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The great thing about summer is the sense of possibility. The long stretch of unencumbered time. Nothing one has to do. Everything one could do.

I hope your son or daughter can capitalize on the possibilities summer offers. There are some key skills your child can develop if given the chance and some guidance. By following these five steps, you can provide some great opportunities for your child to set a goal and reach it. What a great learning experience for summer!

Step #1: Think of things to do. Being bored is a good thing. It is the beginning of all new ideas. So becoming comfortable with a gap in the day is the key to creating something really exciting.

Support this by making certain there is unscheduled time in your child’s day. Don’t prohibit daydreaming! At the same time, step in if boredom turns to despair or destructiveness.

Step #2: Set goals that are achievable. Sometimes a child’s great idea, the one that makes him rouse from his boredom with a shout of “I’ve got it!” – sometimes it’s an idea too large, too dangerous, or too expensive to pull off. Learning how to adjust the plan to meet logistical constraints is indeed a key skill.

Support this by first being accepting and supportive (“What a great idea?’) and then inquiring (“But tell me… where will you get a rocket ship? Do you know someone who has one?’). Notice that you don’t need to throw cold water on the entire idea. Just help your child to herself tailor her ideas into something both satisfying and achievable.

Step #3: Make a plan to achieve a goal. Kids are great at envisioning the finished product or event but not quite so good at planning the steps to get there. Doing this is practice of a key skill

Support this by asking “What will you do first?” You can suggest your child outline the steps and try to think of everything he’ll need to do and all the supplies or equipment he’ll need to source. Don’t do this for your child, but you can certainly provide some guidance if he asks.

Step #4: Work within a timeframe. Time is part of any plan but it’s something children struggle to imagine. Consider how kids often underestimate how long their homework will take! So imagining a finish-date and backing up the steps to today is a good practical exercise.

Support this by making certain your child has time to work on her plans. Again, a child with too-tight a schedule is severely limited in her creative opportunities. Do what you can to support your child with the gift of time.

Step #5: Learn to deal with setbacks. No plan runs smoothly. There almost always are setbacks, detours, and just plain mistakes. Can your child stick with his idea, managing difficulties along the way, and come to an acceptable outcome at the end? This key skill is essential for life success.

Support this by lending a sympathetic ear. Setting something aside for a while is often helpful. Sometimes giving up on an idea is the only sane choice. But usually, conferencing together helps a solution to bubble up and leads to success. Give your child the emotional support she undoubtedly will need.

Your child’s summer can be inspirational and skill-building. It all starts with a little time to be bored and some guidance from you!

© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

With the long structured school days coming to an end, children have their sought after freedom from constant direction and the pressure of adult time schedules. After the initial newness of vacation wears off, cries of boredom may become a parent’s latest undoing.

What happens to you when you hear, “I’m bored. What do I do?” after days and months of getting-out-the-door struggles and frustrated cries of, “I don’t want to go to school.” Is it tempting to say, “Aren’t you ever happy? All year you complain that you never have any free time and now you do and you’re bored.” Do you feel resentful and come out with things like, “I’m not your social director. Figure it out for yourself.”

What does it mean to feel bored? There is nothing that has to be done, nothing that is compelling you to act. You lack motivation and interest in the present moment, you may feel restless and agitated. Let’s face it, for most of us, boredom brings us face-to-face with ourselves, which can allow space for any number of unpleasant feelings and realizations. We spend most our time making sure that doesn’t happen. We add activity to activity, we become workaholics, we stay plugged into computers, ipads or cell phones, or we dull our senses with drugs, food, or video games. We make sure we never have to be alone with ourselves.

Boredom has a bad rep. Most of us think being bored means we’re lazy, lethargic, inactive, selfish, dull, not taking responsibility for all that needs to be done. So when our children complain about being bored, we feel angry, irritated, and resentful because we see them in this same light, and may even feel at fault for not raising better worker bees. We slip right into thinking they are lazy, can’t think for themselves, won’t do anything on their own, can’t come up with any number of things we can think of that they could or should be doing. When we define boredom this way, we logically feel frustrated or annoyed and thus react in any number of ways that put our children down, send messages of inadequacy, or simply express our impatience and irritation—a logical outcome when believing there is something wrong, misguided, and undirected about a child who feels bored.

