How to help your child embrace boredom

"I’m bored!"

"I don’t know what to do…"

"So BORED!"

For all our efforts at home-schooling and opportunities for endless screen time there are lots of children for whom lockdown is frustrating and dull.

It isn’t helping family morale when parents are under more pressure than a children's entertainer to endlessly occupy the kids.

But should we even try to do so? Maybe boredom actually serves a purpose.

What is boredom?

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Boredom isn’t an obvious emotion like anger, sadness or joy, but it is an emotional state and scientists suspect it serves an evolutionary purpose. Boredom is our way of pushing past complacency, it's a driver for exploring new places and things which has led humans to innovate and keep trying novel approaches because we generally love shiny new things.

We are subtle creatures and our boredom is a complex emotion. It can lead to frustration and anger, or it could inspire that ‘next step.’

Don’t screens mean that nobody gets bored?

Bitesize spoke to Dr Sandi Mann who is a psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire and author of The Science of Boredom: Why Boredom is Good.

“You’d think that people brought up on the internet wouldn’t know what boredom is anymore, but research shows that kids are more bored than ever and where the generation above have learnt to cope with lower levels of stimulation, they haven’t.”

“They have this very high level of stimulation, that lowers their boredom threshold, so they need more stimulation not to be bored and they are not able to un-bore themselves. They have to use the internet and scroll their boredom away where the generation above learned to use other means.”

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“But we’ve got a real opportunity here when kids aren’t being rushed from school to activity and play dates, we’ve got the potential for real downtime and that means time to be bored where they have to un-bore themselves.”

For academic Dr Teresa Belton, boredom is potentially the spark we need to get creative. She asked many creative people about their work and their childhood and the need for boredom as a “creative state.” Talking to the BBC previously she said:

"When children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. The time they spend on these things has increased. But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them."

Dr Mann has these three tips for parents

Let them get bored – “I think parents are told we have to be stimulating our children all of the time. Now we are in lockdown it is all about ‘home-schooling’ and not letting them lose the advantage in education. I think that we are very much afraid that if our kids are bored, we’re failing as parents, but actually I think it’s the other way around and we’re failing as parents if we don’t let them get bored.

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Limit screen time and computers – “Don’t just rely on devices where they use passive things to reduce their boredom. They need real boredom time where the only thing they have to entertain themselves is their own imagination and creativity. That is something we have lost.”

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Give them resources – “Dressing up stuff and things for craft - anything you can find lying around. They need to do it actively; they need to use their own imagination. This makes them more tolerant of boredom, it will help them to be able to concentrate more and to build their own creativity because I fear creativity will become stifled from them not being able to have that downtime.”

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One parent's experience

Primary School teacher Monica Saunders has three daughters aged 15, 13 and five. She agrees with Dr Mann’s approach.

“It has taken weeks to find a routine that works for everyone. I’ve let them find their own way to do it, and they’ve made their own different routines. I have encouraged them to use this time to find something that they’d like to do and wouldn’t normally have the time for. Social media is great for keeping in touch with friends, but they have started to get bored of it and begun to find other things to do. The good thing about this is it is making them more resourceful. Even going around their local areas, they would normally look at maps on their phones if they go the wrong way.”

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“But because there is a lot less happening on their social media, a lot of which is around what is happening at school, they are starting to find other things – they did two quizzes at the weekend that the kids set up themselves and they were out in the garden for ages thinking up clues which they might not normally have the patience or time to do.”

So if you’ve been inspired by these ideas for letting kids experience boredom, then perhaps you could include them in a lockdown routine, like yoga and learning times tables? It might give you the ammunition to say “Boredom is good for you – enjoy it while you can!”

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