For many parents, the summer provides a welcome reprieve from the intense academic, sport and extracurricular activities of the academic year. However, summer can be a time of trading one stress for another - to much scheduled activity to little or no structured activity.
A universal phrase parents hear in the summer is, "I'm bored, there's nothing to do."
Hopefully not on the first day of school vacation.
One of the modern dilemmas of parenting is being overly responsible for how our children spend their time. Parents often fall into the trap of keeping children entertained and busy all of the time. So when a child has unstructured time, he/she is often at a loss for what to do.
A growing trend is for children and teens often fill unstructured time with screen time on smartphones, television, e-readers and video games. Compared to previous generations, many children have less of an opportunity to experience boredom because the default activity during unstructured time is electronics.
A research study in 2013 surveyed 1,254 middle schoolers who play video games. Researchers found, over 90% of the middle schoolers who played video games cited boredom as one of the reasons for playing video games.
The modern parenting dilemma seems to be: How do we teach our children to unplug from electronics and learn the skills to manage boredom?
Psychologists, researchers, and educators view boredom as an important cognitive process; boredom promotes daydreaming and creativity and encourages "self-starting behaviors" a fancy term for having children choosing activities of interest during unstructured time.
This summer, help your child manage boredom by creating a list of self-starting behaviors during unstructured time.
Here are three steps to help your child create their summer bucket list of activities to combat boredom. The goal of this list is to have a written log of ideas for children and/or parents can refer to when a child says the dreaded: "I'm bored, there's nothing to do."
Step 1: Have a brainstorming session.
Talk with your child and ask them the activities they would like to do this summer. If your child is at a loss for how to fill his/her time, ask them to choose some or all from the following categories which are of interest: Relaxation, Summer Fun, Education, Rainy Day Fun, Exploring My Town/City/State, Fun in Nature, Sports & Exercise, Traditions, Arts & Crafts, and Projects & Cleanup. Be creative and add categories meaningful to your child or family. Then take paper and pen and place the chosen categories into columns across the top of your paper.
Step 2: Have your child make a list of activities in each category.
See below to generate some ideas and be sure to add your own.
Relaxation: As a culture, we are focused on being productive, and sometimes we overlook the importance of rest and relaxation. Quieting our minds and bodies is an important skill to teach our children. Examples include: sitting quietly and watching nature, meditation, reading, journaling, focusing on breathing, yoga, and cloud-watching.
Summer Fun: Swimming at the pool or beach, playing at the park, picnics, catching lightning bugs, flying kites, making popsicles and ice-cream, running through the sprinkler.
Education: Children lose a portion of what they've learned in school over the summer, and reading can help them retain skills. Encourage your child to read over the summer. Most schools also provide summer reading lists with local libraries. Educational opportunities are available at local museums, galleries, zoos and aquariums.
Rainy Day Fun: Bad weather does not have to be a spoiler. Ideas for indoor activities include: playing board games and cards, building forts, having an indoor picnic, arts and crafts, listening to music, baking or cooking, putting on a play, going to the movies and completing projects around the house.
Exploring My Town/City/State: Take some time to be a tourist in your town. Visit your local Chamber of Commerce to view a list of places to explore.
Fun in Nature: Connecting with nature is fun and relaxing, and nature is all around us. Other activities include: observing nature in a park, common area or backyard, visiting local farms to pick-your-own fruit and visiting farmers markets.
Sports/Exercise: Physical activity is good for your body and mind. Ideas include walking, playing soccer or basketball, swimming, running, hula-hooping, setting up relay races in the backyard, jumping rope, hopscotch and riding bikes or scooters.
Traditions: Share your family's history and culture with your children. Have your child be in charge of interviewing relatives on history and culture, taking photographs, putting together family stories. Also, consider visiting places important to you, teaching family recipes or exploring old neighborhoods.
Arts & Crafts: Anything and everything related to creativity in this category. Think coloring, painting, drawing, molding with clay, scrapbooking, making your play-dough, stringing beads for jewelry, photography, sewing, and knitting.
Projects/Cleanup: The summer is a great time to address the projects in your home put on the back burner. Enlist your child help to work on projects not only in their room but throughout the house. Ideas include: cleaning out closets, donating old clothing/toys/sports equipment, or catching up on yard work.
Step 3: Keep the list accessible.
Once completed, keep the list in a common area of the home; on the refrigerator, taped to a cabinet or tacked on a bulletin board. Refer to the list regularly to help your child structure free time.
Some of the activities your child lists will require parental involvement and financial investment. Try to aim for a variety of activities in each category; no cost to some expense and no adult supervision to parental involvement. The goal is to help foster independence for your child as well as ownership and responsibility for how a child, of any age, manages boredom.
Finally, don't forget to document your summer by taking pictures to remember activities. Research on happiness shows people who look back at pictures with positive memories report increased levels of happiness.
Teaching your child the how to combat boredom is a skill that will serve them well not only during summer, but throughout their lifetime. Happy summer!