Ask Maxwell: What’s The Importance of Boredom?

published Jul 11, 2022
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Credit: A Prairie Home Companion
My favorite story of all time about BOREDOM is in this compilation from 2010 by Garrison Keillor. It's called Dog Days of August and it's an amazing story that starts off with the lines "Boring, boring, boring..." :)

This summer my son keeps complaining that he’s bored and it’s driving us crazy. We’re trying to keep him off his video games. Isn’t it good to be bored as a kid?

Paul & Grace

Dear Paul and Grace,

Yep, boredom is really good for kids, but it’s because it usually precedes them breaking through into the next phase, which is deep interest and/or presence with something that they’re doing. We all lead pretty structured lives, kids in particular, and that means that most things that kids do are planned from them and keep them stimulated and moving – and they don’t get to make their own choices or let their minds wander and see where they will go on their own. Boredom really means that nothing is stimulating them or planned or coming “at” them and their own inner forces of imagination and will power are stymied… they are unused to it.


Because what happens when you get stuck in this uncomfortable space is that the mind begins to wander and it begins to make associations of its own, without outside interference or parents telling them what to do OR screens that lead them through an artificial drama. YES, this is at first uncomfortable for kids (adults too), but if they stay in it and get used to it, it rapidly becomes less uncomfortable and leads to an inner stillness followed by INNER STIMULATION – their own stimulation or creative impulse – that begins to lead them in a new direction totally on their own.

In schools, very young children are often taught by NOT giving them things to do, but letting them choose from an array of activities that are in front of them. Often, children, even in this situation will ask the teacher for something “to do” but the point is to let them wander into it and make their own play. In school teacher jargon this is called “independent” or “self directed” play and represents a very important stage of a child’s growth and it ultimately very empowering.

Boredom is by nature uncomfortable, but the only way to break through is to let your child “stew” in it until they break through, and if they do it again and again, they’ll get good at it. 🙂

If you want to hear the BEST story of a kid being bored and then having his imagination take over, one of my favorite News from Lake Wobegon stories is just about this. It’s called Dog Days of August and you can find it right here.

Enjoy a Boring Summer!

Best, M

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Maxwell Ryan is a father and was an elementary school teacher in NYC before founding Apartment Therapy. He’d love to answer your question: This piece was created for Cubby, our weekly newsletter for families at home. Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids.

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