When my 12-year-old complains to me, “Mom, I’m bored,” I think to myself, well… that’s actually great. I have developed a habit of asking him, “How would you like to handle that feeling?”. Knowing that he’s not allowed to fill that time with any other form of screen-related activities, he will usually either pick a book to read, play with the cat, or build something out of Legos. Many times he will just sit on the couch, yawn, stretch, play with his fingers, or stare at the ceiling. I think to myself, thank God for this feeling! Being aware of how our brains are wired, I can sense that in these moments of boredom, his brain is going to hatch some new ideas which will foster his creativity. And he is also going to learn to become more mindful!
Boredom is an emotion, or rather a state of mind, that is often looked at negatively. People in this day and age, where we have so many things available to keep our brains constantly activated, often hate feeling bored. And we don’t seem to allow much room to accommodate this state of being. The moment we notice this feeling pop up in our brains, we take out our devices, start scrolling through our text messages, our emails, or surfing the internet. Be it at the waiting area in our doctor’s office, traveling in a train, bus, or car, or in line to order food, our brains are constantly occupied when we have our devices.
As a matter of fact, I have caught myself many times looking at my cell phone to ensure that I didn’t miss a call or a text while I am unloading and paying for my groceries at the cashier’s desk. Those are the moments that I’m not very proud of, and I had to apologize to the cashier for being rude.
Our society has made “doing nothing” a red flag for being lazy. Parents don’t want their children to “do nothing”. We oftentimes get worried about each other when we watch our family members sitting and doing nothing. A part of us questions the mental state of our loved ones. Is he depressed? Is she okay?
Many children who are in the gifted range at their schools complain of feeling bored. The main reason is that they either do not feel stimulated enough, or the class does not offer the curriculum that would fit their needs. The teachers and parents take it in a negative sense and declare that they are being lazy, or sometimes such children are at a risk for being misdiagnosed as having attention deficit disorder or even being defiant.
Many researchers have studied this feeling of boredom. Alicia Walf, a cognitive neuroscientist, says “For better brain health it is ok to let yourself be bored from time to time. Being bored can help improve social connections. When we are not busy with other thoughts and activities, we focus inward as well as looking to reconnect with friends and family. Being bored can help foster creativity.” She says that insight is fostered when our brain stops thinking and overthinking, and we may end up actually solving some of our most complex problems.
Not having access to many screens in my childhood, and having to solely depend on my inner capabilities to keep myself entertained, I am a witness to this fact: preceding every new hobby, every new creative idea I got, or new skills I fostered, was this feeling of boredom.
When the electricity would go off in the middle of watching our favorite TV show, I would notice that feeling of boredom inside me, and my mind would automatically start thinking and planning new ideas. Be it making furniture out of matchboxes, sketches on black glossy paper magazines with a safety pin, writing poetry, knitting, coloring, creating a game from simple household items, making paper mache sculptures from old newspapers, so on and so forth, all these fun activities came only after those moments of boredom.
So next time your kid complains of getting bored, consider it as an opportunity to help foster their creativity. Here are some simple strategies to convert these moments into helping them realize their strengths and capabilities, instead of giving them a device to play on.
1. Ask them what they are feeling, and empathize with their feelings.
2. Give them choices about how they would like to fill this time, but screen time should not be one of them.
3. If they insist they want to do nothing, say, “That’s OK”.
4. Let them doze off, daydream, or even take a nap. Chances are after they wake up they will be more refreshed and relaxed.
5. Keep things like puzzles, legos, toys, or household items within their reach if they choose to use them.
6. Encourage productive activities around the house, like chores, fixing their room, or helping with dinner.
7. Having a light snack is OK but do not encourage children to fill moments of boredom with just eating- which can lead to possibilities of binging later in life.
8. Let your child decide what they want to do with their boredom. Provide choices to younger children but don’t jump in to keep them entertained when they say, “I am bored”.
9. Encourage going outdoors, watching nature, birds, and bugs, and listening to the sounds. These are great ways not only to replace this feeling, but it can help them to become more mindful.
And of course, don’t forget to walk the talk.
Wish you a lot of creativity after those moments of boredom!