My friend asked me to share my thoughts on boredom, after her daughter recently commented that when she was older she was going to hang out down town – as if it was a great goal! This shocked and concerned her mother. So here are my thoughts on boredom.
I have long thought that the reason kids hang out down town is that they have nothing productive to do with their time and they have no purpose in life.
How can kids be productive? I teach my children skills, both ones I see they need in life but also ones that I see they have a talent for. How can they have purpose? I believe their purpose comes directly out of the their relationship with God, and the skills and talents they possess. I also believe our purpose is to be focused on others not on self.
You often read that the way to deal with children admitting to being bored is to give them a chore. I believe this is behaviour modifying parenting not training as God calls us to do. When we give a chore we are punishing them for admitting the condition of their life. And I believe it works - they wont admit that they are bored again out of fear of getting a chore! But neither are they able to make wise decisions with how to use their time.
When a child says, “I’m bored” they are really expressing an inability to:
- use their time wisely
- to see opportunities in front of them
- to make a decision
- to be creative or show initiative
So when I hear these words (or see behaviour that shows me they are bored) I see it as a time of training. If I were to give them a chore, they are no further down the training track of seeing these things, and they will continue to be bored once the chore is done – or at least they will have learnt not to admit to being bored! If my children have not been trained I cannot in all fairness, before God and them, discipline/punish them for making unwise choices. This will frustrate the child for sure!
Training starts with the opportunity to make a decision. I pull the child aside and say – You are bored because you haven’t been able to focus on an activity- lets find something you can do.
- I ask them is there something they could do to help or encourage someone else?
- Is there an unfinished project they could work on?
- Do they have a skill they could practice (they know what creative skills they are learning – music, writing, coding, photography, etc)?
- Is there a book they could read?
- Is there an outside activity you would like to go and do?
If this becomes a normal habit for a child I sit them down and we write lists where they take each of those categories and predetermine options for each of these points. This is creating an opportunity to help them learn to make decisions. But it is important to remember that their days are structured in such a way that each child has the amount of free time that is in keeping with their ability to make wise choices. That is, they dont have a whole day to fill in. If a 6 year old can make wise choices for 1 hour a day then he gets free time for one hour a day. If the 12 year old can occupy himself fitfully for 4 hours then he gets 4 hours of free time (depending on family activities and study schedules).
This all being said, they can only make wise choices if their hearts are in the right place. To start off, when I notice a child is not making wise choices with their free time I guide them through the various steps listed above. If they cant make a choice I may make it for them. If they dont accept my choice this is when a consequence sets in. My consequences are generally not a chore but rather isolation if you cant use your time wisely you lose your free time.
For the older children who have been through this training process for longer period of time, when they come to me not knowing what to do, I ask them if they have looked at their list. This is just a prompt from me that they do have the skills to fill in the hours. They do have the ability to make wise choices. If they still cant, I send them to their room to sort out what is in their heart that is stopping them from being wise, creative, thoughtful and ready to show initiative. They get their hearts right, sort it out with God and come on out ready to do something productive.
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