Let your kids be bored

(and see what their creative brains come up with)

Check your calendar for the upcoming weekend. How many birthday parties, baseball games, recitals, BBQs, chores and other plans do you have? Now how many of those are you actually looking forward to?

We live in the Land of Busy. A land where a wall is built to keep out “downtime.” A land where weekend stuff is a part-time job. If we aren’t constantly on the go, we are lazy, friendless, bad parents.

Wouldn’t it be nice to get the weekends—life, actually—back to how they used to be, before travel soccer and parties where you have to invite the whole class? Back to being slow and boring? Many recent studies show that kids need “boring” and unstructured time for their imaginations to thrive. It allows them to hear their inner voices, which are usually drowned out by iPads.

I locked my son and three of his friends out of the house last week. Literally. It was sunny and they wanted to play video games. After 10 minutes of smooshing their little, confused, desperate faces against the windows, this happened: They dragged the dishwasher box from the recycling pile, found some sticks and spent TWO HOURS playing with that soggy box. They are still talking about how fun it was.

What’s a mom to do? It all comes down to boundaries. I know you don’t want to say “yes” to everything that crosses in front of your cute nose.

So don’t.

If you agree to everything (and then complain about it) how will your kids learn to set their own boundaries? They will think it is normal to stuff down authentic reactions and go along with everything to … what? Be busy? Be liked? If you make them go to that party when they don’t like the kid or say they have to play lacrosse even though they cry before each game, what happens when someone forces an unwanted touch or tells them, “I’m fine to drive. I’ve only had a few beers.” How will they trust the inner voice that says, “I don’t want this”?

Part of the problem is that we get on an ego-trip as parents. This “I know what is best for you” attitude needs to soften. Do you know that they need life jackets and spinach? Of course. Do you know that they need to audition for that play even though they can’t sing? No.

Your kiddo may look like you, but they are not you. We need to respect the wants and desires of these little people, who have their own glorious souls to keep happy. What makes them excited? What makes their faces shine? If it isn’t the stuff they are doing, then let’s change course.

If we allow our kids to have a say in parts of their life, we are promoting trust. “I trust that you know what feels right to you. And I am going to support that. Let’s try it and see if it fits.”

That goes a long way in helping build self-esteem and autonomy. Isn’t that a huge part of parenting? (And if you don’t want them living in your basement at 30, you need to raise an autonomous kid.)

So look again at your calendar. Does anything upcoming excite you, your kids, your family unit? Do that. Say a polite “no” to everything else. And use that newfound downtime to lock yourselves in the yard and play with a giant cardboard box.

Maggie Knowles writes about all things kid. She and her family live in Yarmouth, where she gardens, keeps bees and refuses to get rid of her stilettos.

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