How Boredom Fosters Creativity: The Follow Up

Here’s the anticipated (by me) spot on 13WMAZ. Thanks very much to my new partner, Alicia Gregory LMFT of Reflections Psychotherapy for setting me up. 

Your Child: Boredom Fosters Creativity

Of course, I over-prepared. This will surprise nobody who knows me well. And although Frank Malloy was great and easy to talk with, I left with more I could have said. Here’s the long version:

You say ‘A little boredom is good for your child,’ What do you mean?

A lot of us are tempted to over-schedule the summer with camps, sports, activities, and trips. The result is we wind up busier in June and July than we are during school and summer becomes more stressful that the school year. Besides the sheer stress of it, I think there are problems with this busy-ness for two reasons:

First, boredom is the place where a lot of creativity begins. Most of us adults can remember the crazy games we used to play or the adventures we used to have as children. If we fill up our kids’ lives with scheduled activities, we take away the chance for them to be creative and find something to do.
Second, downtime with the family is such an overlooked blessing. Especially if you have teens or pre-teens, you have probably noticed that it’s not usually during your scheduled “quality time” activities that they open up to you. It’s at the most unexpected in-between times. So much of staying connected with your teen is being lucky enough to be around when they feel like talking. For that, you need some down time.
Is there such a thing as too much boredom?
Yes. Especially unsupervised down time. We used to think siblings got into arguments and fights because they were competing for parents’ attention, but we know now that they do it because they are too bored. And there are some kids who are more likely to get into mischief or trouble when they have too much unstructured time with their friends. It is important to know how much freedom your child can handle because it’s different for every kid. But I’d say if you’re seeing too much mischief or fighting, you might need to consider finding time to be with them or planning more adult-supervised activities. 
My family is already too busy. What can we do?
You’ve got do decide what you can give up.
The first thing to look at is screen time. The average kid over age 8 spends 6.5 hours a day consuming some kind of digital media, while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends less than 2. Even adults could spend less time looking at screens. Those things are stressors.
The second principle I tend to recommend is to ask yourself questions about the big picture. What is the most important thing you spend your time on? What are you and your kids spending time on that are less valuable to you? What message do you want to send your kids about using time and are your choices sending that message?
I thought Frank asked a great question that I didn’t think quickly enough on my feet to answer thoroughly: The kids will come to us and say “we’re bored!” What should we do then? 
We should expect them to. Especially if they (and we) are used to being super busy all the time. The adjustment can be tough. So much of parenting is knowing what you can ignore so that your kids learn to cope with life without your help. We can ignore “I’m bored!” from most kids over about 5. Maybe have a stock phrase like, “Wow. What can you think of to do about that?” When we ask for their ideas, we empower them and show confidence in their creativity. Under 5, they may need us to help narrow the options or even to take a few minutes to play with them. I know a really good mom who has a kind of backup plan in her head for long afternoons. Her preschoolers love the sandbox and the water table, so she keeps them put away and saves them for times when everyone gets a little too bored. Then she sets them up in the shade, pours herself a lemonade, and sits down to watch them play.
Boredom is uncomfortable. It is supposed to be. When we get bored, our brains fire up and start looking for ways to get occupied. Sometimes it is amazing what our kids come up with if we just allow them the space to find something to do.

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