Why boredom is important for babies and children (and adults)

My mom and I still laugh at some bizarre stories from when I was a kid. Seemingly out of nowhere, I’d dress up in a silly outfit and come barging out of my room with the Chinese restaurant menu that was printed on a scroll singing “Bell horses!”. I remember doing it, I remember thinking it was such an obvious and fun thing to do. I don’t remember why I thought that. But somehow it was a way for me to entertain myself, to have fun and to play. I also remember reading, teaching a pretend class, building with LEGO, or my favorite for years – my parents would give me the big box when we’d get a major appliance and I would draw all over it with markers, climb inside with a flashlight and read or pretend I was in a cave or any other type of play. Considering all the research that keeps coming out, it’s one of the best things my mom did; she purposely left me and my brother unscheduled, allowing us to be bored.

Boredom is often the bane of parents’ existence. When kids are bored, they get into trouble, right? When kids are bored, they whine about it, and then you find them covered in paint or suspended between two pieces of furniture or whatever else. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. And the same goes for adults, so we can all use this important reminder.

When do you get inspired with the best ideas? If you’re anything like me, it’s while you’re in the shower or in the car, when you get time alone in your own head to let your mind wander. I love browsing my social media as much as the next person, or reading the news, or playing a game, or watching a series. It’s so nice to zone out and be entertained or informed. But that’s not the whole package of what we need. We also need space in our own heads to explore, to imagine, to pretend, to figure things out.

At this stage, Harley isn’t quite able to crawl, and while she can sit she does sometimes fall over. I like to do a range of developmental activities with her to help her develop her body, mind and social abilities. However, when she is awake and chilled, I also try to leave her to entertain herself (while supervised, obviously). I might give her a toy, or leave her on her tummy with some items of varying textures, or maybe just let her lie on her back on a fluffy blanket. She will play with her toy in new ways, figuring out things it can do, or figure out how to roll off her tummy when she’s tired of the activity, or simply discover her feet and babble to herself. All of these are important for her development. They help her to realize how her body works, how the world around her works, and how she can have fun by herself. This doesn’t last for long periods of time, but it is important.

When kids are over stimulated, over scheduled, or pushed to be brilliant in ways we already know and understand, they lose the ability to grow in ways we don’t understand. Where does creativity come from? How about innovation? Or what about inspiration in general? We all need to let those creative juices flow, to let our brains relax and come up with fun and unique ideas. Remember building a fort as a kid? Or how about drawing or telling stories? If you were told you had to build a fort, or draw a picture of something in particular, it loses its joy, its spontaneity.

So many parents get caught up in the idea of school readiness or academic achievement for their pre-schooler. Instead, I’m hoping for Harley to be bored from time to time. To play. To imagine. To dress up in bizarre outfits and sing strange songs and use props from random places. That’s when I think she will figure out new ways to experience the world, and help to spread those new ideas as she continues to grow up.


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