Sadness in Summertime: How Boredom Can Teach Children About Their Feelings
Summer is upon us, and with it comes the all too frequent “Moooooom, I’m booooooored!”
The transition from school, structure, and constant social interaction to the wide open space of summer vacation can be a rough one for kids and parents alike. Boredom is the summer fun-sucker; it feels like the best days of the year are wasting away and nothing, NOTHING, can fill them with the joy you have all been expecting. But when you have 3 whole months to fill, boredom is unavoidable.
So many parents take on their children’s boredom—if you can just give your kids some amazing summer activities or schedule camps for all week every week, maybe, just maybe, you can avoid the constant complaining and the “b” word! Well that is all nice and good, but it also sounds like a ton of work. So, inevitably, your kid gets bored and you end up spinning your wheels trying to entertain them. (Man, who’s ready for school to start back up again!?)
There’s got to be a better way. And there is!
“Let your kids be bored sometimes” is becoming a more and more popular perspective, and for good reason. Boredom, though miserable, actually has some benefits to it. Boredom can foster all kinds of positive qualities, such as creativity, problem-solving skills, independence, and self-reflection. These amazing results are fostered from even just a little bit of boredom. But there’s something else your child can learn from being bored that often gets overlooked: how to be sad.
Boredom and sadness are inextricably linked. Both are low-energy, listless experiences. Boredom is also most often the result of disappointment and/or lack of interest with the available options. Both of which are just more complicated ways of expressing sadness.
Is the reality of summer vacation falling short of your and your child’s expectations?
Does your kiddo feel like nothing in the entire world sounds like fun?
Do the countless hours at home leave your children feeling isolated from their friends
Is your child surrounded by toys but unable to find interest or joy in a single one?
Okay, so summer vacation can be full of sadness and boredom, to varying degrees. The good news here is that boredom is a lower level sadness. It is not as intense, for example, as the death of a family pet, or your child’s best friend moving out of state, or the divorce of one’s parents. Compared to many other common events in children’s lives, the summer blues are pretty manageable. Lower level sadness becomes our ally in the world of feeling, because it allows us to really feel it, stay with it, and move through it, without overwhelming our bodies.
In order to be better equipped to handle those major life events and the much larger sadness that comes with them, every man, woman, and child would benefit from practicing how to be sad with smaller, less intense circumstances. Boredom in doses throughout the summer can help prepare your child (and yourself) for the much bigger disappointments that they will have to face in the years to come.
When we consider that a child’s boredom is also a facet of their emotional experience, we become aware of how parental intervention can create a different dynamic. If you jump in with activities and ideas every time your child feels bored, you are also distracting them from feeling their sadness. When done repeatedly, your child may begin to learn that you will rescue them from their feelings because they cannot handle it, and they will likely become more dependent on you for all of their emotional needs. These unintended consequences can make it even more distressing for your child to experience feelings like sadness, disappointment, and boredom when they pop up.
Here is the best news for parents: you do not have to rescue your child from feeling bored (or sad). You can simply let them know that you understand, and that it is normal to experience boredom when there is so much time to fill. You can support their emotional development without making a ton of extra work for yourself. Time spent with their boredom will provide them with time to feel what their sadness really feels like. Plus, eventually it may just inspire them to find their own fun, get creative, and take a break from the boredom.
Now, of course, everything is best served in moderation. Some structure, routine, planned activity, and social interaction are beneficial for kids throughout their summer vacation. Just as some time for boredom is beneficial.
Summer is a time full of expectation; we look forward to it all year long and often fill it with our “best” vacations, activities, and social engagements. Sadness, in any form, can strike in the midst of even the most anticipated times—whether you are enjoying a beach-side family vacation, participating in the highest rated camp in town, or even just trying to fill the half hour before dinner, as you would any other week of the year. Though summer is thought of as a time for fun, it is not immune to sadness. Boredom, which for kids is a fairly regular summer experience, is a great opportunity to learn how to feel and manage sadness. Let it come, for nothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.