05/04/2017 9:43 AM IST | Updated 12/04/2017 8:44 AM IST

What Should You Do When Your Child Is Bored? Say Hurray!

Boredom is the ultimate teacher.

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At a PTA meeting a couple of years ago, my child's teacher had an observation to make. She told all the parents gathered in the room:"Your children are getting more and more 'bored!' How does your child even know what the word means?" All of us looked at each other, perplexed—this was a rather confusing declaration. Why should a child not know the meaning of the word? Which is when the stern, and as I learnt soon enough, rather wise lady continued that children who complained of being bored were not getting challenged enough by the possibilities of boredom. Say what?

Our kids live in a world that is part of someone else's imagination. This is worrying...

In these days of over scheduling, when seemingly every minute of the child's day is accounted for, the concept of just sitting around and doing "nothing" sounds like a criminal waste. However, the very concept of unconstructed time is a huge opportunity for growth and personal development for a child.

Boredom fosters imagination

One of the most important things that modern parents seek for their children is imagination. Towards this end we spend a lot of money and resources to send them to special classes and buy them expensive creativity kits. A much easier and more fun way to prod the creativity out of a child would be to leave them by themselves in a room full of nothing (nothing obvious, that is).

Do you remember the time your toddler would clang around happily on an orchestra of kitchen pots and pans, completely ignoring colourful play centres with battery operated music systems in them? That was pretty cool, eh? Why do we assume, then, that as they grow older they need more constructed and branded implements to keep them entertained?

Boredom fosters imagination. Consider this: In the 1980s, a study was done in Canada at a time when television was being extended across the country. This article describes the study:

"[The study] compared children in three communities – one which had four TV channels, one with one channel and one with none. The researchers studied these communities on two occasions, just before one of the towns obtained television for the first time, and again two years later. The children in the no-TV townscored significantly higherthan the others on divergent thinking skills, a measure of imaginativeness. This was until they, too, got TV—when their skills dropped to the same level as that of the other children."

Now, of course, there are many more distraction devices: from handhelds to motion sensor ones. Our kids live in a world that is part of someone else's imagination. This is worrying because imagination is not only important to enrich personal experience, it also helps one in building empathy, which in itself is a very important factor in creating change.

Stepping stone to self-discovery

Writer and actress Meera Syal remembers spending school holidays staring out of her window at rural landscapes, and doing various things outside her "usual sphere", like learning to bake cakes with the old lady next door. Boredom also made her write a diary, and it is to this practice that she attributes the success of her writing career. "It's very freeing, being creative for no other reason than that you freewheel and fill time," she says.

Children need time away from the bombardment of the outside world to allow them to daydream, pursue their own thoughts and occupations, and discover personal interests...

Many of us might have similar memories of our childhood too—where time was spent doing "nothing." Indeed, I can remember a childhood spent in climbing guava trees, plucking the fruit off them and devouring them along with library-borrowed Enid Blytons. And one can safely state that a childhood spent in lolling around nature, eating unwashed fruit, fashioning fishing hooks and festooning them with earthworms was a much easier learning experience than a "guided tour" around Maharashtra Nature Park!

Children need time away from the bombardment of the outside world to allow them to daydream, pursue their own thoughts and occupations, and discover personal interests and gifts.

How to embrace boredom?

Be a bored adult. Not a sulking, bored adult mind you! Be someone who can wake up on Saturday morning without a plan or a to-do list. But make sure that you find something that makes you happy and feel satisfied. Plan to be unplanned once in a while and you will see the benefits pouring in soon enough. Not only will you and your child learn of ways to cope with the sudden excess of time, but you will also learn that slowing down or being "bored" is not really the end of the world!

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