Many parents dread hearing their child say, “I’m bored.”
However, letting your children be bored can actually help them become active. It sounds counter intuitive, but by allowing them “bored” time, you can boost their creativity, independence, and ability to take safe risks.
“Children who experience a lack of programmed activity are given an opportunity to demonstrate creativity, problem solving, and to develop motivational skills that may help them later in life,” writes Dr. Michael Ungar in Psychology Today.
Children need unstructured play in their structured schedules. Set aside time when nothing is planned, then empower your children to control their activities. Kids can’t stand being bored, so they naturally will begin to create games and stories.
Here is how to bore your kids:
1) Send them outside. Whether it is exploring the woods, a backyard, or ants on a sidewalk, it is easy for children to make an adventure out of their outdoor exploration. The outdoors offers them countless opportunities to touch and explore the world in an unstructured manner.
2) Understand limits. The most important part of unstructured play is knowing what your child can handle. Younger children won’t be able to handle as much unstructured play as older children. Extroverted children might need friends to be creative with, while introverts might be happy studying a bug for hours. Children are different and you don’t want to overwhelm them with too much boredom at once.
3) Don’t give instructions. Let your child come up with what they want to do. Avoid directing their activities.
4) Break the rules. Encourage kids to invent alternatives to the official rules of games. They can decide which rules they want to follow or if they want to invent a new game altogether. Working together without adult interference teaches children teamwork, leadership, and negotiating skills.
5) Invent a new purpose. Give children access to toys, tools, or objects like boxes, pots, or pans. Suggest they try using these for purposes other than those for which they were designed. Discovery and exploration foster creativity.
6) Make believe. In their boredom, your children may want to escape to a new world. Perhaps they will begin to see playground equipment as a castle or want to build a fort or house for wildlife.
7) Let them fall. Cuts, scrapes, and bruises are a natural part of growing up, and a learning process for children. Climbing trees , jumping from high places, running the “wrong” way up a slide, or sword fighting with dead branches can break your children’s boredom. Allowing them to experiment can teach them that they can control their own safety.
8) Don’t be the hero. Resist jumping up to help your kid the second they ask. Evaluate whether they actually do need help with something or if they just want you to do it for them. Let them help themselves if they can. Unstructured play will foster independence, but not if your children are relying on you to entertain them.
Before you let your children run free, teach your kids about good and bad risk. Children have different amounts of risk they can handle. Factors like age and experience can play a role in their risk-management abilities. Where you live can also pose different risk factors, for example if you live near a busy street or in a more rural setting. Teach them about potential dangers they might face.
For example, a good risk might be letting your child walk to a neighborhood friend’s house and a bad risk might be letting your child swim unsupervised. For younger children, maybe they can walk alone, but you could stand and watch them from home until they reach their destination. It is also helpful to explain how you decide to take risks as you encounter them in everyday life.
After unstructured play is done, listen to your children describe their adventures. I’m sure they’ll have a lot to share.
- Are playgrounds too boring?
- Risk management for parents
- You might fall, you could die: Teaching about risk
- What We Talk About When We Talk About Risk
- Free Range children
Photo by iStock
Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an AMC Outdoors blog. This post was written by Sarah Kinney.