Imagination and Innovation are Gifts for Life
Dear Dr. Fournier:
I look forward to summer even more than my children. The reason is simple. We “both” get out of school! Yet summers have their own challenges. I plan ahead to make sure my children (ages 5, 9 and12) are signed for as many activities as I can reasonably drive to and still have family time. Sounds like a great plan but I am always faced, no matter how much I try with “I’m bored. What are we going to do now?” When I do not have an answer, the children act as if they are miserable. How do I fill in their “misery” time?
Albany, New Hampshire
Children are trained by school to have decisions about what to do next mapped out for them.
This includes time spent at home, because it is often taken up by a homework regimen. Deciding what to do with time is a luxury children do not have, and this can include weekends as well.
Because of these circumstances, it is difficult for children who are trained to “follow the leader” (the teacher) for at least ten months out of the year to know how to do for themselves what they have little experience doing. The freedom to choose what to do is not a skill schools tend to include in their curriculums.
In order to answer the question of your child’s boredom, we must first ask another question: Are parents responsible for quelling boredom by scheduling away free time with activities? Many parents believe the answer is ‘yes.’
Over the years as an educational consultant, I have heard several recurring statements that are what I have come to call the “natural language” of parenting. One of these “natural” statements is ‘I just want my child to be happy.’
Though statements like this are harmless enough, they tend to lead to a Greeting Card Syndrome. In greeting cards, we read cheerful notes such as “May today’s happiness be with you forever!” This is a pleasant thought, but it is a wish for the impossible. The Greeting Card Syndrome is the belief that this is what we can expect from life all the time, and we are shocked and bewildered when this expectation is not met. All of us go through bad times, and life merely asks that we cope with the situations, not meet them with a smile.
For parents, the Greeting Card Syndrome can cause the belief that happiness is a daily vitamin requirement to be given, and then fall victim to the erroneous thought that they are supposed to supply this happiness vitamin to their children.
Gretchen, you are asking that your children learn how to figure out for themselves what to do about boredom and how to do it. Rather than view this as a problem, view it an extraordinary opportunity.
WHAT TO DO
Regardless of all you do for and give to your children, there is an intangible gift that could mean the difference between being a follower for the rest of their life or being a leader in all that they do: the capacity to take charge of life through critical and creative decision making.
When your child says, “I am bored,” define the term for your child.
Respond with, “I am thrilled because you are coming to me so I can choose what to do with your time. Since time is a synonym for life, you are asking me to take control of your life and to get rid of that boredom.” Then you must have the courage to take control.
Tell your child he or she can vacuum the house, clean out the garage, collect the garbage, or clean the commodes.” Your child is going to respond, “I don’t want to do that.” Your answer is “There are no other options and doing one of these is not optional. You have asked me to tell you what to do and I have. You will have to do one of these.” You may see tears, anger or any other form of revolt. Pay no attention, and do not allow the child to do anything else until one of the chores is done and passes your inspection.
When the chore is done, let your child know that he/she has the option in the future of deciding what to do before coming back to you and using the word ‘bored.’ It took me only one addressing of the word ‘bored’ in my home. I never heard the word again.
This will require you to have rules about when and for how long children will be allowed to view television, play video games, or be on the computer wasting time, but it will teach them to overcome Greeting Card Syndrome, resolve these feelings of boredom for themselves and to cope with the negative feelings attached to it.
Let all your children know that the feeling of boredom means they are at the threshold of using their imagination and creativity.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER