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Boredom

Air Date: 09/28/10 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723, or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net.Sometimes, in the middle of a particularly hectic week, I find myself thinking that it would be refreshing to feel bored to have nothing to do and nothing but empty time to fill with all those things I really love and never seem to get around to. I do remember being bored as a kid, though. I usually felt bored during the long, hot days at the end of summer, when camps were over, my stack of library books had dwindled, swimming and art lessons had ended and everyone felt limp and lethargic. I would occasionally whine to my mom about my boredom but eventually I learned not to do that. My mom was great at coming up with things for me to do. Unfortunately, they usually looked more like chores than fun. As far as I can tell, though, kids these days complain about boredom all the time, not just occasionally. They're bored at home; they're bored in the classroom. They're bored at soccer practice. If they have to go to mom or dad's office, they're bored there. They're bored in restaurants and bored in the car and bored on vacation. And when they're bored, they expect parents to provide entertainment, which may include a shopping trip or some sort of new gadget. Is modern life really all that boring, or has something changed for us and our kids? I think (and research seems to support the idea) that our children have become used to having our undivided attention and to having every media and technological marvel at their disposal. Anything that doesn't devote 100% attention to them, complete with whistles, bells, and flashing lights is "boring." Bo-ooo-ooo-ring. School, with its hours of talking teachers and pages of worksheets, is especially boring. How is it, I wonder, that my friends and I lacked video game consoles, laptop computers, iPads, iPods, and iPhones, and still were rarely bored? What has changed? I suspect boredom begins in the crib. Most of the young parents I know feel obligated to talk to, play with, and carry their infants full-time. For some, this grows out of a sense of guilt about working or being otherwise occupied for much of their baby's day, but I think most parents today believe that good parenting requires them to be joined to their babies at the hip literally. If you watch an infant closely, however, you'll notice that babies send signals when they're overstimulated or need some time to rest. They break eye contact and look away, or they may fuss softly. Wise parents learn to smile, give a gentle hug or pat, and leave Baby to calm himself down. Many parents, however, continue playing, talking, feeding, and carrying. Even baby carriers these days play tinny music and vibrate. Eventually, babies stop sending these signals because no one is paying attention; instead of learning to soothe themselves, they learn to depend on others to meet every need. If your baby is fussing, consider trying an experiment. Make sure his physical needs are met and that he isn't hungry, wet, or sick. If all seems well, put him on a blanket or in an infant seat where he can see and hear you. Wander by occasionally and give him a gentle touch, a smile, and some warm words, but otherwise leave him to entertain himself. He may discover how to calm himself down, fall asleep unassisted, or play happily with a rattle or his toes all by himself. If you do all the playing and soothing for him, guess what he's learning for the future? Okay, now fast-forward about 10 years. That baby has become a child who has no idea how to entertain himself and looks to you for stimulation and excitement. He is you guessed it chronically bored. And it's not entirely his doing. Learning to fill up empty minutes and find ways to entertain oneself is a skill that, like so many others, must be consciously taught and learned. When your child is a toddler, you can practice leaving him to play on his own with his toys (I'm guessing he has lots) or books; you can make crayons and paper available, or leave the pot-and-pan drawer or pantry open so he can explore and stack. As he gets older, you can actively encourage creative play by providing old clothes and shoes, big boxes, and props. Send him outside in the fresh air. Turn off the TV and computer (you knew I was going to say that, didn't you?) and help your child grow his imagination. As long as there are things like dirt and bugs and books and colors and music and friends, no child should be bored for long. If all else fails, offer to "let" him help you do dishes or clean the bathroom. I bet he finds something else to do in a big hurry. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.