How do we strike the balance of ensuring that children have enough to keep them stimulated but don’t overload them, versus,them being under-stimulated and bored? How much is the right amount of boredom?
By Nicola Edwards, Child and Teen Therapist and Author at A Step at a Time Therapies
“I’m bored”, those two words uttered by so many children and adults over the last year….but, how much is boredom a problem and how much is it a blessing?
Boredom, in it’s simplest form, is mental fatigue created by monotony or lack of stimulation which often leaves us with a lack of interest and empty sensation.
Has, living in a world where everything is at our finger tips 24/7 added to the depth of those empty sensations?
In a world where you can shop online 24/7, get lost in phones and computer games, we work all hours of the day and night, and the world is open7 days a week – we rarely get a chance to be bored. We are masters at switching between activities and being on the go.
Manoush Zomorodi, in her 2017 TED talk, discusses that over a decade ago, we multi-tasked between activities once every 3 minutes. However, now that same occurrence is every 45 seconds. Leaving a generation of us who are addicted to gratification, interaction and stimulation and the moment that we don’t get it – we complain of feeling bored.
More so, some people don’t actually know what boredom feels like and so when boredom appears it can be a deeply uncomfortable feeling!
So, is boredom actually good for us?
How much do we need?
We can be quick to offer children activities and engagement all the time to avoid boredom, so for some young children and teenagers the current climate will be very hard to swallow, as when opportunities and experiences drop – how do we manage those uncomfortable feelings if we have never learnt to sit in them and reap their benefits?
If we can create a balance between stimulation (a mixture of physical activity, intellectual challenge, social opportunities, creative experiences) and downtime which creates a low level boredom it can increase our creativity, enhance our problem solving skills and improve our perceptions of the world and tasks that we need to complete. Boredom allows the brain to process, develop connections and develop a deeper connection with ourselves and the world around us. Additionally this benefits mental health, as a preoccupation with being busy is often indicative that we are avoiding emotions.
However, if boredom is the majority, and not carefully balanced, it quickly becomes destructive and damaging. Boredom that lasts days, weeks or months can frequent lead to spiralling mental health, low mood, lack of motivation and sometimes feelings of despair or disconnection. Frequently, children whose balance is out of sync can find themselves feeling lost in their own worlds and finding that nothing interests them anymore and nothing feels positive or optimistic.
So how can we create the balance?
- Get into a routine – Implement a solid routine so that children can feel safe and know what is coming next as well as giving structure to be able to monitor life balance from.
- Promote independence – with time on your hands, this is a great time to encourage children to do things for themselves to learn some new skills and feel useful.
- Remove the electronics – taking time out from electronics so that the brain stops searching for a 24/7 stimulation fix and allows it to engage with the surroundings is really important. Electronics are fantastic, however they overstimulate the brain to keep us engrossed and we become addicted to the constant interaction that they provide.
- Balance activities – none of us can concentrate all day long, break up schooling with social opportunities, crafts, construction, physical activities, games and relaxation or meditation to offer variety.
- Spontaneity – Plan one to two spontaneous tasks for children to enjoy, this might be a science activity, a craft task or a project that you can work on together (Pinterest has some great ideas) – especially helpful if our attention is dropping and we all need a pick me up
- Problem solving – Encourage children to make choices and solve problems for themselves – it is so easy to do things for children, but encouraging them to develop their thinking skills in this time will develop their resilience and help them feel in control – encourage them to help you find solutions, write up week plans or to help with the shopping list
- Be a role model – don’t encourage children to be outdoors and then sit inside on your phone – role model and show them how they can do new things. If you need to work, structure time around their activities, lessons and downtime so that they get the connections they need to feel calm and settled (which will help you feel calm and settled)
- Be active – sitting down makes us all feel sleepy and disinterested. Whether it’s some exercise, a game in the garden or learning a circus trick or some yoga, getting active refreshes out brain. If you combine this with activities that encourage children to pass items across their bodies (juggling, yoga, tricks or clapping games) you can help them strengthen their brain connections and coordination for learning!