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“I’m Bored!”: Parents’ Dreaded Two Words

It started late in the day on June 6th, the first day of summer break for the Appoquinimink schools: “I’m bored!” I certainly knew I’d hear this at some point but so soon? The first day? I know I’m not alone as I talk to other parents and see this theme across social media from parents of school-age children in the last few weeks. Once I took a moment for the shock to pass and chuckle, I reminded myself that the end of the school year brings a lot of change to households with school-age children: new routines, schedules, and activities. This is obvious but what we may overlook is the significance of these changes for both our children and ourselves, not unlike the transition of returning to school at the end of summer. As I’ve previously written when describing the back to school transition time, “most people find comfort and a sense of security in routines. But more importantly for children, ‘routine is to a child what walls are to a house; it gives boundaries and dimensions to his life.’ (Rudolf Dreikurs)”.

If you are reading this looking for the list of ways to eliminate the inevitable boredom, stop reading and google or check Pinterest for “summertime sanity” or “boredom busters” and you’ll be reading all day. My intention is not to provide a list of ways to entertain your children this summer but rather, to provoke you to think about respecting the power of change for your children and to recognize the benefits of boredom.

For many parents, hearing “I’m bored” from their children evokes feelings ranging from disbelief and amusement in June to frustration and annoyance by the time August rolls around. It’s an in-your-face reminder that this little person, unlike you, has nothing but free time and is complaining about it! We’ve all done it and let’s face it, as adults we now know better. Ideally, we can use the summertime change of pace to teach our children how to create some balance between unstructured, self-guided free play and actual planned activities and responsibilities. In part, this means modeling unplanned, unscheduled downtime for ourselves as well, a challenge for many parents.

Boredom is not a bad thing and it’s not our responsibility to eliminate it for our children. Boredom provides the fertile ground in which imagination, creativity, and new interests can grow. As parents, we can guide rather than direct, empowering them to come up with a solution to their boredom “problem”. We can help them develop a summertime routine that suits them. We can also trust that they can (and will) occupy themselves rather than giving them the message that they need us to occupy their time. We are doing a disservice to our children if we think that we need to occupy all, or even most, of their time with activities, outings, or our attention.

So can I blame the local elementary school teacher overheard telling her class on the last day of school, “Now remember guys, at least once a day this summer you need to tell your parents ‘I’m bored’”? I’ve joked that if I knew who she was I would lovingly organize a group of children to spend some time with her this summer. But let’s face it: we were all children once, we’ve all done it, and now as adults we know better. Hopefully we’ll get to laugh about it when we’re grandparents!

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