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Friday, July 18, 2008

In Support of Boredom

What can a school consultant possibly have to blog about in July? The applications are in and no one is answering the school phones. So I want to take a moment to speak in support of boredom. Letting your children make their own decisions, even the decision to do something useless is an engaged parent’s most difficult challenge.

Can you let your child have the summer afternoons to themselves? I can tell you it is torture watching them draped artfully on the furniture in their pajamas watching the same rerun of the hair-brained show they saw a month ago. How many times have I thought, “They could be working on their soccer drippling skills while listening to the Japanese tapes we got at the school silent auction! They are already in 6th grade; the SATs are right around the corner. Those Latin root words are not going to be learning themselves!” Resist the temptation to schedule the practice, the tutoring and the community service. Let them figure it out for themselves.

My lovely, enlightened friends keep bemoaning the fact that they have to drag their children to do the right thing. The grownups are afraid of wasted time, because time is so precious to them. The thing is that the only way to actually grow up to know how to use your time well is to make the mistake of wasting it every once in a while. Of course, the fear is that your children will never get out of their pajamas, ever. They will stay on the sofa watching reruns of Tyra until long after you have retired. Don’t worry. It isn’t an either/or proposition. Give them two weeks to decompress and figure out what they really want to do with their free time. If you don’t give them the space to learn to self regulate you will have to continue dragging your child to do the right thing long after it is fun or appropriate.

It is never too late to help them, but it does get harder for the parents as the children get older, because the time feels like it is running out and the stakes seem higher. So, you parents of little children, heed my warning and start early. Don’t schedule everything; give your child an opportunity to figure out how to spend some time on their own every day. Let them decide if they want the play date or not. Maybe there is a certain amount of screen time a week. If you let them think about when or how they use it. They won’t take it for granted and they will feel empowered. Check out these articles on Executive Function and then let go of schedule every once in a while: Old-Fashion Play Builds Serious Skills and Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control.

When they tell you that they are bored, say, “I remember what that is like. When you figure out what you would like to do, let me know if you need anything from me.” Then take a cup of coffee out back and watch the wind blow the trees around.

Joyce Szuflita is a working mother of twins. She has been a Brooklyn resident for 28 years. As NYC School Help, she consults with families who are doing the school search; public or private, nursery school through high school. Her aim is to save you time, clarify your priorities, present you with thorough information in a clear uniform format so that you can make an informed decision about your child's education. She takes a crazy stressful process and makes it clear and manageable. Joyce is also a regular contributor to Hip Slope Mama.