Bring on the Boredom

My kind of thinking! NJ Dad: Here's Why I Hope My Kids' Summer Vacation is Boring. It's true, it takes work and good fortune and a lot of resources to let your kids have the joy of boredom, or joy that springs out of boredom. And the opportunity to develop the creativity that you really can't without that luxury of time in-between. 

Brian Donahue writes: 

"In today's hyperconnected, over-scheduled America, boredom has become something that takes work to achieve. And our decision to pursue it, normal for my parents' generation, feels like a luxury.

For the first time, my wife and I find ourselves in a rare situation this summer where she will not be tied up with work or school. 

And so we have to do this now. 

It may be our only shot to have them revel in time unfettered. In beautiful stretches of long hot nothingness. Who knows what next summer will bring in terms of family demands or kids' newfound hobbies?" 

I think I'm too quick to censor kids from saying, "I'm bored" ...too quick to steer them away from that feeling. The words are anathema to me. A kid saying, "I'm bored" is like nails on a chalkboard. I literally recoil. There are a million books to read! Games to play! Blank pages to paint on! Insects to identify! Dances to learn! Bikes to ride! Stories to write! Trees to sit under! Poems to ponder! How on earth can you be bored? It feels terribly ungrateful to me. If a kid says it while you're playing something with them, then it's insulting and a bit spoiled I think. Rude, basically. But if the grown up is busy doing housework say or even if the two of you are just sitting on a park bench and the kid says he or she is bored, that should probably be okay. Maybe even encouraged. Me flooding a bored child with ideas about what to do--even if they're free, creative, earth-child/nature ideas, or whatever version of activities "free-range" parents* sanction as morally and spiritually superior to over-scheduled or plugged-in pastimes, that's just as bad in some ways as whisking the child off to some over-structured activity. Mindful Parenting Coach Avital Schreiber Levy warns, “Solving children’s boredom with a list of ideas or jumping in to organize an activity straight away is to castrate their own problem solving abilities and to undermine them as authors of their time.” She has excellent advice about what to do to cultivate “the gift of boredom” here

 My list of ideas to do--and maybe even worse, willingness to jump in with the child on some new task to "cure" the boredom--doesn't allow them to reap its benefits. It's programming the child just like taking him or her to Karate. Done often, it means taking too big a role in deciding how he or she will fill those long, vacant, shapeless hours with which our society as a whole has grown so radically uncomfortable, the ones we do anything, anything to avoid and the ones about which we bemoan and scream and cry and wail because we lost. 

Instead of "You can't be bored" maybe I should tell the child, as Wally's kindergarten teacher used to say at dismissal, after the kids had sat inside learning for way too many hours, "Go and be free." 

Ladybug Release Last Night - Anything but boring

*Term is problematic as I've explained in earlier posts, but for lack of a better one...


  1. Oh my goodness. My 7 year old told me he was bored last week with such a satisfied look in his eye, as if he felt older or more mature saying it. And I jumped all over him! I said, "bored people are boring! Go find something to do."
    And I've always felt that way- I can NOT imagine ever being bored. I have so many things I want to do and lots are on that list of yours. Whoops! Now I wish I had just said, "good."

  2. Holly - that is fascinating. The first time I heard Wally say it was in the past few months and he had a similar look. I hate how it's seems to credit the sayer with a kind of cool factor - I'm bored, as in, I'm more interesting than this - whatever you're doing. I jumped all over him too, with the same lines. The list of things to do is endless, isn't it? God for starters all the cookbooks lying around with a thousand recipes we've never tried. There are fireflies out tonight and there's a strawberry moon. You can listen to any song in the world you want to now practically. You could hole up in the library all afternoon. Cut up old magazines into a collage. I just don't get it. How do you not want time?

    But now we know - maybe it's better not to jump on them, just to allow it, just to be grateful that they're gotten to the place where they can begin something new.

  3. It's so interesting to think about boredom as a marker of maturity. Toddlers do seem forever content to explore, wander, play. We haven't yet crossed this threshold--a reminder to savor these days. I remember boredom as a condition of that transition from the structure and stimuli of school days to the free time of summer. Lately, as I see kids with super structured schedules, I feel so grateful for summers spent at the beach, a little tennis and swimming and then the long day stretching out before me, playing with friends, making forts under sailboats, building sandcastles, catching crabs. I spent most of my time immersed in imagination. I supposed children also have bouts of boredom because they experience time so differently, the hours, days and weeks feel so much longer to them than to us.

    Collaging--thank you for the reminder! This is something I've been wanting to do for a while. I need to get better organized and make this happen! I love the photo from the garden. From slugs to gardening to boredom to the strawberry moon, these summertime posts are wonderful!

  4. Lady bug release! I love it. I wonder if, maybe, a little bit, when our littles shoot us down with the exasperated "I'm bored," we feel the need to point all of the wonderful things they could do- painting, reading, enjoying... because it seems like somehow, as adults, we just don't get the luxury to be "bored." Sigh...

  5. It seems that boredom comes with being jaded. "I'm over this" kind of thing. It's so wonderful how toddlers are content to explore, wander, play, as you write Sarah. I sometimes think of little things I can't believe still amuse and entertain even Wally, let alone Petra, who is still so easily amused. I guess I really do have to appreciate that. The ladybugs enthralled them, but the they dash to the playground every day, squealed/nearly screamed with happiness a few hours ago when we ran into their friends by chance on the city bus.

    Yes! Your beautiful description of summer days -- "stretching out" -- (so crazy to think we may have been at that same tennis, volleying together, now all these years later, we volley with words. I'm tickled that you have wanted to collage as well. I try it from time to time. I'm terrible at it. It's something anyone should be able to do fairly easily but I manage to make disastrous stuff. (Wally crying now because we missed the strawberry moon last night. Did you see it?)

    Amie - Such a good point...we don't get the luxury to be "bored" - I agree! You hit it. There is always so much to do let alone all the stuff you want to do!


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