This summer I’m experimenting and trying something new. I’m practicing doing nothing. And encouraging my children to do the same.
Nothing. Nada. Zip.
We have a mountain house in northern PA that sits on 100 acres of absolute nothing and I’ve been dragging my kids here all summer. (I’m sitting at a coffee shop in town at 7 am right now while the kiddos sleep to prove that there is nothing there, not even Internet service). Packing and unpacking has been exhausting but getting here and watching an unfamiliar calm wash over my four wild monkeys (and myself) is fascinating.
There is no TV, no video games, no radio or telephone service and only a handful of toys. There are just trees, a few swings and a fire pit. We fish occasionally, take drives to look for deer and wildlife, work on the mountain house here and there and in between, do a lot of, (have I mentioned?), nothing.
I work with a lot of parents who complain that their children say they’re bored all the time and need to be entertained. They are frustrated because their children have a house full of toys to play with yet they’re still bored.
And does this sound familiar? Entire days are organized around how to entertain our little ones. We play with them; take them to the park, the playground, and playdates; enroll them in sports and classes, and allow them to watch TV and play video games in between to fill the space. And still. Bored.
Research shows that children’s free play or discretionary time in a typical week declined a total of 9 hours over a 25 year period. Not too long ago, children didn’t have as much mind-numbing activity to keep them occupied. Few had video games and cartoons were for Saturday morning. If kids felt bored, it forced them to get creative.
Today, our children are conditioned and addicted to the stimuli-fix. According to an article in Newsweek by a pediatrician in Pittsburgh, this syndrome leads to more doctors prescribing Ritalin and other ‘stimulants to deal with the inattentiveness at school or antidepressants to help with the loss of interest and joy in their lives’.
The truth is, we are all inundated by stimulation today. Most people rarely take the opportunity to just sit and do nothing. Perhaps it’s because it’s uncomfortable to do nothing and be alone with ourselves. Our minds race and we fight the urge to tap into our inner-selves. But in that stillness and quiet is peace and our true-selves. It is our inner guidance system. When we drowned it out with noise and stimuli, we deprive ourselves and our children of that inner peace that’s required to cope with the day-to-day stresses and challenges.
Yes, boredom may be a cry for the need of more attention from a parent but more often it is likely a sign that it’s time to turn off the TVs, computers, and video games and let our children’s natural creativity kick in. It may happen slowly at first and there may be a lot of whining and complaining but stay calm and detached and allow them to discover their own joy without guiding them to an activity and telling them what to do.
Ok. I’m done here and heading back to the mountain house. I’m looking forward to another day with the kids. In the woods. Doing a lot of...
Boredom can be constructive – this summer allow for lots of unstructured time in your child’s day to allow them to connect with their creativity.
The next time your kids say they're bored, consider seeing this as the doorway to them discovering something peaceful to do with themselves, not as the warning bell that it’s time to stop what you’re doing and entertain them. Resist the temptation to tell them what to do or what to play. Don’t make this TV or video game time. Curiously ask ‘so what are you going to do?’
While it is true that your child is quiet watching TV or video games, don’t mistake this as ‘quiet time.’ It’s numbing-out time. Your child is still being stimulated.
Encourage quiet, creative, nothing-time by modeling this to your children. Let them see you sitting under your backyard tree with a cup of tea, reading a book or laying on the grass watching the clouds go by.
“In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy and privacy; a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace.” – Richard Louv – Last Child in the Woods