The Summer Slowdown: the Benefits of boredom

Are you hearing “I’m bored!” from your kids now that school is out and summer stretches before us? How do you respond?

According to an article in Forbes magazine, Neuroscientist Alicia Walf, a researcher in the Department of Cognitive Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, says it’s critical for brain health to let yourself be bored from time to time. 

“Boredom can actually foster creative ideas, refilling your dwindling reservoir, replenishing your work mojo and providing an incubation period for embryonic work ideas to hatch. 

In those moments that might seem boring, empty and needless, strategies and solutions that have been there all along in some embryonic form are given space and come to life. And your brain gets a much needed rest when we’re not working it too hard.”

The Forbes article focuses on the benefits of downtime for adults, but the same is true for children.

We parents are prone to filling up our children’s day with activities and new experiences. We worry that having nothing to do will lead to misbehavior.

Kids who are used to having their days full of outings, camp, and adult-directed activities do need a little time to adjust to “doing nothing”. They may lack experience having periods of time where nothing is planned and their own ingenuity is needed. 

That adjustment period can be tough – on kids and their parents. But given a little bit of time, kids will also discover the gifts of boredom and the creativity that comes from having “nothing” to do.

As parents, we can simultaneously assure their safety by never being far away, while allowing them to develop their creativity by not structuring every minute of the day.  

Well into their elementary years we had what I called ‘rest time’ in the afternoon. Though they no longer napped, they were expected to spend a quiet hour in their rooms. We all recharged during that hour and they spent that time wherever their imaginations took them. 

Psychology Today offers this on the benefits of boredom for children: “The ability to focus and self-regulate is correlated with the ability to handle boredom. Learning to endure boredom at a young age is great preparation for developing self-control skills (regulating one’s thoughts, emotions, and actions).”

In addition to developing self-regulation skills, some other benefits of boredom include:

-Improved mental health

-Increased creativity

-Motivation to seek new ideas

-Motivation to pursue new goals

So next time you hear “I’m bored”, take your time rushing in to fix it – let them experience some of those benefits of a little boredom. Before long their creativity just may kick in.