Note: The Lawrence Times is offering some space for area organizations and organizers to express their views, provide updates and attempt to reach other folks who might share their mission. This post is contributed content (i.e., not produced by the Times staff). See more in our Community Voices section, or see how to submit your own piece.
It is finally May, and school has come to a close for most children, which means transitioning away from the structure and consistency of school days to summer vacation. This could bring about added stresses and pressures for caregivers to find child care, plan and schedule activities, events, and vacations while still attempting to manage the day-to-day labors of laundry, cleaning, planning and cooking meals, grocery shopping …
As if this isn’t enough, caregivers often hear the dreaded, “I’m boooored!” uttered from their child. This phrase can bring up feelings of frustration or perhaps even guilt. It may feel as though it is your responsibility as a parent to keep your child entertained and occupied.
Growing up, my parents did not have money for trips, vacations, or camps, so summers for my sister and me meant early morning cartoons; then we were kicked outside as soon as the sun rose. Rainy days were spent at the library getting lost in make-believe worlds, playing dress-up, crafting, or drawing.
Although times now 25 years later are quite different, the biggest change is the amount of screen time children utilize, often as a way to combat boredom. Electronic devices certainly have their role in our current world and are helpful in numerous ways. However, studies are showing this increased usage by our children is stifling imagination and creativity, reducing our children’s ability to tolerate stress, and increasing the need for “quick hits” of dopamine, negatively impacting brain structure and development. Bouts of boredom and unstructured playtime are crucial for developing creative thoughts, imagination, and problem-solving skills.
Notice what comes up for you when your child says, “I’m bored.” Do you feel anxious? Stressed? Worried? Do you feel you need to “rescue” your child from this feeling they are experiencing? Allow yourself to take a deep breath and practice what we teach in our Responsive Caregiving course: The attunement steps.
First, notice what is happening with your child. What are their cues? Practice in-the-moment self-care … Breathe!
Second, name the need or feeling. “I’m hearing you say you are bored. I wonder what that feels like for you?”
Third, validate the feeling so your child feels understood. “It can be really hard to be bored; sometimes I get bored, too.” Allow your child to express their frustration and sit with your own temptation to “fix.”
Finally, respond to their emotional need. Connect to them physically; sit with your child, put your arm around them, pat their back, and allow your child space to experience their discomfort. You may consider asking open-ended questions to inspire creative thinking and prompt their ability to problem-solve. More often than not, children in these “bored” moments crave connection — a desire to feel attachment. By just being present with them in their feelings, pulling them on your lap and giving a good squeeze, you are meeting their needs and teaching valuable skills.
This summer, I encourage all parents and caregivers to give yourselves a break! Allow your child to be bored and know that you are facilitating an opportunity for your child to learn to tolerate uncomfortable feelings, increase their creativity, and inspire imagination. For those days when your own ability to tolerate boredom is slim, head on over to explorelawrence.com and tykesdc.org for ideas on activities, events, or further readings.
— Chelsea Harrington (she/her) has worked as a social worker in multiple communities, including Leavenworth, Wyandotte, Topeka, and Lawrence, for 12 years. She is also a commissioned artist and enjoys using artistic expression to process challenges personally and with families. When Chelsea isn’t working, she can be found attempting a complicated yoga pose, running trails at Baker Wetlands, or quite possibly trapped on the couch under the weight of her 25-pound cat, Axl Rose.
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