, or whine, or complain that they were bored. None of that. It was awesome.
Let Me Tell You Something Else!
The December school holidays were quite long, about six or seven weeks, as is normal here in South Africa.
For the first few weeks I let the kids just chill and watch TV whenever they wanted really. I strictly controlled the internet usage because that is what causes the most about of sibling fights, but I was pretty free and easy with the TV time. (#BadMom – yup!)
I consciously made the decision that I was also not going to take them out to play at various restaurant playground areas, and I wasn’t about to take them to have milkshakes and ice-creams every day. That’s just not necessary, and quite frankly a waste of money.
After the novelty of having almost unlimited TV, I noticed a shift in their behaviour. It’s almost like I was watching a science experiment unfold before my eyes. They started playing in their room together. They spent hours colouring in. I would let them choose two or three colouring in pictures from the internet, and then they would colour in those pictures.
And I left them to it!
When my friend and I were discussing the topic of ‘are we as parents afraid of our children being bored’, I confided to her that for the past two or three Sundays I had consciously neglected my children in favour of spending time with my husband. It was great!
Fair enough, my girls are old enough now. I still make sure I watch them swim. I still feed them and care for them. But I chose to spend the time working alongside my husband in the garden, or watching TV with him, or cooking together, instead of running around after the girls all day.
It was good for us and it was good for them.
Imagination and Creativity!
I do believe that if we continuously turn ourselves inside out to control their every waking moment in an attempt to avoid them getting bored, that they will never learn how to be creative or imaginative. Boredom is key to teaching your kids to entertain themselves.
Listening to my girls play with each other, the little make-believe games they come up with, and even the scary mommy-daddy role playing (another post for another day – not!) they do is exactly what I hope they remember from their childhood!
Yes, having two girls close together has been damn hard some days (read years), but when they play together I know that it’s been worth it. When they think back to their childhood they might remember the fights, but they will definitely remember the time they spent playing together.
When you google “Bored Kids” google throws up post after post of ways to keep your kids busy. Is that really necessary?
Not once have they come to me in the last couple of months and said, “Mom, we’re bored.”.
They have always found something that they want to do, or they have come and asked me specifically to do something. “Mom, can we do a craft?” or, “Mom, can we swim?”.
I’m definitely loving the approach I’ve taken. Let me know if you decide to give it a try?
Are you brave enough to let your kids be bored?
What’s the worst that could happen?