Hearing “I’m Bored”? Don’t Fear the B-Word.

By Katy Smith, Parent Educator and 2011 Minnesota Teacher of the Year

When kids tell me that they are bored, I usually ask them to wait until I can find a chair so I can sit down while they tell me all about it. I want them to know how interested I am in their boredom, considering they are in a classroom full of friends and activities. They usually do not hang around long enough to tell me their woes because the underlying message is clear: their boredom is their responsibility.

I learned this lesson early in life, I was nine or ten, when I mistakenly told my dad one perfectly glorious sunny day at the lake that I was bored. My announcement was delivered with plenty of tone and an epic eye roll. I spent the next several hours collecting acorns in a brown paper grocery bag, thinking about what I just said (bored was the “B” word in my house).

June is “there’s nothing to do” month

If you listen to kids, June is the “there’s nothing to do” month. I invite us all to jump up and down and clap every time they say it. For months, Minnesotans look forward to that weekend in the spring, when we can put away the winter gear for good. We exchange the boots, mittens, and heavy coats for a light jacket and a pair of flip flops. Summertime is downtime and a great time to pack up our commitments and our heavy schedules alongside those mittens and hats.

Doing too much has become the national standard. Super busy seems to be the new normal. It doesn’t have to be that way. To my knowledge, there is no Busy Family Hall of Fame, no known prize for the family with the most commitments in the world. I visited with a mom a few years ago after a talk I had given at the elementary school. She had heard about the importance of eating dinner together as a family. She wondered if it mattered that her family ate dinner together, four nights a week, in the van. It was the only way to make it happen with the karate schedule they were doing their best to accommodate. Four nights of karate seems like a lot to do.

When bored, kids gain a sense of themselves

We live in a time where much of a child’s life is scheduled in schools, on teams, and in activities.

For kids, it takes long stretches of time with nothing to do to find their own thoughts, to figure out their own plan, and to dream their own dreams. Sometimes kids need some ideas to get started as they learn to fill their own time, but parents need not feel responsible for filling all of it. Downtime gives children a sense of who they are and what they like to do. This knowing is a gift, the foundation for a happy life.

All of us, especially children, do well with less to do. Less to do gives us all more time, that’s it, just more time. You don’t have to fill it up, or turn anything on, you and your children can just be. Less to do gives us time for rest, time for deep play, time to get outside, time to read, time to imagine, time to waste, time to do…well nothing, really…nothing.  

Downtime is a loving investment

Research tells us that what kids need most from their families is time. That’s right, time. Time requires no membership, no pass, no registration fee. Less to do gives families more time to enjoy each other, to rest, to be silly, to snuggle up, and to create a safe haven. Downtime is a loving investment, a deposit in the bank to draw on when life gets harried. Family time is precious, be mindful not to give too much of it away.

Much later that day, all those years ago, I delivered that bag of acorns to the front door. My dad did not say a word. He simply took the bag by the top and bottom corners and tossed the acorns back into the yard. The message was as loud and clear as if he had shouted it, there is always something to do, even when there is nothing to do. I usually have an acorn top in my purse. Acorn whistling is one of my superpowers, kids think it’s magic. I know how to make an acorn top whistle because of a perfectly glorious sunny day at the lake, where I spent hours picking acorns because there was nothing else to do.

“The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind” – Albert Einstein

katysmith-blog-imageKaty Smith is a parent educator and early childhood teacher. She has spent thirty years in classrooms, big and small, as a parent educator, supporting parents in the journey of raising their children. She is also the 2011 Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

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