a peek inside the fishbowl

01 Aug, 2013

Guest post: Mom, I’m bored!

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Guest postings

It’s guest post week here at the Fishbowl! Today’s post is by Delta Jones, the founder of justplaytoyrental.com. She describes herself as an avid believer in the value of unstructured play and a generally frazzled mother of 3. (Ha!) Delta is trying to convince the world to do less and play more, while still figuring it out herself. Her topic is one that really resonates with me… why (and how!) you should encourage your kids to play independently. Thank for your post today Delta! Read on Fishies!

Mom, I’m bored! How many times have you heard this already this summer? Many of us feel responsible when we hear these words coming from our children and want to solve this ‘problem’ right away. We respond by providing technological entertainment and/or structured activities. But this may actually be undermining their ability to become creative, self-reliant individuals. When children are overly entertained, they do not learn to play alone and they tend to become increasingly demanding of your attention, frequently looking to you to entertain them.

Why is unstructured time (and even boredom) important?

Children need down time to play, imagine, create and explore freely. The ability to play independently, without adult direction, fosters important lifelong skills such as problem-solving, resourcefulness, and independence.

When given unstructured time, some kids will find something to do, after some minor complaining. But others might need a little more encouragement.

My #1 Tip: Play with your child! It might seem counterintuitive, but children are more likely to play independently if their ‘love tank’ is full.

Tell your child when you will be available to play (for example, 20 minutes after breakfast and 20 minutes before dinner). This play time is not meant to be time spent on outings or errands. It should be unstructured time at home. Explain to your child: “We’ll have some special playtime later but in the meantime, I have work to do.” Your child will likely come after you asking if it’s time yet. I try to answer in a very neutral tone, repeating the line above and ignoring any drama. Eventually your child will give up on you as a source of entertainment and his boredom will lead him to find something to do. Big victory!

When the time comes, follow through on your promise. Sit yourself on the floor and say, “What shall we do?” Let your child be the leader, bringing you things and giving you instructions about what role to play. Give him your full attention. When the time is up (a timer is helpful), be sure to tell him that you are looking forward to the next time, thereby reassuring him that there will be a next time.

Some final tips:

We cannot force our kids to be imaginative but we can provide them with an environment that will stimulate their creativity.

A – Are there too many toys around? Too many toys can be overwhelming for children. They have difficulty choosing and it makes them restless.

B – Do you have the right type of toys? Be sure your toy selection includes open-ended toys (simple toys that can be played with in several ways, toys that require children to use their imagination).

C – Provide your children with an area containing creative materials such as paper, boxes, glue, markers, stickers, popsicle sticks, tape, cardboard tubes, etc.

D – Provide your children with a quiet area for reading or quiet time. Visit your local library to keep it stocked with a wide variety of books. If your child is old enough, you can include a music player with headphones.

Take a few minutes to brainstorm. Help your child make a “Things I Can Do When I’m Bored” poster (with words or pictures). Once you have brainstormed however, shift the responsibility to her to decide what to do then walk away.

Here’s hoping your kids will soon expect less entertainment from you and rely on their own resourcefulness more often. Now find yourself a good book and put your feet up. You deserve it!

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2 Responses to "Guest post: Mom, I’m bored!"

1 | Marguerite tennier

August 1st, 2013 at 1:36 pm

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Yes,it’s so important for children to learn to entertain themselves and not rely on others or the computer

2 | lisa from Iroquois

August 1st, 2013 at 5:29 pm

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Whenever I hear that phrase, “Mom, I’m bored” I have to admit to a certain amount of internal giggling. When I was a kid, those words were an invitation to responses like “the living room carpet needs vacuuming” or “the ornaments on the ledge need dusting” or “have you finished your chores?” When my stepkids confessed to such boredom I used that same response and either got a pouty cooperation or they did what I did and that was find something else to amuse myself with. This was before computers or cable TV.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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