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NU #20 - Zero Tolerance for Boredom - A Huge Deficit for our Kids. 8 Tips To Eliminate This Deficit.

Are you constantly feeling like you need to entertain your kids or students? If the answer is yes, then we have lots to talk about.

One of the most under-rated and under-discussed topics is this… How do we teach our kids to be self-sufficient, independent and to accept boredom?

Kids are often looking towards some type of external person or source to provide stimulus, entertainment or to simply pass the time. This is where we are making a big mistake. We must shift the focus to teaching them self sufficiency in how they spend their own time alone - with and without tech and / or other people. For me, this skill is highly underrated.

Now, this doesn’t mean that we don’t engage with our kids regularly. That’s not what I am saying. I’m talking about not serving as their primary entertainer 24/7.

I am talking about encouraging independent play if your kids are young. Let’s teach them about independent ways to pass the time - if your kids are a bit older. I am talking about creating the conditions where ”play time” is being assigned by adults. It’s more about teaching them how to create their own entertainment that they will enjoy. To me, this is a topic worth exploring further.

Here are a few suggestions that will help to build this lifelong skill:

1. Be aware that you’re creating entertainment habits for your kids. Is this happening by accident or deliberately?

For example - the ritual of having a morning show before school or daycare. Who is this serving and is it now on autopilot? What would happen if this slowly disappeared and the child learned to play on his or her own for 30 minutes?

2. Letting them struggle longer than you think. Give more time.

Are you jumping in the second something goes wrong? Are you giving time and space for the child to figure out the problem on her own? Whether it’s a disagreement with a classmate / sibling or frustration from independent play in the family room… don’t jump in to rescue right away. Overcoming frustration is a skill and takes practice to achieve. We should not assume they automatically need this from us. Stand back a little longer and usually things work themselves out. It’s really fun to listen to a young person talk their way through a struggle. Invaluable skill building here.

3. Build skill in letting the child decide how to play or hang out. Don’t direct their activity. Let them take the lead.

We can offer suggestions on how the child wants to play, but let them decide. Providing a few good choices is an easy place to start, but the activity choice lies with the little person. Give them access to good choices but not continuous direction.

4. Support their struggle, rather than eliminating it.

This works well if you get into the habit of asking open-ended questions that support the activity. The adult becomes the guide instead of the play boss or fixer. Eventually, the kids take this on themselves. We instinctively want to fix the challenge for the child. This is a mistake. For example, when a young student comes to me and wants me to zip up his coat. The instinct is to just do it for them. No … A better approach is to model this on my own coat and coach the child through the challenge. Yes, this takes time and yes it’s hard to watch him struggle. Eventually, the fine motor skill practice pays off and the coat zipper becomes a non issue. Same thing applies to the living room fort that keeps collapsing at the same point in construction. Instead of fixing the base of the fort structure, let’s ask why the fort keeps falling at the same point each time. Could it be the weight of the cushions? Could it be that the base is too narrow? Etc…

5. Be prepared for your child to try to suck you back in. Resistance will come.

This new idea of building independence will come with its share of setbacks. You kid will call you back to join them in play. Expect this and be aware of this when it’s happening. You’ll need to be ready to downplay this. The goal is to get things to the point where independent play is the new normal and this is no big deal. We build trust and confidence in their ability to play without us. My suggestion is to give a concise response of “no” when this happens continually. Keep the conversation short and keep doing what you’re doing. The child will adapt quickly. No need for a long conversation or a big debrief with sappy eyes. Keep it short. Reassure from a distance if you need to. This will improve with practice.

6. Be aware of the 24/7 digital trap.

The tablet or device will get old very quickly. It’s best to limit this choice rather than having it become your “go to”. This type of stimulus becomes the default and preferred activity very quickly. It’s very difficult to walk this back once you’ve gone too far down this road. Devices can be in the rotation, but they need to be limited.

Instead, provide art supplies, craft supplies, writing tools, instruments, books, games, toys, mind busters, puzzles, blocks, sports activities, a junk bin, dress up costumes, etc… These choices will inspire creativity and interest - without always having the expectation of a digital device.

7. Rotate the toys & activities.

If you’ve spent any time in a kindergarten classroom, good educators know this secret. Put stuff away and take stuff out again. This simple concept helps to keep things fresh and new. Kids forget quickly and when there’s too much choice in front of them, they tend to default to the same activity. Two rubbermaid bins here work wonders.

8. Insist the kids help out with household chores.

I’m a firm believer in having kids help out around the house and classroom. Depending on their age, there are loads of age-appropriate things they can do to help out. This helps to build responsibility, a sense of team, a sense of independence and the sense that we have to become self-sufficient. Some great examples are: load the dishwasher, feed the pets, sweep, organize lunch & backpack, sort the recycling, organize & sort the front closet, prepare your hockey bag / gym bag, etc… These small responsibilities help to combat boredom and instill a sense that as we age, there are some “must do” activities that usually need to be completed before the “fun to do” activities.

These few tips and tricks work wonders to foster independence, instill confidence & self-sufficiency. We want to encourage creative play which means boredom happens rarely.

These strategies work well if you are a parent or a classroom teacher. They key here is to build these things into the daily routine so that they start to become automatic. We want to establish a solid baseline here so that the last thing we want to hear is more comments on how “I’m so bored… This is so boring”...

With a few purposeful tools in our toolbelt, we can do a better job at equipping our kids to deal with the more mundane moments of their day - instead of constantly behaving like a cruise ship director. This approach is far more beneficial for everyone.

That’s all I have for now.

Thanks for reading.


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