Imagine: This summer vacation, don’t be afraid to let kids be bored

Kids need to be bored. Stillness and solitude is essential to their growth and it is a milestone they have to cross to reach a rich inner life of contemplation and creativity.

summer vacation, kids free play


The other day I met a young mother who has two little kids and in our conversation, I asked her an innocuous question (or that’s what I thought): “What are you doing these summer holidays?” Her breathless answer left me reeling. In the six weeks that the kids were off school, she had signed them for workshops, planned a holiday abroad which would fit in summer camps, get back home for creative writing classes and finish homework and summer projects. And did I tell you that she had come to meet me as she felt that she was not doing enough for her kids? I could just gape in wonder as she wrung her hands with guilt wondering what else she could fit in their schedule so that “they could get the best out of their summer holidays” and “not be bored”.

Why are we so afraid of our children becoming bored? It is as if in some ways it shows how inadequate we have been as parents. The child has to just mutter the words “I am bored” for the parents to go into panic mode and start belting out, “Why don’t you…?” “Lets do…”, “I can make…”, till the time the bored monster is restrained and muted with frenzied activity.

No wonder our children’s lives are becoming more and more about seeking excitement. Those little hungry brains, hands and eyes are always looking for steady dose of highs that can keep them buzzing. As parents, we feel we are failing them if we are not providing it to them constantly.

On one hand, it burns us out as we are constantly on the go – planning, organising, ferrying them and on the other hand, it deprives our children of downtime – time to do nothing and just be.

I grew up in a small town in the mountains where school holidays were relished to the last day. And when I look back and try to figure out what I really did during that stretch of three months, I am at a complete loss. However, the images are so clear in my mind that if I close my eyes, I am there. Lugging the books to our favourite nook in the hills, spending the whole day reading, chatting, singing, dreaming, giggling, eating, finding shapes and stories in the clouds, trudging back home again in the evening to start all over again the next morning. Eventless, but hugely nourishing.

It is different now, isn’t it? The mention of summer holiday sends most parents into a panic. And in no time, we have a tight schedule ready for the six weeks looming ahead of us. Theatre workshops, music classes, swimming coaching, summer camps, tennis crash courses. The options are many and we start filling up their days with hectic schedules, which could be the envy of any army general. It releases us of any sense of guilt and we can go on with our regular lives, safe in the knowledge that “at least they are doing something constructive”. But are they?

Drip versus dazzle

There is a cluster of neurons in the brain called ‘nucleus accumbens’ which moderates the dopamine levels in our system. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter for reward, thrill and happiness in our brain (that is what is firing when you bite into your favourite chocolate). Now a child brought up on “dripping dopamine” tolerates boredom well and learns to seek it from within, digging deep to connect to his or her creativity, flight of imagination and resourcefulness. She could take to reading, painting, dreaming, plotting stories, basically contended to “be”.

On the other hand, a child brought up on constant “dazzling dopamine” is averse to boredom and constantly craves that buzz from the external world — video games, checking Instagram likes, adventure parks, new toys, travel to exciting places — the lack of which causes frustration and despair. This can become a problem as it is exhausting for their systems without any downtime for restoration or repair.

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