“I’m gaining a lot more respect for teachers and their patience, because it’s hard to teach kids,” he says. “It’s been good for me as well. It’s helped me, I think, become a better parent.”
This quote is taken from a Guardian article exploring the implications of the lockdown in Italy. As I write I am acutely aware that I have it ‘relatively easy’. My daughter is an adult and hopefully on her way home to us, but I am used to working from home, we have a little garden and terrace and enough provisions. We are ‘doing alright’ to a great extent. I am missing the human connection of being with friends, our parent and toddler group and my mindfulness classes, but on the whole ‘all is well’.
For parents with younger children though I can only begin to imagine the effects of this lockdown on family life. Routines shot out the window, being together 24/7, little or no outside space and maybe accommodation that isn’t really designed for 24 hour occupation, teaching and entertainment. It is tough, especially with the added psychological burden of concern over the CoVid19 virus and the economic implications. There are real concerns here for the mental health of parents and family members at this time. So how can this temporary, though probably protracted phase of our lives become an opportunity?
Acceptance, curiosity and creativity are the antidotes to a stressful situation. We are amazingly resilient and have a great psychological flexibility that allows us to seek the ‘silver lining’. We may find some resistance, especially from our teenage children, but if we push through, all family members will become closer in this crisis and come to value the seemingly mundane so much more.
So I suspect one of the most frequent words in the household in these early days of lockdown is “I’m bored”.
"Kate Greene, a freelance journalist who spent four months in Hawaii on a simulated Mars mission for NASA, has written: ‘On Mars I learned that boredom has two sides – it can either rot the mind or rocket it to new places’” (ref BPS article).
The main issue for us as parents is that we do not know how long this lockdown or variations of will last, it’s easy to get caught up with “but how many more days?”. If we can focus on the present moment and release ourselves from the ‘what if’ scenarios, we have an opportunity to ‘rocket to new places’.
The BPS article goes on to say “Mann also believes it is important for children to be bored. ‘Unlike so many parents today, I am quite happy when my kids whine that they are bored! Finding ways to amuse themselves is an important skill.’” Notice that the emphasis though is on the children finding ways to amuse themselves.
The article goes on to add “Phillips argues that the process of being bored and finding an escape from that aversive state can be a developmental achievement for a child……. The usual reaction of parents to bored children – rushing around to try to find them a way to occupy their mind – is misguided:
How often, in fact, the child’s boredom is met by that most perplexing form of disapproval, the adult’s wish to distract him – as though the adults have decided that the child’s life must be, or be seen to be, endlessly interesting. It is one of the most oppressive demands of adults that the child should be interested, rather than take time to find what interests him. Boredom is integral to the process of taking one’s time.’
“Boredom is integral to the process of taking one’s time”. During the lockdown we have all been given ‘extra time’ and this may be a silver lining – time to reconnect with each other, time to help our children discover for themselves how to ‘escape from the aversive state of boredom’.
I have shared lots of free websites, links etc on Facebook for ‘things to do with your kids during lockdown’. In itself this is not a bad thing – its help with connecting to the wider world and sharing our ideas, but the problem comes when we impose these ideas on our children. So one useful step may be to scroll through the ideas with our children and to let them choose which activities seem appealing.
However, John Eastwood points out the dangers of resorting to the quick fixes of more TV, computer games or social media to overcome boredom: ‘We turn to quick and easy ways to banish it, we play a video game or turn the music up or (go to) a movie. All these things are effective in the short term, we become engaged and we’re no longer bored. But when that movie ends or the music stops, there’s an even greater chasm of boredom. It’s like a drug, an addiction, we need more and more intense stimulation to stave off boredom. I’m wondering whether these short-term solutions are making us more prone to boredom… If we view ourselves as vessels just searching for our next “hit” of the drug of distraction we don’t learn who we are or how to connect. Learning to be OK with a lack of stimulation is an important life skill: when we are quiet and by ourselves it gives us a chance to get in touch with our feelings and needs, and this experience can arm us with the information we need to go out and connect with the world.’
The lockdown is challenging, but with a positive mindset we can celebrate our creativity, encourage our children to take ownership of their boredom and listen carefully to their suggestions. This is a temporary opportunity to explore our own parenting styles and how we too respond to the notion of boredom, hopefully rocketing to new places. Keep safe and well.