Ahh…three of the more annoying words ever uttered by children. Uttered is probably a very poor choice of words. They are actually usually whined in a very sing-songy kind of way. I’m betting that if I got on a mission and actually tracked the number of times my kids shared this oh so important message over the course of a year, the average would be highest during the Summer. (Of course I would have to add in the number of times Cooper shares his favorite version, “Mom, I’m not having that much fun.”) I’m also betting that’s pretty accurate for most families around the country.
For some reason, boredom is something this generation of parents have deemed as totally unacceptable. Apparently if our kids are bored, we’re either crippling them by not providing enough enrichment activities, or we’re just bad parents because we don’t care enough about their happiness. Of course, there’s also a third option – parents are doing everything humanly possible to avoid hearing the serenade of “I’m bored” two hundred and twenty-two times a day.
Whatever the driving force, parents are on a mission to completely eliminate boredom. I’ve seen a crazy shift across social media and in my Inbox recently. In the last 2 weeks or so my Inbox has been flooded with email after email titled things like “Planning Kid’s Summer Activities” and “Ways to Entertain Your Kids This Summer.” On Pinterest, recipes and decorating ideas have been replaced with “How to Keep Your Kids Happy Over The Summer” pins. The other day, I saw an article about “How to Plan Your Summer” that actually suggested making a grid for daily activities. As in plans every day.
Now, I’m all for fun activities and cute crafts. And I certainly understand that the “I’m bored” chorus gets real old, real fast. But can someone please tell me when it became the parent’s job to schedule each and every minute of the Summer with fun? When did Summertime become this black hole that parents were expected to fill with creative games, activities, camps, clinics and VBS after VBS?
It obviously happened sometime between when I was a kid and when I started having kids. As a child, my Summers were filled with swimming, riding my bike, playing with friends and our annual family reunion at the beach. Sure, I went to a VBS, and multiple years I attended a Summer camp, but nothing like what goes on today. And by the way, lest you judge my childhood incorrectly, it should be noted that I have amazing parents who were always super involved in my life, so don’t go thinking I must have been some ignored latchkey kid because there wasn’t a ‘Master Plan’ for my Summers.
Besides completely wearing yourself out by transforming into some sort of seasonal cruise ship director, you’re actually handicapping your child. Self-led creative play has been proven over and over again to be crucial to a child’s development, especially in the development of the critical cognitive skill called executive function. Don’t worry, there’s a definition below.
Alix Spiegel of NPR in his article Creative Play Makes for Kids In Control reports,
“Executive function has a number of elements, such as working memory and cognitive flexibility. But perhaps the most important is self-regulation — the ability for kids to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline. Executive function — and its self-regulation element — is important. Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child’s IQ.”
So, here’s the problem with planning a Summer crammed with structured events and activities – it robs your children of creative and imaginative playtime. You know, the kind we had when we were little. If you’re a boy, you were probably a pirate on a treasure hunt, an astronaut headed to the moon or a cowboy slinging guns. Yes, guns – the real kind. Not the kind made of a sister’s fairy wand because mom has banned the real (toy) thing.
If you are a girl, you probably spent your time as a princess or a doctor, or maybe you were a tomboy and just dug in the dirt a lot. If you were a bit odd like me, you might have even been a mommy hiding with her baby in the play fort because we were “out on our own now.” Who knows where that came from?
At any rate, you get my point. You rode your bike, you played in the sprinklers, you hopped from rock to rock trying to stay out of the burning hot lava, and you swam, as either a mermaid or lifeguard, of course. I don’t know, but whatever it was, you entertained yourself.
The issue with planned activity after craft after activity is that they are almost always adult directed. One of the reasons that creative play is so beneficial is because it is child directed. In this sort of play, a child learns to dig deep into his mind and come up with scenarios and games entertaining enough to keep him busy.
In their study, “Pretend Play: Longitudinal Prediction of Creativity and Affect in Fantasy in Children,” Sandra W. Russ, Andrew L. Robins & Beth A. Christiano conclude that the “quality of fantasy and imagination in early play predicted divergent thinking over time, independent of IQ.”
Sorry for all of the vocabulary words today. Basically, divergent thinking is creative problem solving. Wikipedia has a good layman’s explanation and defines it as, “a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.” Creative problem solving skills and self-regulation are key components to maturing into a successful and independent adult. Isn’t that the goal here? I think so.
Now, I’m not gonna lie. This is going to be hard at first, especially if your kids are used to constantly having mommy supplied entertainment. Your children are going to be very frustrated and annoyed as they try to figure out what the heck to do with themselves, but if you stick to your guns, they’ll eventually get the message. So, keep the TV off for the morning, put out some Legos, dress up clothes, markers and paper and provide the snacks and smiles. Eventually they will exercise their atrophied creative muscles and will occupy themselves.
Encouraging self-directed and creative play is just another one of those difficult but necessary parenting duties. It will initially be received with great resistance, but over time it will become the new norm. Once your kiddos realize you’re not going to budge, they’ll deal. And when your child gives you the universal complaint of, “but Mom, I’m bored,” feel free to counter with the universal parental response – “But, Honey, it’s for your own good.”
Oh, and what about all of those other moms that have their kids in a million activities and think you’re such a bad mom for not following suit? Just smile, knowing your kid just might be their kid’s boss one day.
Erica Stauver says
Ha ha! Cruise ship director! Thank for relieving me of my guilt for not having anything planned this summer except summer! It seems like everyone else has their kids in all sorts of enrichment activities and I’ve been wonderingam I being a bit lazy. But my boys actually love just playing together and so I’m trying to soak it up. 🙂
Love it and have long been a fan of undirected play. I have also discouraged the words “I”m bored”, “There’s nothing to do” with the consequence that if they bring me that complaint I WILL find them something to do…a chore. It must be working because I overheard my son tell my oldest daughter, “Don’t tell her that, she’ll make you do work!” Also, we have totally unplugged the kids for the summer (unless mom or dad want to give them a treat and have say a family movie night). I want my kids to be kids and learn to have fun like I did growing up (your childhood and mine sound very, very similar).
Wow! So, I totally suck as a mom and am making my children inferior to yours because they are in camps every week for child care. You are quick to say your parents shouldn’t be judged, then go ahead and judge other moms that put their kids in camps. This is why bullying is out of control with kids – moms think it’s ok to pick on other moms.
Jessica @FiveInSix says
Hi, “LM”. Thanks for your comment! I’m sorry that you feel this post was about judging parents who put their children in camps. That was in no way my intention. My aim was just to point out the need for creative play and how it affects development. I wanted to bring it up and hopefully cause parents to really think through their choices for the Summer, as well as consider the degree of scheduled craziness in their children’s lives in general.
I totally understand that in a home with two working parents, a mother has to arrange for child care, and camps can be a great option for that in the Summer. However, the impetus behind doing that is different than what I was referring to. The driving force for that is to ensure your children are cared for when you cannot be with them. I was addressing the mindset that we have to provide endless activities for our children to entertain and ‘enrich’ them all Summer long.
Summer scheduling and activities get press all of the time, so I just wanted to bring up the other side to it. I attempted to do so in a light hearted way, but obviously that did not come through to you. For that I am truly sorry. I hope you and your children have a great Summer! 🙂
On that note What to do when bored Great article. Keep it up.
This is a good point, letting kids come up with their own ways to entertain themselves is a good form of creative play! We could all keep buying our kids more big dolls and toys but they need to entertain themselves and create their own games at some point!