"We do too much and savor too little. We mistake activity for happiness, and we stuff our children's days with activities, and their heads with information, when we ought to be feeding their souls instead." - Katrina Kenison
Today's parents have a misguided notion that they need to be entertaining their kids 24/7. In 2016, overscheduling kids is the norm. When summer camps and family visits wind down and the last few weeks of summer unfold, parents hear the universal cry from their kids, "I'm bored." Welcome it.
Boredom is a gift, and boredom is pregnant with possibilities. But our instincts as parents are to make it go away. Try not to. Try not to offer your kids a laundry list of things to do, and just sit for a moment in the discomfort. As parents, we have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. When our kids get antsy, and even mopey, we want to run in and fix it. Resist the urge to say, "Go play a video game" or "OK, you can watch a movie". Let your child have unstructured time, and figure out for themselves what to do with it.
Boredom is a catalyst for creativity and for imagination to take flight. After boredom comes magic. A mother of four told me a story of being fed up at the end of summer with her kids begging to play electronics, and instead of giving in, she decided to pull the plug. She declared a digital Sabbath day. At first her kids were agitated and annoyed, which only strengthened this mom's resolve to hold her ground. Despite her kids whining, "You can't be serious mom, what are we going to do?" she realized that her kids needed to learn how to rediscover play and have open-ended, unstructured time. Parents are often surprised how quickly turning off the electronics can reset the balance in their homes. Kids need the space and time to do things that are not parent-directed. They can tinker with building Legos, build a fort, create an imaginary game, read a book, or listen to music. Kids need time to self-reflect and dream. How can you discover yourself when you have no time to be with yourself? Home should be a respite from the hurried pace of the outside world.
Remember the things you loved most about your own childhood summers... are you offering that to your children? We don't want to parent by the path of least resistance: "I just want my kid to stop whining, so I will give in". Push fast-forward on your parenting; are you fostering what you want to develop in your child or are you just throwing a bone to a barking dog? Wait patiently for your kids to find what they love, to be self-starters and create their days, and you are giving them such a great long-term gift. Children's sense of self is formed when they have moments to think, dream and self-reflect. Self-identities are not discovered swiping an iPad.
It is ok if your children are bored and frustrated. Kids need opportunities to work through those feelings. One of our biggest jobs as parents is to be an emotion coach, the personal trainer of our children's feelings. We are not there to take away feelings, but rather to help our kids work through the feelings. Resilience is built through exposure to less than perfect conditions. Allow kids to build their inner resources, and not rely on external activities or electronics to entertain themselves. The frenetic pace of today's over-scheduled kids and the prevalence of electronics not only threatens our connection to others, it deeply threatens our connection to ourselves.
The old mantra of our parents, "go outside and play," had much wisdom. Going outside is good for your mind, body and spirit. Nature inspires a sense of awe, wonder and peace. Let's enjoy these last few weeks of summer as an incredible opportunity to give our kids what we cherished most about our own childhoods: freedom, unstructured play and a space to grow our souls.
Robin Berman, MD is the author of Permission to Parent