The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates for the protection of
children’s unstructured playtime because of its numerous benefits, including
the development of foundational motor skills that may have lifelong benefits
for the prevention of obesity, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. Play is also one of the principal ways in which children develop understanding, explore conflict, and rehearse emotional and social skills. A child's language is play. Unfortunately, in the world we live in, well-intentioned parents often feel pressure to sign children up for multiple structured enrichment activities such as music lessons, tutoring, etc. When you combine these structured activities with all of the structured time spent in school and then out of school doing homework, the children have hardly any free time left. Yet it is during their free time that children learn how to take risks, how to solve boredom, how to connect socially, and how to problem solve with others.
For example, picture a brother and a sister who are home and decide to play “lava”. They have to agree on certain rules for jumping over the lava (aka the floor). They have to negotiate, and they use their creativity to make up the world that is in their shared imagination. A younger sibling may let the older sibling take charge, but eventually the younger child will want to add in an extra rule and have to stand up to the older sibling. These siblings have learned negotiation, creativity, compromise, navigating risk, and how to summon courage. Children need to develop these skills as children, or we are setting them up to be teenagers and adults that feel anxious when they have to make decisions or engage in anything risky.
So the next time your child says, “I’m bored!”, you can pat yourself on the back, resist the urge to alleviate the boredom, walk away and know that this is going to be an important time in your child’s development.