Any parent will be familiar with the phrase “I’m bored”. Inevitably, the simple phrase will spark a range of emotions ranging from anger or more frequently guilt. We usually feel that we have failed in one of our roles as a parent. We will ask questions of ourselves and will want to know how a child can be bored when we have given them so many things to do.
Boredom in Schools
Here at Kidz Village, an international kindergarten in Bangkok, we acknowledge that although boredom is not a pleasant experience for a child, it is nevertheless something with which they should become familiar. The reason for this is not cruelty; it is not due to archaic conditioning methods; it is because becoming familiar with boredom is actually good for you.
If children expect to be entertained every minute of every day, they are in for a nasty shock when they start school. School is a learning experiencing where the focus is on teaching and not entertaining. If a child isn’t enjoying something, a clown won’t appear to make things more light-hearted. The earlier a child can understand and appreciate that they must also play a role in making life enjoyable, the better it will be for them in later life.
What happened in the Past?
Before the advent of the internet, various mobile devices and technology to brighten up our lives, things indeed were boring. Parents often worked long hours doing tedious jobs for minimal pay. The consequence of this was that leisure options were reduced. In these times, a certain degree of boredom was seen as acceptable. Luckily, here in Thailand, the weather encourages outdoor play which can help to alleviate boredom.
In days gone by, children used to gain inspiration in an empty room from a blank piece of paper and pencil. These days, however, boredom can be viewed as a dereliction of duties by the parent and none more so than by the parent themselves.
The Modern World
Most parents lead incredibly busy lives, but children’s needs are far from ignored. Children get enrolled in a wide variety of extracurricular activities such as sports and crafts to fill their time, but this doesn’t always remove the “I’m bored” scream. It is a scream that fills parents with dread and the guilt, as mentioned earlier.
Being bored is no longer just boring; it has become frightening for children. It is no longer a problem for the child to sort out; the responsibility now lays with the parent’s to relieve it. If your child is momentarily bored it is not a sign of neglect; it is because that moment hasn’t been filled with something that has grabbed the child’s interest, sometimes despite the parent’s best efforts.
Modern children are left to their own devices from time to time, and yes, this does mean electronic devices. Any long journey requires careful planning, including what games and films should be loaded onto iPads. It wasn’t an option three or four decades ago, and children were allowed to be bored, they had no alternative. Children who were bored at home were sent to clean their rooms or sent outside to play. Was it enjoyable? Definitely not, but it was useful.
Boredom Gives an Opportunity to be Creative
When we are bored, our minds tend to wander, which can be when we are at our most creative. When we are busy or enjoy something, we focus on the task in hand, and creative thought tend to go out of the window. When children are allowed to use their imagination and create wild fantasies in their mind, they are experiencing personal development. While many of the daydreams may be relatively meaningless, they may stumble across something that could become a hobby and take their life in a new direction.
Boredom is the Route to Discovery
As adults, we frequently go on walks to take our minds off things or to take a break. Often it involves looking at trees and things that would typically carry little or no interest. However, because of the monotony, we start to think, and we start thinking of solutions to problems or ideas for a new project. How many times have you had a great idea that has seemingly come from nowhere when you were in the shower?
It would be outrageous to suggest that it is boredom that makes us creative, of course, it isn’t. It is what both children and adults do with that boredom that is important. When we are bored, we search for things that will relieve are boredom. We subconsciously become creative so boredom must form a part of our lives; otherwise, we will never learn and reach our potential.
Boredom shouldn’t be a crushing tedium; it is an opportunity to learn how to do something more exciting. As adults, there are many ways that you can vanquish it, such as reading a book, thinking of ways to improve your job or just an opportunity to think about how to improve your life overall. It teaches you self-discipline and resourcefulness, all skills that will be useful to a child in later life.
The Correlation between Boredom and Ability to Focus
Psychologists recognise that there is a direct correlation between handling boredom and our ability to focus as identified by John Eastwood, which he describes as the “unengaged mind”. It is also linked to self-regulation and children with attention disorders are prone to experiencing higher levels of boredom. We now live in a world of hyperstimulation, so we quickly become bored with things that we initially found stimulating.
Being Bored and Staying Bored
Kids should be allowed to be bored and with it, stay bored for some time. The child will learn to stimulate themselves and overcome their feelings on their own. If adults always relieve the boredom, the child can become overly dependent and needy, again not an attractive character trait as they get older.
We don’t teach kids to accept being bored or to absorb duller information any more. Parents, teachers and caregivers tend to give in to “I’m bored” and do something fun. Teachers are continually looking to engage with pupils and realise that the lectures of the past result in students not listening. As a result, learning is broken down into bite-sized pieces which are not something that they will experience in the real world.
The role of both parents and teachers is to prepare children for the outside world, and this means being realistic and not raising expectations about what will be expected in later life. Today’s children will have to spend hours immersed in a spreadsheet or responding to emails. It isn’t exciting, but it is something that needs to be done.
Accepting that life isn’t always stimulating is one of the best ways of coping with boredom. The only way that a child can become accepting is by actually experiencing it and learning ways to cope and alleviate it. Upping-the-ante and creating excitement isn’t the answer; it is just numbing the effect.