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Something Important

Everyone needs something important in their life.  Even children.  Having something important promotes a sense of self worth and accomplishment, and adds a unique enthusiasm to daily living that can be found in no other way.  It is also a great deterrent to boredom, which is reaching epidemic proportions in today’s children. Parents from all walks of life are frequently baffled at how – in a society that has more for a child to see and do than any other time in history – they have to spend so much time and money trying to solve this problem.

Boredom is a vague word.  It can mean anything from, “I want to do something different” to “I would appreciate a little more attention from you,” and many other variations, in between.  It can even mean a child isn’t feeling well that day, and nothing will satisfy.  Parents seem to spend a great deal of time playing the guessing game of trying to figure out which one of these situations applies in a given instance.  Many of these kinds of discussions can lead to frustrations, irritability, and disagreements; most of which are due entirely to the fact that the child doesn’t seem to know anymore of what the “problem” is, than the parent does.  And a large percentage of these interactions end without settling anything, at all.

Which in turn, leads to frustrations, irritability, and disagreements.

One of the most common problems with today’s pastimes is that they don’t meet all the criteria for being a worthwhile “something to do.”  And it is surprising to note that on a scale from one to a hundred, most popular children’s activities hang around the twenties and thirties.  Which is usually enough to sustain a child’s interest for a certain length of time, but not enough to leave them feeling satisfied.  Children – though great at expressing dissatisfaction – aren’t nearly as accurate when it comes to explaining why.  Mostly because childhood is a very rapid, one-time trip, and by the time they have barely figured out a few things about life-in-general, they are already plummeting headlong into another stage of development, where many of the important factors either change or get rearranged.  Like being allowed to do something at the age of five, that becomes totally unacceptable at the age of ten. 

It’s hard enough to figure things out when you’re a kid, without having to understand something a parent has difficulty explaining, too.  And very few children are in any position to be able to solve this dilemma themselves, even if they could figure things out.  After all, not being independently mobile until they reach driving age, the only things they have to work with are the things at hand.  Past generations have skirted most of the issue by giving their children a substantial amount of freedom to roam and play outdoors, which those of us who live in the cities and suburbs tend to curtail.  That’s because human predators have taken a major lead over any predators in the natural world.  In fact, there is very little of the “natural world” left for the ordinary child to run free in.

But the truth is, nature is a great babysitter.  Not only are there endless interesting things to look at, touch and explore, the outside has a way of softening the noisy rambunctiousness of youth without curtailing it.  The outside atmosphere is perfectly capable of absorbing the loudest whistle, the wildest hoop and holler, and the utmost limits of a child’s physical and mental needs.  It soothes like no parent can, through the shear contentment of being “in it.”  At any age.  And though not all of us have access to such benefits, we can take a closer look at them, to find out some of the “essentials” of truly satisfying pastimes, so that we can implement them in our homes in somewhat similar ways. 

Following is a list of those essentials that can help you make better choices for your children during times of boredom. 

¨      Newness.  Experiencing something different is one of the most compelling drives of human nature.  To do something different refreshes and stimulates at the same time, and has a tendency to be so rewarding that one tends to want to experience “newness” over and over, again.  This is the feeling many parents stumble over when it comes to shopping.  The common complaint of, “No matter how much I buy him, he’s not satisfied!  It’s never enough – the toy box is overflowing already, and he still wants something else!”  tends to make parents feel like they’re doing something wrong, when in fact, they’re doing something very right.  However, it isn’t the individual thing the child wants more of, it’s the newness.  The misunderstandings lie in parents thinking this kind of satisfaction only comes from things that are bought.  There are many other ways to experience new things besides spending money, that have the very same satisfaction a new toy or treat, has… simply because it’s different. 

¨      Interesting.  It’s easy to capture a child’s attention, especially since the advent of our modern visual media.  But interest is attention sustained… which is not the same thing as a series of quick-changing images that keep one locked into that first stage of attraction, over and over, again.  To come out of a prolonged period of this kind is like waking out of a dream, and often leaves a child feeling unsettled and irritable.  That’s because the deeper part of the brain where true interest penetrates, is never stimulated, which often results in feelings of frustration and “acting out” behaviors.  A child may not know that he needs more time to explore something, but as a parent, you can provide that for him… with surprising effects. 

¨      Worthwhile.  A great percentage of children’s activities in a single day, are not really worthwhile.  Just because a child will sit through the same video that she has already seen twenty times, long enough for you to finish making dinner, does not prove that she got enough satisfaction out of the experience.  Not that there is anything wrong with it, only there are so many more things she could have done with that time that would have been more beneficial… for both her, and you.  Like participating in some small (age appropriate) way in what you are doing, or doing something she has never done before.  The only time a child will naturally be driven to do something over and over, is when there is a skill to be mastered.  After that, they will be interested to get better at it, or go on to something else, if it is no longer sufficiently stimulating. 

¨      Socially Interactive.  Interaction with others is stimulating both mentally and emotionally.  Reasoning, communication skills, tolerance, and compassion for others, can all be enhanced through social interaction.  Although the word “interactive” has come to be dominated by the computer world, the programs offered by machines do not require the same scope of response that another real person does.  Not that there can’t be much learned by such programs.  The danger lies in relying solely on the programs, when the need to communicate with others is just as strong for children as it is for adults.  And as much as we strive toward raising up “independent” children, there aren’t many of us who would really be satisfied with what the definition of that word truly entails.  If it did, our picture of complete success would be to achieve hermit status. 

¨      Lasting.   Just because children are little, underdeveloped people, doesn’t mean that they are not only capable – but need – to participate in things that last.  Or, that the projects you do with them can only last the duration of a single sitting.  An ongoing project (by themselves or with the whole family) can be a deeply satisfying experience.  Many such things have paved the way for life-long interests – and even professions – later on.  A mural, a model, a garden, or a hobby, are only a few of the many fun things that fall into this category. 

¨      Self-expressive.  One of the strongest and most important interest-generators is something that fits the individuality and personality of your child, as if it were made for them.  If you notice a tendency toward certain activities or subjects, make an effort to provide them with the resources to explore further.  Many of our most productive and successful citizens were “practicing” their future professions as children… usually to the surprise of their parents. 

Having something “important” to do during times of boredom, does not always mean some huge undertaking that warrants more time and effort than you would ever have as a busy, modern-day parent.  It simply means to be more discriminating about the way your children are spending their time.  If the largest portion of their time is spent never getting out of the “attraction” stage of mentally and physically doing things themselves, then make an effort to bring things back into a better balance by limiting these “low stimulus” activities to only about twenty to thirty percent of their free time, instead of all of it.  Fill in the rest by providing them with something “important” to do. 

Many times, you can make something seem more important by acting like it’s important, yourself.  Does your son’s rendition of the hundredth space ship constructed from the same fifty-piece set of Legos elicit nothing more than a, “That’s nice, hon,” from you?  Drum up some enthusiasm! Tell him he could very well be a budding engineer, and make it a point to supplement his interest with space books and space puzzles, or a trip to a local museum to look at real space things, once in awhile.  He might never become the next head of NASA, but he will derive hours on end of pleasure – not only from his little inventions – but from your belief in him that he has it “in him” to do something big someday.   

Something important.

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