Over the course of this pandemic, there are two words we parents have probably heard more than any others: “I’m bored.”
And then comes the dread. You’ve got 1,000 things to do and no time to engage in play. Why did I buy all these toys, you wonder, if they’re not going to play with them?
My advice: Stop and breathe, and let them get bored. Once kids are fully immersed in independent play, they look totally engaged — and it’s a beautiful thing. But play also ebbs and flows between moments of intense focus and lulls — moments when kids are warming up or when they are shifting ideas. That down time is when new ideas pop up and when kids learn to drive their own learning. And that’s great news to us. Because once we let go of the idea that lulls in kids’ play are a problem, we free ourselves from the need to solve it.
As a parent, educator, and co-founder of early childhood education program Tinkergarten, I’ve seen this play out hundreds of times — even in my own home. Believe me; it is easier to feel the value of play when kids are humming along in a state of flow, and I still feel anxiety when the energy of play starts to dwindle. I have had to train myself to hold back, though, because the magic that can follow a lull is well worth the wait.
Here’s why you should hold back and wait, too.
Kids need a stage manager, not a director.
In the theater, the director calls all the shots of play — where to be, and when, and how to carry it out. But the stage manager simply sets the scene and lets the fun fly.
Kids have all the resources to solve their own problems. They don’t need us directing their play; they need us to give them a place to play and an invitation with a few simple prompts to get the action going.
Being left to their own devices is good for kids.
When we remain always by a child’s side or respond at the first sign of need, we inadvertently deny them really important learning opportunities. Worse yet, we communicate loud and clear that they don’t have the tools they need to overcome challenges.
When we let them play on their own, kids get to develop their own problem-solving skills. In those moments that look like “boredom” to us, kids develop patience and invent new ideas.
We’re all stressed right now.
And giving kids room to solve their own boredom teaches them about setting boundaries and self-care. Sometimes Mommy’s not available to play because she’s just not, and that’s better than OK; that’s an important lesson in wellness.
Separating “mom time” and “me time” is important for every mother. Whether “me time” is a bath or a few uninterrupted hours to get work done, fitting in some form of it is essential. “Mom time,” on the other hand, is easier to schedule: In quarantine, it could look like daily family lunch like it does in our household, or morning snuggles before work hours.
When you separate that time, you’re teaching your kids that they matter, too, and modeling good behavior for them to take into adulthood.
Kids need down time.
That’s when they spark those ideas. Trying to work their way through a difficult situation or a lull naturally develops the creativity and grit that will help them tackle much harder problems later in life.
We actually undermine kids’ sense of self when we step in. Every time we rush to their aid, we are not only saying, “Mom’s here to help” but also, “Yup, you need my help — you’re right, you couldn’t handle this one on your own.” We don’t usually hear that second message, but kids do. So, remember, you give your kids a real resilience boost when you wait a bit or tell them to try on their own first.
Boredom boosts creativity.
Young children’s play can appear uneven, made up of periods of intense activity, lots of switching gears and lulls. The ebb and flow between active play and lulls allows children to explore many interests and, ultimately, helps them to develop creativity.
Creativity, for kids, is just as important as literacy. It helps them thrive and invent solutions to problems big and small. It’s also something they’re born with but lose as they get older, and there are ways to sustain it.
The trick is to find little moments — boring moments! — and get them generating their own ideas. When you’re in line at the supermarket, stuck in a traffic jam in the car or waiting for dinner to hit the table, encourage their creativity with simple prompts. Try flipping the script on boredom in your own household. And enjoy the time you get back in your life.
Spark kids’ creativity with these fun supplies.