"Mom, I'm bored." You know that voice. The whining voice of your child whether she is young or in her teens. There are certainly countless fun activities to try with your children online, in books and from creative friends. Those can be fun and memorable. But I believe this is a bigger problem than parents who don't have the time or resources to constantly entertain their kids. As more and more "stuff" is seen as needful, it seems that today's kids have learned to expect to be entertained. Always. My father-in-law has always responded to his kids whining voice when they are bored with a wise line, "Boredom is a choice." Or sometimes a bit of an impatient "Sounds like a personal problem to me."
With that line on my mind, I came across Stephen R. Covey's book, "Seven Habits for Highly Effective Kids." The first chapter is titled "Bored! Bored! Bored!" Sammy Squirrel is bored. He goes to each of his friends who are all doing fun things, but Sammy Squirrel doesn't want to do what they're doing. He repeatedly asks, "Can't you think of something fun for me to do?" Later, when he is complaining to Granny, she asks, "Well, isn't that your fault? You're in charge of having fun, not somebody else."
So how can you help your kids learn to use their time wisely, make their own choices, and create their own fun? And perhaps more pressing, how can you avoid being faced with your kids' boredom as if it were your problem to solve?
1. Define what is expected
Help your child understand his responsibilities while leaving room for him to make choices. Resist the temptation to nag and generously reward him for good choices. In my home growing up, we knew what had to be done before we could play on the computer or go to a friend's house. I learned that the quicker I got to work on homework and chores, the more time there was for play. If I complained about being bored, I knew that Mom would ask about those things first, and it was better to already have them done.
2. Help your kids learn to be proactive
Every day there will be opportunities to teach your child to live purposefully. Help him recognize the choices before him. Guide him to discover that different choices lead to different results. Whether there are problems with friends or an empty afternoon with no plans, brainstorm with him for solutions. Once you've made a good list, encourage him to take action. Praise his efforts and do what you can to encourage him.
3. Create an atmosphere
Kids will miss opportunities to use their imaginations and make their own fun if their days are filled from the moment they wake up. Don't view "free time" as the leftover time when everything else is done. Rather create some time for free play each day. Turn off the TV or video games and stock up on books, building blocks, art supplies or an empty yard to play in. As his imagination is stretched, he'll find the hours passing.
4. Forget about yourself
Sometimes it's not all about you. Teach your child to look around him and find someone he can serve. Helping others is a satisfying and effective way to spend your time.
5. Be an example
Even as adults with seemingly endless to-do lists, we can find ourselves in potentially boring situations. Don't let that mean you are bored. Even if it's not always your idea of fun, fulfill your responsibilities as best you can. Make choices that lead to desirable outcomes. Stretch your mind and skills to become the person you hope to be and look for opportunities to help those around you.
John Spencer at educationrethink.com shares that "the goal isn't to occupy yourself with devices and keep yourself distracted. The goal is to say 'Here are my limitations. Now what can I do that is fun, meaningful or challenging?'"