But what if that’s not the case? What if you thought how wonderful it was that your child has the opportunity to be bored? Think of the possibility in boredom. Isn’t boredom a necessary precursor to creativity and invention? Think of what there is to be discovered in the depths of boredom. Inspiration needs emptiness to breed. It rarely comes out of constant doing. When a child feels inspired, accomplishment follows organically.

Meditation is the act of stilling the mind so the present moment can be experienced. Most of us don’t stop long enough to be in the present moment, notice what is in front of our eyes or appreciate the sounds and smells and feelings of right now. In allowing boredom, you are granting the experience of the present moment—even if it’s filled with frustration.

When you think you have to come up with activities or create some kind of stimulation for your child to keep her busy, you enable her dependence and are in fact sending a message that she is incapable of taking care of herself. By taking responsibility for filling her time, you interfere with her own creative process and ingenuity.

Imagine if your response to “I’m bored” is, “Oh, you are so lucky. What a great thing to feel bored. Amazing things are about to happen. You’ll come up with something, I know. When you do, let me know. I’ll be interested to hear what that mind of yours invents.” Think what you are setting in motion! Think what message that sends to a frustrated child. The frustration will morph into something quite different. Maybe not immediately, but soon enough.

Unfortunately, many children will still have little time to be bored if they continue in structured care throughout the summer. And with technology ever present, children don’t get the opportunity to be bored. All the more reason to set parameters around screen time from an early age so that video games and texting are not the only fillers when there is nothing else to do.

Try spending time doing nothing with your child. Try, “I really want to do absolutely nothing right now. Will you do nothing with me?” Then go sit on the porch or cuddle on the couch and just be. Focus on what you can observe right then. There might be a bird neither of you would have otherwise noticed or bugs in the grass that inspire wondering. Let your child know how wonderful it can be to be bored—oh, the possibilities. Boredom is a luxury of childhood. Make sure it is allowed on a regular basis.

Your child has a roomful of toys – at least one, maybe two – that she never goes into by herself. She has a backyard she refuses to explore on her own. When there’s no friend handy, your child is at loose ends. How can you get your child to play by herself?

Independent play is a good thing, and not just because it frees you up to do your own stuff. When your child plays by himself, he’s free to exercise his imagination and creativity. He can experiment, solve problems, and think good thoughts. Your child, playing alone, practices being resourceful.

But if your child can’t do it – if she’s unable to feel settled and focused on her own, how can you help her? Now, before summer vacation rolls around, is a good time to practice.

First, give up your role as your child’s social director. You’re not responsible for filling your child’s every waking moment with educational and stimulating activities. He’s responsible for managing all the down time in the day. Leave him to it.

Second, play on your own terms. Playing with your child is wonderful fun for both of you but you’re not required to fill in for missing playmates whenever a child is bored. It’s just not your job. So when your child is casting around for something to do and lands on playing with you, accept if you can but with limits if you like. Say, “Yes, let’s play three games of Crazy 8s” or “Yes, let’s play catch for 15 minutes.”  When the limit is reached, let your child find something to do on her own.

Third, welcome boredom. Being bored isn’t the end of the world. You’re under no necessity to solve it. When a child complains of being bored, said, “Oh! Go think of something good to do – I’m sure you can! – and when you’ve figured it out, let me know. I want to know what you think up.” Smile. Be encouraging.

Fourth, beware of too many restrictions. If you don’t let your child do very much, there’s not very much to do. Let your kid got outside by himself. Let him do things that seem to you to be too hard. Don’t be too concerned about the mess (he can clean it up, after all!). Rules get in the way of fun. If you have too many rules, it’s time to lighten up.

Finally, avoid filling the time with screens. Television, computers, video games, and handhelds should not be your solution to independent play. If your child suggests one of these in a lonely moment, apply the same limits you do any other time of day (you do set limits on screen time, don’t you?). But avoid being the one to suggest screens. Suggest a book instead, or playing outside, or walking the dog.

Learning to play by oneself is a skill that develops over time. It’s not something most children naturally are good at. They need opportunities to practice. So if you want your child to play more by himself, teach him how to do this.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.