If you listen closely, you can hear them murmuring. Their eyes are wide. Fear oozes from their pores. Before long, panic sets in.
Yep, it’s the parents. They stare at you with dread and mutter, “What do I do? The children are coming home.”
Ah, June. School’s out for the summer, and no matter how much you love your children, it’s normal to wonder how you’re going to entertain them.
Sure, you’ve got plenty planned already. There might be a vacation or two, sports, maybe dance lessons or a camp or a chance to visit relatives. But many parents fret about the in-between moments, the lazy summer afternoons, the cabin fever that comes along with children arguing with each other and with you and even with themselves.
So what do you do? The short answer — do nothing. I’m not saying leave them to the whims of their video games, TV shows, and I-Pads. You can limit those. But it’s OK, and even good for your kids, to be bored. Just ask my kids. When they were younger and said they were bored, I always responded, “Adults call that relaxing.” (They never liked that answer.)
I’m not saying this because I only had four TV channels growing up, or because our idea of a game system was lining up two games of Monopoly together. I’m saying it because learning to fill their time actually teaches children important lessons and helps them develop as people.
For example, it fosters creativity. Sometimes, our kids don’t think creatively just because they don’t have to do it. They have movies, TV, gaming systems, and organized activities to keep them occupied until they’re exhausted and overwhelmed. When they have spare time, they don’t know what to do with it because they never had to learn. Being bored forces them to learn ways to entertain themselves. (You might want to supervise the creativity from time to time. My parents never knew, for example, that one of my creative ideas was jumping bicycles over railroad tracks. In hindsight, not my smartest move . . .)
Free time also encourages kids to play with each other. I remember marathon hide-and-seek games in my neighborhood while our parents hung out on porches and chatted. As a result, my friends and I learned to get along, to cooperate with each other, to fight with each other, and (most importantly) how to resolve those arguments.
Free time also encourages children to learn to relax. Sure, we tell them to relax, but they don’t often know what we mean. After all, we’re often telling them to relax while falling apart ourselves. It’s hard for parents to role-model relaxation when they just finished working, cooking, cleaning the bathroom, driving to soccer practice, driving to dance practice, driving back to soccer practice, going to the bank, going to the store, and did I mention driving back to dance practice? Kids need to learn how to have down time just as much as parents need to figure out how to find down time for themselves. So while your kids are “bored,” relax a little yourself, too. You might have to relearn how, but it’ll be worth it.
I know this might sound overwhelming, so start small. Pick one afternoon a week when you don’t fill the kids’ time for them, and when they’re not allowed to play on the gaming system or watch TV. They might kick and scream, but they’ll get over that eventually. You’ll be amazed what they might learn to do when they’re “bored.”
(Carl Grody, LISW-S, specializes in family therapy in Worthington, Ohio, at Grody Family Counseling. He’s also the author of 13 books and hundreds of articles for national magazines. If you’d like to make an appointment with Carl, call 614-477-5565.)