Why does a bored kid, or the threat of a bored kid strike fear into the hearts of parents? Part of the reason is that the attention economy (aka Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, your smartphone) has erased boredom from adult lives. Parents forget the joy and benefits of a quiet moment because they are vanishingly rare. Another, more obvious reason is that a bored kid is an annoying kid. They will turn to you for stimulation (Just one more movie, pleeeease?). Don’t give it to them. Boredom is a good, even essential thing for developing brains — for all brains, really. Let us count the ways.
Boredom Readies the Mind to Learn New Things
Babies are learning machines and they have internal mechanisms that prevent them from wasting time on things that don’t have enough learning value, says baby-researcher Dr. Celeste Kidd. This is the equivalent of boredom for babies, she says. Fortunately, babies are easily entertained and can be cured of this boredom by playing with a new object. Kidd recommends objects the child has seen before but hasn’t been able to fully explore, like your keys or a travel mug you or your partner use on a regular basis, or even their own toys taped together and presented in a new way.
Embrace Boredom for Better Screen Time Habits
Adults are guilty of disliking boredom just as much as their kids and we often avoid it completely with the help of our smartphones. But kids notice what their parents do and mirror that behavior. Most parents probably don’t want to teach their children to waste as much time as they do mindlessly scrolling around the internet. So even when you’re bored, too, get off your phone — or whatever screen is in front of you — and do something with your child. Use your creativity, invent a new game together, take a walk, bake some Christmas cookies. Instead of distracting yourself, you and your child can figure out what to do together.
Bored People Look for Connection
You might be the one getting bored with your kids. It happens. Parents who accept boredom as a normal part of parenthood, instead of expecting it to always be fulfilling and meaningful, often end up with happier families in the long run. Even if you are bored of playing that same game or watching that same Christmas movie for the millionth time, pushing through that feeling and putting in the time can give you valuable connection time with your child, says Sharon Saline, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of What Your ADHD Child Wishes You Knew: Working Together to Empower Kids for Success in School and Life. In the long run, you are trying to develop a strong relationship with your kid. Showing up and paying attention to something they find interesting, even if it’s not much fun for you, matters and can help strengthen that bond.
Boredom Stimulates Creative Thinking
While kids may hate being bored, it can actually stimulate creative and independent thinking, helping your kid develop their own ideas. Teresa Belton, author of Happier People Healthier Planet and former visiting fellow at the School of Education & Lifelong Learning at the University of East Anglia says boredom can help kids develop “curiosity, perseverance, playfulness, interest, and confidence.” It’s important your child has space to develop these skills on their own, so don’t feel pressured to entertain them all the time. In fact, leave room for time with no plans over the holidays and help your child use their imagination to figure out what to do next.
Bored? Time to Do Chores
If all else fails, you can take your child along with you to run some errands and check things off your to-do list. It may not sound fun to drag your kid to the bank, but you can frame it as teaching the child to be a big kid and letting them into the secret world of grownups. The important thing is spending time together, says Saline. And in this case, you’ll be putting in time with your child while knocking some stuff off your list.