The Benefits of Boredom

Quarantine is creating boredom for many of us, including my kids.

My boys have been thrilled to have more free time since school has been out (though they’ve had increased free time since the virus closed school and learning went online). My husband and I have talked about what we can do to get our kids unglued from screens, but hadn’t really come up with much beyond having the kids go outside for daily physical activity, and reading as a family.

Our oldest helped answer the question when he asked to talk to his father one evening. “Dad, can I talk to you?” My husband described that when my son asked him this, he appeared to have something weighing on his mind. My husband started thinking through what my son might want to discuss and was bracing himself for a worst case scenario— was he looking at inappropriate content on the web, was he wanted to do hang out with friends and disregard the precautions needed to protect against the virus? My husband shared that my son was struggling to get out what he wanted to say. After a minute or so, he sighed and said, “Dad, I’m really bored. There’s nothing to do. If you have any projects you plan to work on around the house tomorrow, can I help you?” We’ll, of course, my husband was relieved. He agreed our son could help him around the house and outside.

After helping his father the following day, before going to bed, he asked my husband if he could help him again the next day. My husband agreed. An interesting turn of events since previous requests for help had been met with sighs and resistance. 😊

My husband joked that he’d have to start coming up with things for them to do, because as a team, they were making quick work of our house projects. I shared that our son was likely experiencing the need to contribute in a meaningful way. Much like we work or volunteer. It might be to make money or to help a cause, but we’re contributing, something I think is a desire we all share, particularly as you grow older and become capable of contributing. We discussed giving our sons (both boys) more structure during the summer with ideas around academics, being creative, and physical. We’ll see what works.

My son had to become bored to understand the benefit (and joy?) of contributing. How is your child dealing with any boredom? How are you turning the boredom into a benefit?

Where the Wild Things Are

How did you pass the time when you were sent to your room as a child?

Oh, how I hated being bored as a kid. What I hated more was being sent to my room and being bored. You were trapped without having access to most of things you love (TV, music, etc.). When I was sent to my room as a child, I would move between lying on my bed seething at my parents and how I thought they’d wronged me, and then figure out what I could do to kill the time — read a book, write something down, play with some of my toys, etc.

I recently took my kids to a local production of Where the Wild Things Are, a story about a boy, Max, who gets in trouble for misbehaving and the wonderful journey his imagination takes him on. In the production we watched, Max was sent to his room without supper. This is where his adventure began. As I watched the show I thought, Wow, I wish I had this kind ability to create a new world when I was his age. It never even occurred to me to dream up a new world to escape those times I was ‘captive’ in my own room. It felt like I’d missed an opportunity (using my creativity, spending my time in a more enjoyable fashion, etc.) by not following in the main character’s footsteps. I was both inspired by the character and disappointed in myself. It made me think about how my children spend their time when they’ve been sent to their room. I’ve got to believe some of their time is spent lying on their bed seething at how I, or their father, have done them wrong, but then what comes next?

On the way home, we talked about the play, and how creative Max was. We talked about using our imagination to create new worlds, and how fun it can be dreaming up something on your own. I don’t know if my children were inspired by what they saw, and if they’ll follow in Max’s footsteps when they are bored or have been sent to their room, but I hope they will. Sometimes our imagination and the idea of what’s possible or ideal can be exactly what you need to get you through a hard time.

What does your child do when they are bored? How do they fill the time?