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When we make boredom a symptom that we as parents have to relieve, we inhibit much of the child’s potential for creative exploration.
‘But mummy, I’m bored.’
Words that are guaranteed to push mothers’ ‘Great Guilt’ button and stop us paying bills online, cleaning the kitchen or feeding the dog, as we make an attempt to entertain our offspring. As parents, we soon learn that ‘go and play outside’ is about as effective as ‘stop watching TV’, ‘do your homework’, or ‘have a bath and go to bed’.
It’s as if the word ‘bored’ is intended to manipulate our attention instantly. But is boredom a bad thing? My feeling is that creativity, rather than being stifled by bore-dom, needs boredom or a void if it’s to emerge. Now I’m not talking about extreme abusive sensory deprivation-type boredom, but the boredom that is born, for example, from a gap between TV and computer games, where exploration and creativity can emerge from the stillness of the mind.
As a child I spent many hours alone, often by choice and because my siblings were quite a bit older than I was. There was no TV and no computer, so I had glorious days when boredom became the precursor to a new creation. If in those still moments I conceived of some idea, the rest of the day would be spent making it happen. Complicated tree-house structures, an ‘automatic’ juice device that allowed one a delicious sip while lying in bed, a pulley system from my room to my friend’s next door to exchange secret messa-ges (no cell phones or Facebook) and home-baked treats at curfew time, boats that ran on cotton-reel motors, complicated devices constructed of wood and edible concoctions made from fresh-picked mulberries ... life was a thing of continuous creativity. (And happily still is.)
How differently might things have turned out if I had had my mind filled with technological fantasy games and my free time filled with extramurals. My ideas would never have been allowed time to come to fruition. I believe it was those hours of boredom that allowed creativity to thrive.
The common reaction to a child’s plea to be entertained is to sigh resentfully and head off to play cops and robbers, to give in to letting him/her watch TV, or to resort to some form of bribery.
WHY WE NEED SOLITUDE TO CREATEPeople seldom invent great things in corporate meetings. Nor do they get inspired to write music while playing World of Warcraft. Would Einstein have created the theory of relativity while glued to his favourite reality TV show? Or would Shakespeare have written his plays if he could have watched The X Factor? I doubt it. It is time alone that creates space for a fertile imagination to grow.
As a parent, I discovered that if the boundary between ‘Mummy is working now’ and ‘I’ll play with you at three o’clock’ was firmly in place, my daughter would find other ways to amuse herself. She would start making birthday cards with tissue paper and cardboard, invent a game with buttons, or start to build elaborate castles in the sandpit. To do so, however, she had to go through the initial process of being bored. Then when we did play together she had my full attention. Now that she’s twenty, the benefit of that time playing alone (but supervised) has produced a highly creative and motivated adult with an ability to see the world differently and who, when temporarily tired of socialising, is happy with her own company.
WHY CREATIVITY IS IMPORTANTCreativity is far more than the ability to paint a pleasing picture. To live a creative life is to live with infinite possibility. To see creative solutions where others see only problems. To find beauty in all things. To be magicians and feel empowered to create what you want in your life (instead of feeling that you have to accept what doesn’t work for you). Creativity allows us to overcome fear and move into a world of vibrancy, ‘aliveness’ and potential.
BUSY LITTLE BODIESOur children have much more in terms of entertainment today than previous generations. The schedule of the average middle- to upper-income urban five-year-old frequently looks like an IBM executive’s diary. Then, in the little free time they do have, our children watch TV, play computer games or operate sophisticated robotic toys and dolls that don’t just wet, they actually speak. Boredom arises the minute frenetic activity ceases. In spite of all the activity, parents see it as some kind of dirty word that needs to be erased by further activity. Here’s an example. A colleague of mine had a six-year-old niece who did no less than eight extramural activities a week. The child was shipped from ballet to tennis to karate to modern dancing, among others, arriving home exhausted just before supper every day. There was no time to unwind, just to lie on her bed and ponder. Life was all go, go, go. While her parents believed they were giving her everything (often sacrificing their own needs to do so), in many ways they deprived her of a vital part of becoming an integrated person – time alone.Now imagine this child as an adult. Life will be about being driven, often unsure as to the real goal. Self-worth will relate to what you do, not who you are. And success will be about earnings and what car you drive. Doing will have replaced being. Being alone also allows us time to process our emotions, rather than, when an uncomfortable feeling emerges, finding an activity to engage in as a way to avoid it.
SELF-ESTEEMEach time we create, we add to our self-esteem. Children feel good about what they create, and a certain amount of praise gives encouragement and confidence to create something new. By doing everything for them, as in when we actually colour in the picture or build the Lego model for them, we are subtly giving the message ‘you aren’t capable of this’. The struggle to do it oneself gives the reward of achievement.
I have worked hard at being fulfilled. I want my children to have a good example to follow. To do this I require time alone – it is essential to my work and wellbeing. I want them to feel fulfilled, which they can only be if they are in touch with their emotions, enjoy their own company, have a healthy self-esteem and relish their ability to be creative, whatever form they choose their creativity to manifest in. And yes, they may at times have complained that this quiet time was ‘being bored’, but I trust that the so-called ‘boredom’ will prove to have been a blessing. Creativity is born out of a void. Confidence arises, not from what has been created, but from the belief that we have what it takes to create. In the words of American novelist and essayist Susan Sontag: ‘The life of the creative man is led, directed and controlled by boredom.’
She has authored several books, including The A-Z Guide to Common Habits, The Girl Who Bites Her Nails and the Man Who is Always Late, Finding Your Feet and Climbing the Beanstalk – the Hidden Messages Found in Best-Loved Fairytales. Ann has worked as a holistic practitioner, using Reiki and Footology. She teaches a number of workshops and is also an exhibiting artist. Ann has spent over 20 years studying the mind/body connection, with habits being her particular interest.
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