It’s the middle of the summer and although you may have taken your family out for a fun trip far from home and enjoyed some fun local events with your child, do you still find yourself repeatedly listening to the broken record tune of “ I’m boooooored” from your child ? As if you should be providing a continuous stream of hanging by the edge of your seat entertainment all summer long?
Your list of things to do doesn’t end because your child’s school is out, yet balancing the tasks of getting your own things done and entertaining them can seem like a task no less difficult than plate spinning. Did you know though, that being bored is an opportunity for your child to build critical and foundational self care skills they will need later as an adult?
Today’s post is the second in this Summer Self Care for Parents Series. You can check out my first one here where I shared 5 tips that helped me create a summer that is not only fun for our family but also kind to me in terms of my needs for refueling, energy and time to myself. Today I will share my take on why being bored is good, builds self care skills for later in life and small things you can do to help maximize it’s benefits for your child.
So you’re at home and trying to keep your kids occupied. It can be frustrating when it feels like your kids look to you not only connect with them, feed them and provide for them, but also manage their empty time. In the same way they have repeatedly practiced at school to follow directions and be in positions of needing to hang on to the teachers every last word to not fall behind, our kids can look to us in the same way.
School System Setup
We in some way fill in their teacher’s role to answer their question of “What’s the next thing I’m doing?”. Kids can feel stumped on what to do with so much free time when they don’t regularly have it for most of the year. This on a practical level can setup our kids for problems later in life. Although crossing your t’s, dotting your i’s and passing all the standardized tests makes for great chances into popular colleges, upon entering the workforce it could mean a hard transition.
Employ-ability No Longer Solely Based on Being Good in School
In today’s growing knowledge-based economy, creativity, innovation and comprehensive problem solving skills are increasingly needed not just to stay competitive, but employable. Waiting for the adults around you to micromanage your every step to make sure you “Do it right” doesn’t work in the working world. Being self led, resourceful and a fast learner is what’s in demand. The less employers have to instruct and check on you, the more valuable you are. Here is an article in Forbes that outlines the relationship between our schools system mis-preparation and the steady decline of startups in the US.
The Good News
Public education is making strides towards changing this dynamic as I have observed. A form of learning that is dynamic, comprehensive and more self led, called project based learning is becoming known for it’s effectiveness. In my own line of work as a substitute teacher in the south western suburbs of Illinois, I’ve seen teachers dedicate an hour or two a few days a week, to pursue this form of learning. In these classes groups of students are given guidelines and questions that need to be answered through their self chosen projects. They are then given free reign as to how they go about it and expected to give presentations either to their classmates or to visitors at scheduled school events.
This form of learning prepares kids for the real world where collaboration, research and self inquiry are basic skills in higher paid positions. Here is a great article explaining research on its efficacy from Edutopia, a nonprofit that aims to improve education, founded by filmmaker George Lucas in 1991. The National Education Association has recognized its benefits in a research spotlight they have on their site here.
More Good News
This Milwaukee public radio site just announced today that a new high school is being planned that is solely based on project learning. You can read about it here. A California-based educational platform, EdSource , highlights the benefits of project based learning here.
A Natural Instinct Dampened
Kids are born naturally exploring what they want, its when the people in their environment always direct where and how they should use their attention that it is gradually dampened. It becomes less about exercising their curiosity and more about following directions correctly. The traits that are needed to make a living income in today’s world are cultivated in an environment with ample opportunity to grow that curiosity and flex the skill of self inquiry and self correction.
Potent Ground For Developing Self Care Skills
That said, the gateway skills to self care are reflection and being comfortable in solitude.
Being able to check in with yourself to be clear on what you think, are curious about and want is priceless in living a life that is purposeful as an adult. I went through great pains to rediscover those skills as an adult after having had them wither away as a kid. In the 2 decades since I began my journey into self care, I see now how, the first decade was mostly spent un-wiring that mental reflex to constantly need affirmations and permission from others to pursue what I wanted, I share about that here. Our children don’t have to take that huge detour. We cannot only help them keep that natural instinct in tact before they leave the nest, but help it to flourish.
The Overlooked Treasure
Summers are a commonly overlooked and precious opportunity to develop these valuable skills. The absence of deadlines and rushed schedules can allow children the time to explore what genuinely interests them when their not being instructed, graded, quizzed and given credit for. Summers are the time to allow them to follow the thread of questions they have and see where it takes them.
Stoking The Fires
Here are 3 steps you can take to stoke the fires of their curiosity this summer when they say “I’m bored”.
What interests your child? Do you see their notebooks, keepsakes and books filled with doodles? Do they read comics? Is there a movie or cartoon they can’t get enough of? Is there a sport they love? Think back to what they gravitate to in their spare time naturally, during the school year?
2. Setup the Environment
Supply materials for them to try and tinker with that furthers their interest. For example, does your daughter love the movie frozen? What if you gather a notebook and pen and write a note inviting her to add her own twist to the story, research the many changes made to the story before it was filmed or offer tracing paper for her to brush up on her drawing skills and learn to remake the characters and request she present it for a family night? Does your preteen son love to skateboard? What if you gather some DIY tutorials from the Instructables site on making a ramp. You can suggest he make a model first then get the wood necessary to try to make one.
My son loves building so a variety of building materials has been helpful. Not too long ago I filled a bin with a bunch of clean empty cereal and pasta boxes, toilet paper rolls that was going to recycling and handed it to him with duct tape, stickers and some aluminum foil. He made a spaceship that engrossed him for 2 hours.
3. Set Conditions on Screen Time
Modern lifestyles create the challenge of dulling that instinct of curiosity almost to extinction with all the convenience afforded to kids these days. Going online to further research a passion discovered is great. Spending hours consuming mindless entertainment dampens that fragile spark of creativity. Consuming ample amounts of social media also takes away time from creating. Much television programming geared towards kids purposefully provides adrenaline rush stimulation much like social media. Their brain comes to mistakenly expect this type of stimulation when off the screen, setting them up for disappointment with the “slow” pace of real life. Let them know screen time is to be used with purpose and conditions.
These ideas serve as gentle nudges for your kids to maximize the opportunity of being bored and channeling that moment into an impetus to create and explore. I find once my son gathers momentum in a direction, he can become engrossed for long stretches of time which is allows me to do those things I need to do, including fitting in some self care time even if it just means a cool shower in the middle of a hot day.
What has helped you as a parent when your child comes to you saying their bored?
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