For the August 2014 issue of the Chronogram, I was interviewed by Hillary Harvey about an article she was writing on boredom. She asked many great questions, but could only use some of the answers. Below is a complete list of the questions and answers. And for the article, go to www.chronogram.com/hudsonvalley/embracing-boredom/Content?oid=2263443.
What’s the best way to kill a child’s creativity?
- Creativity is developed, and all people have different creative abilities. If you truly want to keep a child from becoming creative, treat them like they are an adult (ie. set unachievable expectations) and keep them entertained constantly. No seriously, if you expect a child to act, learn, and/or be like an adult, (ie. watch TV for hours a day, sit at a desk for hours a day, be in class for hours a day, etc.) they’ll get stifled and lose (if they ever had it) the ability to invent, pretend, and imagine. Young children don’t understand the world the way adults do because they don’t have the experience. Experience forms knowledge, which then fuels curiosity which produces creativity. Children (like all human beings) learn by doing, and if hands-on learning (experience) is removed from childhood, children will not learn how to manipulate objects, problem solve, develop social skills, communication skills, etc. which are all highly creative activities.
Parents often feel like they’re doing a bad job if their kids are bored. What’s the real fear motivating parents who keep their kids busy?
- Parents are marketed many falsehoods about child development which prey on parent’s biggest fears. From the best ways to teach your child to read by age two to how to make your nine year old the next David Beckham, parents are inundated with inappropriate expectations about what children should and can do. All parents want what is best for their child and want them happy, healthy and successful. The fear-based message is that if a parent is not shuttling a child to violin lessons, advanced calculus class, and/or varsity football, a child will grow up to be unhappy, unhealthy, and unsuccessful. Super-star achievement will create a super star life! But, (here is the biggest secret) a child and an adult can be happy, healthy and wildly successful without being the smartest, having the most friends, or being the best at everything. Being busy doesn’t get you that.
How can people deal with the uncomfortable feelings of boredom?
- People should know that it’s alright (and actually good) to feel bored. But, dealing with boredom is easy… do something, create something, admire something, enjoy something! It’s part of being human and incentivizes productivity and creativity. When you’re bored, you look for things to do that you enjoy that end the feeling of monotony. Boredom is the tunnel you walk through to get to know yourself, what you like, how you cope, and how you think about the world.
What happens when children don’t learn to develop an inner world or call upon their inner resources?
- When a child is given limited opportunity to develop their imagination and foster creativity, they have difficulty with EVERY aspect of development because all development uses creative aspects of thought. Below are a few examples:
- Social/emotional skills (Relating, interacting, communicating with peers or adults, coping with life’s challenges, navigating relationships, etc.)
- Cognitive development (Learning through play, experimentation and exploration, understanding cause and effect, predicting an outcome and forming a logical conclusion, etc.)
- Physical Development (Using their body to climb, hold a pencil, understanding special relationships, etc.)
- Language and Literacy Development (Reading, writing, creating a storyline, responding and relating to stories, etc.)
Why is movement so important to a child’s development?
- All types of development are closely linked, even if it doesn’t seem obvious. Movement (including gross and fine motor) promotes language, cooperative play, spaceial awareness, math skills, and cause and effect, just to name a few.
Sometimes complaints of boredom stem from a lack of ability to imagine one’s own activities, either because a child is so used to being scheduled by adults or has grown accustomed to passive activities like screen time and toys that play by themselves. But sometimes the complaints reflect a child’s need for parental attention, a cry for refueling by checking in with the parent. How can parents tell the difference?
- There is a difference in the quality of complaint and objection when a child needs attention vs. a child who needs to be pushed towards play. But, understandably, it’s hard to tell the difference. Parents can ask themselves, “Have I shared quiet moments with my child recently? Have I been very busy? When did I last (push my child on a swing, take a walk with them, play a board game, read to them, etc.)? These questions can help determine a child’s need for attention or encouragement.
What’s a good way to wean kids off passive activity and onto their imaginations?
- It sounds harsh, but the best way to get kids to play, pretend, and create (if they are not already doing that) is to ignore them. Of course, not in a neglectful way! But in a way that sends a message that they need to figure out how to entertain themselves. A parent should not be responsible for constant companionship or entertainment for their child. For instance:
- Child- “Mom, I’m bored!”
- Mom- “Why don’t you go outside to play?”
- Child- “I don’t want to. How about you come with me?”
- Mom- “I am studying for my class right now. You can go outside on your own.”
- Child- “There is nothing to do out there.”
- Mom- “You know, you’ve been inside all morning. Just go outside and find something to do.”
- Child- “Fine! I won’t find anything to do though.” Child walks through the screen door into the backyard. Kicks the ground, walks in circles, looks up at the sky, sees a bird and watches it for a minute. Then she notices a shaded area under a tree that looks inviting, crawls underneath a branch and feels hidden and safe. She decides to make a home and works all afternoon on landscaping with tiny plants and fallen leaves. She is occupied for hours and mom gets her work done.
What about parents who consume a lot of screen time?
- The best way to promote creativity in a child is for a parent to model its use. Try to limit screen time to occasions when your child is sleeping or visiting a friend. When a parent is doing something creative (like making dinner), be sure to turn off the television, and include the child in the cooking process. We live in a culture where screens are part of our everyday life, and it’s important to teach children a balance between entertainment and personal fulfillment.
When little kids are creative, it’s often messy and requires supervision. What about parents who aren’t into that?
- Get over it! Children are messy and get into things, it’s the nature of who they are. Again, they need to do things (and get messy sometimes) in order to learn and develop. When you go out, bring an extra pair of clothes and wash rag… plan for dirt!
How can parents tell the difference between encouraging their children to the American ideal of competitive busyness and helping their children to realize their own lively ambitions?
- There is a simple question that a parent can ask themselves that indicates whether they are teaching busyness or self-realization to their children. And, that is: How overwhelmed by activities do I feel each day? If a parent is overwhelmed with busyness, most likely the child is too. Alas, there is a solution! First: Create a safe and loving home environment for children to feel secure and taken care of. Second: Slow down and give children the space and freedom to explore the world, make friends with people, make friends with boredom, roam, risk, and play without you. Then: Ask them what they want to do!