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Why summer boredom can be positive for kids

I saw something funny on Facebook the other day. It said, “Parents…tag, you’re it! From, Your Child’s Teachers.”

Aside from holidays that involve time off, and birthdays, for school-aged children there’s not much on the excitement meter that rivals summer vacation. But for the parents scheduling the activities, camps or even just childcare to fill their children’s summer days, it can be anything but a day at the beach.

In between the vacations, daytrips and playdates, during a downtime, there’s nothing worse than hearing a child say, “I’m bored.”

But let me let you in on a little secret: It’s actually okay for your child to occasionally be bored, and according to research, children should be allowed to be bored.

Boredom breeds creativity

When I was a child, my brother, cousins and I traveled to Iowa for an entire month every summer, to spend time with our grandparents on our family farm. This was the kind of place so in the middle of nowhere, that when you had to do a “big” grocery shop, the nearest Super Walmart was nearly two hours away and we had to bring two cars and coolers to bring the goods back. There was no cable, no air conditioning, and no comforts of home. Just the farm animals, a bunch of hay bales and a lot of open space to explore.

I remember pretending to drag our feet and huff when our friends headed to their beach houses to kick off their summers, while we set off for – have I mentioned this farm was in the middle of nowhere?

But it’s funny. Every year, by the end of our visit, we were crying when we had to leave. It was the farm where I learned to ride a horse, drive a car, and bake the perfect apple pie. And some days we didn’t learn anything, but I was able to finish every book on the summer reading list, explore and be a kid.

In today’s world of scheduled activities and technology, there’s no denying that everyone, parents and children alike, can benefit from down time from the chaotic world we live in.

Dr. Sandi Mann from the University of Central Lancashire has researched the suppression of emotions, including boredom. Dr. Mann believes it is important for children to be bored.

“Unlike so many parents today, I am quite happy when my kids whine that they are bored. Finding ways to amuse themselves is an important skill,” Mann said.

Child psychologist Dr. Alvin Rosenfield and author of “The Over-Scheduled Child” has devoted his life’s work to this belief. He asserts, “children need down time to think, discover, imagine, create inner worlds all their own.”

Equip your child with the mental tools to navigate through the boredom

Of course it’s not as easy as it sounds. Especially if you need to get something done around the house and need your children out of your hair.

It won’t happen overnight, but encourage your child to cultivate their creativity in times of boredom.

Shauna Maynard, a school psychologist at Pine Bush Elementary School in Schenectady, N.Y., further explains why it’s “good” for children to be bored during the summer.

“First off, summer should be a time for children to slow down. It’s a welcome relief from the constant bombardment of information, technology and activities that can come during the school year. The opportunity to be bored allows children to explore the simple things in their environment, which then enhances their imagination and ability to problem solve.”

While children benefit from having a supportive, predictable environment, it is important to balance scheduling activities and allowing time for children to simply wind down and explore on their own. Maynard suggests that if you and your family are accustomed to planning, then quite literally, “schedule” boredom.

In other words, make time to waste time.

“Families can benefit by doing things in which the only purpose is the joy of spending time together, like playing Monopoly, shooting hoops, drawing pictures, or taking a walk.”

Aside from scheduling the simpler things, she says parents should sit down with their children (generally above the age of four) and write down a list of things they enjoy doing or might enjoy doing over the summer. This list shouldn’t include summer camps or trips, but things like a family game night or helping to cook dinner.

“This is a great way to help guide free-play time, and will help to encourage children to come up with more activities like this on their own,” Maynard said.

Create a summer boredom toolbox

“Depending on the age and interests of your child, it may be beneficial to visit a craft store to have them choose materials for them to create with over the summer,” Maynard said.

“Having children be involved in the process of choosing activities will help them to develop positive relationships and enhance their planning and problem solving skills.”

Aside from crafts, there’s always getting lost in a book. Maynard suggests that parents model the joy of reading with children. Turn off the TV, put down the iPad and spend 30 minutes reading together. Help your child choose books they’re excited about. The titles should be fun and just challenging enough.

“Being bored helps children become more imaginative, self-reliant beings,” Maynard said. “It makes them better problem-solvers and develops their emotional intelligence. Not to mention it can strengthen their role as a better playmate for siblings and/or friends.”

So, this summer, take time to schedule boredom. And the next time you hear, “I’m bored,” don’t worry Mom or Dad, you’ve got this.