If you’ve ever read the family-friendly Little House on the Prairie series, or Anne Pellowski’s “Catholic Little House” series, have you noticed that boredom is never mentioned?
“Boredom” was rare a century ago, simply because children were valued not only as gifts made in the image of God, but also for their necessary participation in the well-being of the family. This participation included daily labors that often began before sunrise and ended only at bedtime. After several hours of “chores,” children were rarely bored in their free time. And those chores contributed to their interior growth. (CCC 1700)
Even though they lived often-menial lives, do you suppose Our Lord and Lady were ever bored? No, because all that they did they did for someone else. That is, whether sweeping up sawdust or perhaps baking bread for a sick neighbor, their work was dedicated to the greater glory of God, in the service of others. “Serviam!” I will serve!
Boredom, therefore, can be a spiritual problem, an expression of “Non-serviam!” –I will not serve.
Boredom can present as an unwillingness to do an activity that might take some effort: washing dishes is boring; spelling is boring; TV is not boring. (Interestingly, watching TV and movies can exacerbate the problem of boredom or an inability to self-entertain, for passive TV-viewing requires neither imagination nor “self-investment.”)
Further, the desire to be entertained rather than use one’s own imagination is closely associated with “being bored.” This “boredom,” however, is often selective; productive, virtuous use of the child’s time–e.g., reading to a sibling, doing a chore, or helping a neighbor–are rejected as options. Instead, the “bored” child seeks activities that cater to his own whims.
The good news is that children can learn to entertain themselves, rather than expecting to be entertained; to be self-directed, rather than being inactive or dissatisfied in the absence of direction; and to see moments of “boredom” as opportunities for gainful, joyful activity that brings happiness to others and to the one offering service.
When gainful activity replaces boredom, the dignity of the child is enhanced; as he labors for others, he learns to recognize the image of God in them, and also in himself.
Antidotes to Boredom
When a child indicates that he is bored or wants to be entertained, choose a “regular” activity for the child. (It is important that parent chooses the activity, as the child has just indicated that he doesn’t want to find a way to entertain himself.) Set a timer for three minutes for each year of the child’s age. The child must play with that “regular” activity for the designated time before any “new” option is considered. When the time is up, praise the child for entertaining himself.
Reading: aloud by a parent if the child is too young, or self-directed reading, opens new worlds to the child’s imagination. While the reading itself is entertaining, wholesome, character-building stories often set the stage for self-directed play that will spontaneously follow reading time.
Create a list of activities. Cut index cards in half; print one play activity on each 1/2 card, e.g., dress-up box; pipe cleaner play; finger paints in the bathtub. For every activity, include a card with the words, “How can I help?” Put all the cards in a jar. When children say that they are bored, they draw one “play” card of their choice from the jar, but they also must draw one “How can I help?” card. The child takes the card to either parent and asks, “How can I help?” The child is then assigned a job, e.g., empty the wastebaskets; wash the bathroom sink; wash the stove top, etc. After completing the job well, the child may then do the activity on the “play” card.
Finally, please pray for our staff and our authors as we work to serve you, our CHC families. We rely on you, too; your prayers and sacrifices keep us going!
Commending your families, and the new school year, to Our Lord at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,