Boredom, imagination, and childhood

daydreaming sockmonkey

daydreaming sockmonkey (Photo credit: Sarabbit)

 

I read this article about children and imagination and, since one of my goals as a parent is helping my children have the same ability to fill hours with daydreams that I had, it caught my notice. Parents have many reasons for the things we want for our children, and often there’s at least some narcissism where we wish for them to resemble us. In this case–my hope that they can daydream and fantasize as much as I did–it isn’t narcissism; it’s just realizing how much empty time there is in life that we can fill more enjoyably with imagination than with any alternative. It’s also the reason I carry my kindle with me when I expect a long wait. It makes the long wait something to appreciate instead of something to resent or get stressed over, which is a nice quality-of-life improvement in a world that sometimes involves a lot of waiting. Daydreaming was helpful in filling the long empty summer hours of my childhood. Unfortunately, double-edged-swordlike, it also filled more elementary school hours than it should have, was a very effective form of procrastination in later school years, and helped me terrify myself with horrible possibilities whenever I was left home alone at night and saw a shadow outside or whenever someone was ten minutes late picking me up from school. I’d like to spare my children the nightmares I gave myself imagining axe murderers outside my window, but I think it’s a price worth paying for having a nice fantasy life. This article refers to studies that suggest that having such a fantasy life is actually even more useful than I expected in that it apparently encourages people to plan better for the future and show more responsible, delayed-gratification behaviors now. Who knew? All the more reason I hope to encourage their imaginations. (Plus, I actually know the psychologist they cite, though he probably doesn’t remember me, which makes me feel in-the-know and connected in a way I rarely experience!)

 

Encouraging kids’ imaginations is tougher than wanting it, though, and I often wonder how well I’m doing. As with curiosity and a wish to learn, I think one of the biggest things a parent can do for imagination is to just get out of the way. Kids are curious and imaginative without any encouragement. The question is how to get them to stay that way. That’s not to say that they can’t be encouraged to even more creativity, but I think if I can manage to avoid damaging their curiosity and creativity and love of learning, then I’ve done them more good than any games or tricks could do. And one of the main ways I get out of the way and let them be creative is by letting them be bored. Bored kids can be a real challenge to a parent’s peace of mind. They bicker with each other. They bicker with us. They make messes and go through closets and raid the kitchen and whine and do all sorts of things that can be irritating to parents, and so it’s very tempting to fill their days so they won’t drive us bonkers. I certainly don’t think we parents should just leave them home with nothing to do and nowhere to go and no one to play with and think we’re doing them a big favor. I’m not advocating for doing nothing all the time, just for doing nothing some of the time. They’re out of school for the summer, and I don’t have them in summer camp because I think it’s good for them to have unstructured time when they don’t have entertainment handed to them pre-planned by adults, when they have to think of what to do and who to do it with and how to do it. Maybe it won’t help them at all and I’m just giving them long hours of boredom, but I hope that I’m giving them practice at motivating themselves, entertaining themselves, and planning for themselves.

 

Did you have an overactive imagination in childhood too? What made you daydream then? What about now? Do you think boredom helps? How do you encourage your kids’ creativity? Do you think they’re better off being scheduled and stimulated or left to their own devices or somewhere in between?

 

No time to daydream? Why imagination is still key for kids – TODAY.com.

 

In defense of helicopter parents

It’s all the rage these days to vilify helicopter parents. They annoy colleges and high schools and elementary schools and coaches and principals and teachers and college admission officers. They handicap their children by hovering and preventing them from having freedom or responsibility or new experiences or failure. They make all the other parents irrationally defensive as we try explaining why we aren’t bad parents if we let our kids walk to the library  alone or have a fight with a friend without our intervening with suggested solutions or send in a college essay on a topic of their own choosing. We’ve all heard the outrageous helicopter parent stories. I read an article last week about how American parents are all overprotective. None of us let our children ride their bikes or go to the store or use a knife or pour their own drinks, while parents everywhere else do, and so our children are growing up to be infantile, helpless followers with low self-esteem. Or so this article claims. I let my children do those things, and I’m American, so the article can’t be completely right, but I get the point.

