The Benefits of Boredom

‘And I remember how we’d play,

simply waste the day away.’

(Our House – Madness)

Many working parents rely on the stimulating environment of nurseries and day care centres to entertain their child while they are at work. Older school-aged children are taken from one extra-curricular activity to another after school and at weekends. Such structured and adult led input can reduce a child’s capacity to amuse themselves, encouraging a dependency on grown-ups to provide stimulus and entertainment. Perhaps there is an argument for reducing children’s reliance on adult organised activity, and letting them experience boredom. 

When a child is bored, they will: –

  1. Daydream. 

Children need time to daydream. Daydreaming encourages creativity. During free time, away from adult interference, children will play more creatively by, for example, using everyday objects for different purposes: a cardboard box becoming an animal’s shell, a goal, a house, truck, cave, shop, and so on. The more free time children have, the more creative they will become in their solutions to boredom.

2. Be prepared for life.

The adult world is often predictable and humdrum. Adults have to be able to complete routine tasks conscientiously: not everything is always exciting and entertaining. Workplaces may also demand soft skills such as: problem-solving, collaboration, creativity, imagination and cognitive flexibility. Children need enough free time to develop these skills: time to amuse themselves and bond with their peers, devising their own games without a grown-up overseeing their play. A football match does not have to have two equal sides, set positions, two goals, or be played with a football; the children can make up their own rules.

3. Develop their social skills.

A child who has nothing to do, will seek out social interaction. Children need time to play in the real world; opportunities to enjoy their surroundings, play with siblings, meet with friends, and engage in simple, everyday tasks: hanging out the washing, shopping, reading, playing in the garden. Happiness involves being grateful for simple things. Gerda Weissmann Klein, a Holocaust survivor. talked about enjoying ‘the magic of a boring evening at home.’

4. Develop personal motivation

When a child is bored, they will be forced to decide how to amuse themselves. If a child is left to pursue their own interests, they will develop their individual passions, explore different hobbies and pick up alternative pastimes. 

5. Become more independent.

Free time assists cognitive and emotional development. Children who are always occupied with adult led activity: after school care, music lessons, sporting activity, ballet, gym and chess classes, Spanish and Italian discussion groups, screens, TV, and social media, will not have the time to think or use their own brains.

6. Rest and re-charge their batteries.

When children are taken from one extracurricular activity to another, (often activities that involve little personal choice), they are likely to develop an apathy towards learning. Children need the time to rest physically and emotionally, to reflect and think about things that have happened, or that they would like to happen, to turn the TV, mobile phone or iPad off, and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet. 

7. Become less self-centred.

When children are left to their own devices, away from adult intervention and organisation, they are given a valuable message, namely, that the world does not revolve around them. 

‘Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.’

(Winnie the Pooh.)

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