Why Letting Your Kids Get Bored Is Good for Them

Why Letting Your Kids Get Bored Is Good for Them

Experts reveal why sometimes the best thing parents can do for kids is absolutely nothing.


By: Leah Maxwell

Winter break is coming, and for those of us with school-aged kids, that means several weeks of family togetherness, peaceful reflection on the year that has passed, and countless, endless, unrelenting repetitions of the words “I’m BORED.” No sane modern parent will judge you for using TV or other media to entertain your kids once in a while, but there’s also something to be said for letting our children actually get good and bored, and then allowing them to push through the boredom to find out what’s on the other side.

We’ve all heard about the dangers of overscheduling our kids with too many activities and extracurriculars, but those discussions often focus only on preventing burnout and other stress-related problems, never bothering to ask the question: What’s to be gained by letting kids explore unstructured time?

Parents who step in too quickly to solve their children’s boredom issues may actually be doing more harm than good, according to Janet Lehman, co-creator of the Total Transformation program for managing challenging child behavior. “They are hindering a child’s ability to [develop] strong skills in building patience, independence, a deeper sense of their interests, and stronger innovation and creative skills,” she says.

“Boredom does lead to creativity,” agrees Allen Wagner, a marriage and family therapist and father of two. “When a person has nothing to do, they often create something.” For younger kids, or kids who can’t be left unsupervised for other reasons, Wagner suggests creating “hidden structure for them to succeed in unstructured play,” so instead of giving them the run of the house, set them up with some art supplies or building materials but refrain from dictating exactly what they should create. “For kids that can be mischievous or impulsive, [unstructured time] can play out in many negative ways, but with a plan and some tools, creativity can come around,” he says. Give your children materials that help them tap into their imaginations and then stand back and let it happen.

 
   

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That said, unstructured time doesn’t always have to morph into a creative experience. “I would offer that sitting and thinking, or sitting and relaxing, a.k.a. being ‘bored,’ is not a waste of time, but, in essence, is important for mental health, for physical health, and, in fact, for growth and development,” says psychologist Resa Fogel, PhD.

When it comes to handling bored kids, parents should remember it’s not their responsibility to provide constant entertainment but to help their kids develop coping mechanisms that will serve them for years to come. “Unstructured time challenges children to entertain themselves when alone, [which] is something they are going to have to do as adults,” says Carolyn AlRoy, PsyD. “The more experience they have of finding what delights them, with no help from adults, the better they will get at it.”

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So the next time your kids say they’re bored, remember that perhaps the best thing you can do is leave them alone. Simply put: “Parents need to relax and let kids figure things out,” says Lehman. “It does everyone a world of good!”

What do you do when your child complains about being bored?


Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

Image ©iStock.com/Juanmonino



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