This is something you are likely to hear from your children a number of times over the course of the summer holidays. I think children today more than any other generation before are so used to structured after school activities or sitting indoors in front of a screen that they literally don’t know how to keep themselves busy.
Parents mistakenly think it is their job and responsibility to keep their kids happy and occupied but children have to learn how to entertain themselves. Unstructured or down time is actually very important for children’s mental health.
Your main role as a parent is to set your child up for life as an adult and prepare them to be part of society. Children need to learn to do things for themselves and when they become adults will need to be skilled at managing their time (including leisure time) and pursuing interests that contribute to their happiness. The learning starts now in childhood.
Why is unstructured time so important?
- Kids learn how to be alone and actually have time to just be, think and contemplate life so they are comfortable in their own company.
- Creativity and imagination is more likely to develop if they are not in front a screen and need to occupy themselves. For my younger 2 daughters despite having lots of toys and games at home, their favourite activities are role play (mums and dads, doctors, restaurants) and drawing.
- It’s a great advantage for children to have at least one passion, something they have chosen that they really enjoy and work hard at. Without unstructured time they have little opportunity to develop this. For my eldest child it’s music, my second art and the third gymnastics. My youngest has yet to find hers.
- Being bored encourages self -reliance
How can parents respond when their child is ‘bored’?
- Firstly establish whether they are saying this because they are craving your attention. Make sure you are scheduling bursts of ‘special time’ with each child and opportunities to connect with them.
- Encourage your child to brainstorm activities they can do when they feel bored and perhaps contribute your own ideas. If they are old enough encourage your child to write the ideas down so they can refer to them next time they are bored.
- Limit screen time so they have to get into the habit of finding something else to do. Screens and particularly games on screens are purposely designed to be really engaging and addictive, providing a boost of dopamine so children want to use them and every other activity seems less exciting.
- For younger children I love Sean Covey’s book the 7 Habits of Happy Kids with the story about Sammy squirrel and it being his responsibility to make fun for himself.
Just to be clear it is mainly your child’s responsibility to keep themselves busy and not yours. You need to give them the experience of being bored and the skills and ideas to handle that feeling rather than just trying to avoid it.