I agree that it’s unhealthy for parents to be overprotective or too intrusive into their children’s lives and that helicopter parents ARE overprotective and too intrusive. If ever a helicopter parent there was, my  mother-in-law is one because…Her youngest child is now 29, and as far as I know, my husband is the only one of the four who has actually bought his own car, and then, only because I told him to tell her to leave us alone. She calls to remind us to write thank-you notes. She sent me an article about frostbite when she thought my oldest son was underdressed for the cold, and she has lectured me on various health issues in complete disregard of the fact that I’m a DOCTOR!  She cannot be in my house without taking over the parenting of both my kids and my husband and me, and she cannot remember to knock before entering my house. For heaven’s sake, when my husband thought he might have a problem with grinding his teeth, she spoke to her dentist about it and then called us with potential appointment times for him the see her dentist. The important thing is that she means well. She isn’t trying to control. She isn’t trying to intrude. She just wants to help, and what makes her happy is working on behalf of her children. She has hovered over all four of them, and they have all turned out to be happy, healthy, productive people with healthy, supportive relationships, good jobs that they enjoy and find fulfilling, and nurtured and loved children. All her children have grown into the kind of adults that parents hope their children will be. She didn’t ruin them, contrary to all the dire predictions in the helicopter-parent hate literature. Is she too intrusive? Yes, except when they tell her to mind her own business. Does she do things for them that any normal adult should do for themselves? Yes, except when they tell her not to. She means well. She loves her children. She has to be reminded to give them space, but she does it when she’s reminded. There are worse things in a parent than caring too much. There are worse things than doing too much for your children, protecting them too much from pain and illness and cruel people. There are worse things than taking too much interest in their lives and their friends and their education. It’s all the rage to vilify helicopter parents. How about accepting their good intentions while trying to convince them to ease the iron grip on their children’s lives and vilifying the parents who just don’t care?

An Accomplished Woman

My kids are better than I am. I don’t mean they’re better looking, cuter, smarter, more fun, funnier, nicer, or just generally better, though they are all those things. They’re more efficient. Here’s my proof.

What I’ve accomplished in the past few days- aside from the essentials like grocery shopping, meal prep, cleanup, and driving to and from school.

  1. Place scholastic book club order
  2. Write this post (though, I should note, I don’t have time to finish it today, so it won’t be published until days after I’m writing it- does it still count as an accomplishment?)
  3. Waste obscenely large amounts of time trying to do worthwhile things and failing

I would list taking my kids to the park as a success except

  1. it’s really one of the essentials I’ve excluded from the list. Taking them outside to play on a playground should be a given, not an accomplishment.
  2. it ended with a broken arm.

What I have NOT accomplished

  1. Two failed attempts to place said scholastic book club order online before calling customer service for help. Silly me, I was using the wrong browser.
  2. One read-aloud e-book purchase for my six-year-old, only to discover that this e-book doesn’t have the read-aloud feature, which was the ONLY reason I was buying it instead of borrowing the book from the library
  3. Failed search for a deleted e-mail from my oldest son’s teacher. My e-mail program is set on an overly enthusiastic empty-trash schedule, so all the previous deleted messages, including the one I needed, are gone. This wouldn’t be a problem if the school sent their messages to the e-mail address I TOLD them to use–once on paper and twice by phone–instead of the one I have told them not to use, but I’m afraid to correct them again, lest I have to add that attempt to my list of failures.
  4. Fail to download songs for my toddler to a toy that’s supposed to support these downloads but doesn’t
  5. Failed search all over the house for the toy money that goes with the toy cash register
  6. Failed search for one kindle
  7. Make a lot of ready-to-do activities and projects for my two youngest children. Okay, I did accomplish that–I actually made the games and activities–but they don’t want to do them, so it counts as a fail.

By contrast, here’s what my kids have accomplished

  1. Break two bones
  2. Erase my dry-erase calendar for this month
  3. Make several picture books which they sold to my husband (pushover) for $1 each
  4. Glue advertisements for their books and their bookstore to my kitchen cabinets. Glue, not tape. They used tape to make the books and glue to hang the posters. Why?
  5. Spoil one batch of rice by opening the rice cooker before it was done
  6. Tear twenty pages out of one book
  7. Distribute one rock collection throughout one room
  8. Lose one kindle
  9. Extract one box from the garbage three times, each time scolding me not to throw it away
  10.  Empty all the clothes out of one closet and two dressers three times
  11. Steal an iPad and watch cartoons on Netflix behind my back three time for a total of two hours

See how much more effective my children are than I am? Where was I while they were doing all this stuff? I’m not sure. I was probably putting clothes back in the closet, or trying to salvage dinner, or on the phone with customer support.

I think I should start counting those bare essentials–feeding everyone, keeping them all reasonably safe (broken bones aside), taking them to the park, driving to and from school, reading to them, playing with them, cleaning up after them, arguing with them to get them to clean up after themselves, intervening in fights, watching tricks, listening to stories, answering questions, hugging and kissing and cuddling and bathing and dressing and generally adoring them. When I think of it that way, I don’t feel like such a failure. Maybe that’s a lesson we parents must learn.

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