“Mom, I’m bored!”
No parent enjoys hearing this. But for me, it goes beyond intolerable. It’s very high up on my list of one of the most annoying things a child can say, in my opinion. There is so much to do, learn, read, see, and explore. How can one be bored?! In fact, in our home, from the moment they learned to say it, my kids know not to use this word. As soon as they uttered it from the time they were little, my response was, “That is a very bad word never to be used. Now go play in the dirt.” Our lives are excruciatingly brief and to spend even an afternoon in boredom strikes me as such a waste. Though, despite our best efforts, all kids experience boredom from time to time, because it’s in the realm of human emotions; just as our kids will feel sadness, happiness, and frustration, so too will they find boredom. Rather than attempt to prevent boredom, we can give them tools so they know what to do when that emotion arises.
I am curious by nature, which, I think, is another reason why I enjoy being a mother so deeply. I live vicariously through their moments of awe. Isn’t that what childhood is really about? Exploration and experiencing wonderment daily? I truly believe it is. As parents we offer our kids as many opportunities to dive wholly into discovery as possible. We want them to try new things, see the world from multiple angles, and feel amazed by the results. Often, when parents see their kids become uninterested, they assume the role of hired entertainer, ready to pull tricks from a bag at a moment’s notice in order to ward off boredom. It’s easy to fall into this habit, but kids need to be self-starters and the earlier they learn this trait the better.
My husband, Michael Berg, explained, “Dullness and boredom come from unmet or abandoned potential.” The trouble with boredom is kids (and adults) often see it as a rut we get stuck in. Kabbalists teach it is actually an invitation to tap into, discover, or return to what we are most passionate about. It is our job to figure out how to enjoy our time on our own (kids included!) Writer and teacher, Janet Lansbury, said, “What appears to be boredom is usually tiredness or the healthy bit of inertia children need just before the next good idea materializes. Boredom, imagination, and the ease with which children once played independently are all one, and they are becoming extinct together.” I think many parents and caregivers are the culprits. Grown-ups see a bored child and go into a panic, digging through their backpacks and pocketbooks in search of something remotely interesting that might entertain a small person for a spell. And when that won’t do, well there is always a smartphone which can keep kids from boredom for hours. Indeed, imagination and independent play have become harder to come by. Learning how to approach stillness is as important as learning how to approach adventure. There is as much discovery to be had in a quiet afternoon indoors as in an hour stomping through puddles. It’s all about consciousness.
When your kids bombard you with declarations of boredom, try to:
The quickest way out of boredom is to share. Teach your children to be of service, and find a way to help when boredom creeps up. Kids may not naturally think of ways to share on their own; it takes a combo of modeling generous and selfless behavior with some gentle nudging. Prompt them with, “Who can we help out today? Let’s pack a lunch for Dad; he has a long day ahead of him,” or “Your sister has a big project due tomorrow; let’s help her finish her chores.” Eventually, you’ll catch them holding the door open for someone, helping out classmates or siblings, and offering kindness wherever they go. Over time, these acts of sharing transform children, not only to be more thoughtful, but to also get out of the mindset of “serve me” or “entertain me,” and into one of offering service.
We can begin to build consciousness in youngsters by sharing our appreciation with them. Notice the small things out loud, “The sun feels nice on my back. Do you feel it too?” or “Look how pretty those flowers are on the table; I’m so grateful Grandma brought them from her garden,” or “I feel blessed to be able to spend time together today.” This is the surest way to shift perspective. When you appreciate what is, you don’t connect to lack.
Kids need to connect to us more often and more meaningfully than we realize. Stop what you’re doing and turn to your child, giving them 100% of your attention. Offer a hug or a little silliness. Teach her a song you learned back in your days of summer camp. Sometimes all they need is for you to see them, connect to them, and remind them how important they are to you. If you can, find a way to involve them in whatever you’re working on or elicit their help.
I am passionate about books and constantly add to the ever-present stack on my nightstand. My kids have, consequently, picked up a fervor for books, as well. Every time I pass a Free Little Library in my neighborhood, I grab anything I think my kids might find interesting and tuck it away in my closet. On rainy days or moments of “boredom” I dig one out. Books build a bridge to concepts, cultures, history, and ideas we have yet to open up to. We also write stories together and create our own books. Abigail, my youngest, is working on Sadness Is Not an Option to follow my book, Fear Is Not an Option. Help your children make a habit of turning to the written word when they don’t know where to turn next.
Boredom has little to do with what is going on around you and more to do with what is going on within you. It’s a little nudge, telling you it’s time to shake things up. Brainstorm with your kids and create new goals or a list of new things to try. Remind them that their purpose is bigger than themselves and this moment. Teach them to use boredom as a tool to create an expansive life worth living.