Using Boredom to Nurture Imagination and Independence

Let them be Bored!

“Mom, can I have the iPad?”

“Mom, can I watch a video?”

“Mom, can we go do something?”

“Mom, play with me!”

“Mom, I NEEEEED you!”

“Mom, can I PLEASE have the iPad?”

I know I can’t be the only mom out there constantly assaulted by her child’s incessant demands to be entertained, right? Ugh, I adore my children. I really do! But, I never in my life expected to be so exhausted just by trying to come up with another way to entertain them.

*Que chorus of common consent*

I can’t count how many days in the last almost 4 years I’ve laid down at night only to be overwhelmed with how completely I failed at providing Teeny with quality experiences throughout any given day.

Mom Guilt is the worst kind of guilt. That’s a fact.

Then, I started working more diligently on this whole blogging thing. Let’s just say my frustration was tantamount to abandonment.

She’s a Free Spirit 🙂

The “Aha” Moment I Didn’t Know I Needed

I’d like to say my “Aha!” moment was this beautiful pause in time with perfect lighting and angelic concourses singing my praises, but it wasn’t. Far from it.

The moment “it” all changed for me went something more like this:

*Karah works hard at computer; Teeny considers “exciting” activity provided by mom*

Teeny: “Mom, I don’t want to do this.”

Me: “Too bad. I need 25 minutes to focus. Just give it a try.”

Teeny: “Uuuggghhh no! I don’t want to!”

Me: “Well that’s what I have planned for you so do it!”

Teeny: “But MOOOM! I don’t want to! I want the iPad!”

Me: “No! You don’t get the iPad. You’re on it WAY TOO MUCH!” (as if it’s her fault. Pfft.)

Teeny: “I don’t want to do this, Mom. It’s boring!”

Me, more heatedly than I like to admit: “FINE! Go find something else to do!”

She loves Legos almost as much as I love chocolate!

“Go find something else to do.”

Six. Simple. Words.

That was it. There in lay the answer to my very frustrating problems.

Guess what happened as soon as I said those magical words!

Yup! Teeny – with all the attitude of a 16-year-old cheer captain – climbed down from her chair, walked the length of the hallway, and disappeared into her bedroom.

And, when I say disappeared, I mean she disappeared. Like I didn’t see her for a good 45 minutes or so.

Not to be put off of my task, I took as much time as I could to finish before investigating Teeny’s whereabouts. Torn between curiosity and fear of ruining the magic of the moment, I crept every so quietly toward her open doorway. Before I could see her, Teeny’s sweet little voice greeted me as she made different sounds for whatever toys she was playing with.

Immediately, I was smiling. Moving silently into the doorway, I watched her play for a few minutes, in awe of her focus and imagination.

This is what I’d been aiming for with her for so long! I still can’t believe that all it took was my giving her the okay to be responsible for her own entertainment.

Teeny teaching Sweets all about Legos

The “Aha” Aftermath

Since this glorious (albeit frustrating) “Aha” moment, I’ve discovered a few things about my precocious little Teeny:

  • she has an AMAZING imagination! I used to get a little sad when I’d see other little kids playing pretend because I’d never really seen my own daughter do that while playing alone. Little did I know, I wasn’t allowing her to use her imagination by trying to structure every moment of her day. What a concept! Now that I’m not controlling every waking minute of her time, she has so much more freedom to explore the recesses of her own mind and I love it!
  • Teeny & Sweets play together so, so well! At 3 and 1 respectively, my girls already have an amazing bond. And it keeps growing stronger every day I provide them time to spend together without my interference. This is something I will try to foster with them for as long as I can. I LOVE that my girls love each other.
  • the iPad (screens in general) is becoming less of a necessity for entertainment, which is AWESOME! Obviously, I still allow screen time because, in moderation, it is an appropriate form of entertainment.  But, now that she is responsible for a large chunk of her own mental stimulation, Teeny has no problem being redirected to the massive amounts of toys and activities at her disposal. All I have to say is “Go look in your closet” or “You need to find something to do for the next little bit”. So far, this is working better than I’d ever hoped it could.

Tips for Making the Transition

Now, when I hear other moms asking for ideas on things to keep a bored toddler busy, my immediate answer is “NOTHING! Let them be bored!” I’ve come to realize for myself that it is absolutely essential for children to learn how to entertain themselves.

But, the question remains: How is this possible without havoc and chaos overtaking the house?

Here are a few things you can do in order to safely allow your child to effectively entertain him or herself:

  • Set simple, easily understood ground rules around independent play. Teeny knows not to play in the bathroom or in the kitchen. She knows that I am always available for an emergency. She knows that jumping on couhces and beds with Sweets is a strict “no”.  She knows that she must help clean up any messes she makes. These ground rules keep her safe and allow me to focus on work with a lot less worry.
  • Remain present with your child while they play independently. I no longer entertain my children constantly, but that doesn’t mean they are left completely to their own devices. I am very aware of what they are doing at all times; but, I do not butt in and dictate like I used to.
  • Make sure your child has safe, easy access to acceptable toys and activities
  • Rotate said toys and activities. This means putting certain toys away in storage out of your child’s reach. After a certain amount of time (whatever you feel is long enough), rotate stored toys back into use and store the previously used toys away. This allows your child to “forget” about the stored toys so their novelty returns once you bring them out again.
  • Play with your child a lot! I said before that I still play with Teeny & Sweets and I do! A lot! Because they know that I will play with them, they’re more willing to play alone when I need them to.
  • If your child is responsible for his or her own entertainment, he or she can also be responsible for cleaning up after his/herself. Yes, make your child clean up one activity before getting out anything else. Mostly this tip is to ensure you don’t lose your mind.

Since implementing this new structure in our home, I have noticed a lot of wonderful changes not only in Teeny, but also in myself and how I react to her. My frustration has decreased significantly, I am more patient when she’s having a hard time, and we really enjoy our time together so much more.

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6 thoughts on “Using Boredom to Nurture Imagination and Independence

  1. I am so proud of you sister, just reading this moved me to years you have an amazing gift. And I am so happy you are sharing it with the world!
    Love you always,

  2. This was great!! I too struggle with my child and her need to be stimulated 24/7 but she’s 10 and an only child. We too have started to limit her ipad screen time and it’s been great for her and her schooling. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Kristopher! I think it’s fairly common for every child, especially those isolated in age. I appreciate your feedback! I’d love to hear if any of these tips help.

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