Dear Dr. T,
“Mom! I’m bored! What should I do?”
This is the part of summer I like least. Not that I don’t deserve this: I remember complaining to my parents all the time. Nevertheless, after all my planning, running around and shlepping to the country, it is disheartening to be hit with these moans and groans.
How do I help my children learn l to occupy themselves?
Dr. T. Replies,,
Those long, lazy days of summer- filled with possibility and promise- are at odds with our fast-paced, hectic, over-scheduled lives. Most of us city dwellers have life down to a “T”; every hour is filled with a new activity. So, it’s rush to the bus stop, work and errands, orthodontia, dinner, homework, bath time and more. Many of us don’t know what to do when there is free space in the schedule: often we fill it up with family trips to parks, over-nights, relative visiting etc. The concept of the family staying home and each left to his own devices has become anathema to us- little wonder that the children complain when there is the inevitable free space on, say, a chol hamoedor summer break, that they are bored.
We have become too accustomed to our time being taken up by the demands our schedules, the attentions or others [parents, teachers], or the stimulation of the outside environment [amusement parks, restaurants]. We want to help our children rely not on external sources of amusement, but rather develop internal sources of satisfaction. And, while the younger the child the greater the need for parental support in this enterprise, many a toddler can learn some rudimentary skills of occupying himself. As the child matures, he should be able to occupy himself for longer and longer periods.
What this process involves is identifying your child’s interests and helping supply the means and opportunity for him to pursue what he enjoys. Besides supporting the child’s natural inclination for sports or building, for example, you also want to try to introduce other interests- not particularly common- that may catch on. You may choose to avail yourself of the many community resources- contests, choirs, groups- that Boruch Hashem flourish in our communities. Busy people are not bored, nor, incidentally, do they get into trouble.
A practical idea for the younger child or the one who cannot seem to find his niche is to address this issue head-on, before it spirals out of control. In a calm moment, talk to your child about the fact that sometimes people occupy themselves without outside help. Ask your child to create and actually write down a list of activities he can engage in when ‘there’s nothing to do.’ Then, when the specter of boredom rears its ugly head, it becomes the child’s, not the adult’s, responsibility to figure it out which item on the list works. In this way, you throw the onus of figuring out what to do on the child -where it rightfully belongs- and give him the tools up front with which to do it.
At this point I want to put in a plug in for an activity that is both absorbing and healthy: reading. In our solid state society where entertainment is both instantaneous and immediately gratifying, many a child has not developed the patience for the leisurely pace of a book. But, as the poet Emily Dickenson has said, “There is no frigate like a book”; books transport us to another time and place outside of ourselves. Books are both educational and entertaining, and helping your child discover this pleasure is a gift for the present and the future. Reading also stimulates thought and self-reflection: two processes that in the long run will prevent your child from becoming a boring person and chronically bored.
On a deeper level, this is a good time to step back and reflect, to take a proactive- rather than a reactive- view of the situation. Time is our most precious commodity. Whether we are given a little or a lot, we want to use it, not fill or spend it. Teaching our children the value of time and modeling the ability to use it constructively is a gift of a lifetime because it is a gift that will give meaning to all of their lives. As our children grow older, we want to guide them with strategies that help them make the most of the time they do have. Your attitudes towards time will affect your child’s perception of time and its value and worth. Hopefully, your attitude will instill in them the goal to use, not waste, their time- for life’s demands, good deeds, and even relaxation. People with purpose are not bored.
Best wishes for a meaningful summer.
Reprinted with permission from Binah magazine.