There are two phrases that I have heard around here a lot this summer:
1. I’m bored
2. I’m hungry
My reply to both statements has been the same. I was kind of surprised the first time the response came out of my mouth, but I liked it, so I have gone with the same reply as often as I remember.
I just say “That’s okay.”
I don’t try to fix their emotional state or offer a bunch of suggestions to remedy the “problem”. I don’t give them something to do or something to eat. I just say “That’s okay” in an upbeat / “Don’t worry about it” tone of voice.
Of course, my kids hate my response. It is not what they expect and they do not think it is helpful. They often yell “Mom!” in a “What are you going to do about it?” tone of voice — which gives me an opportunity to explain my thinking.
My “That’s okay” response stems from my new-found belief that it is okay for children to be bored and it is okay for them to be hungry. As moms so often we swoop in to save the day whenever our kids are the slightest bit uncomfortable. (It reminds me of how I used to pull over every time my first born would cry in the car.) But now I get that NOT catering to their every inconvenience is better for their growth in the long run.
Boredom isn’t a sickness or a bad thing or a lack in character. Boredom can actually be a blessing. It is in these “bored” moments that kids learn to be creative and ingenious and they learn to navigate down time. If parents have kids programmed and scheduled every minute of every day, they aren’t going to know how to fill time with appropriate activities. They won’t be self directed or self starters. Great minds and great ideas can be born from boredom. And if nothing else, the uncomfortable feeling of boredom may be the reminder your child needs to stay involved and engaged.
Here is an excerpt from a book I’ve been reading that mirrors my exact thoughts:
“Don’t forget that boredom can be a very useful state of mind. It’s often the harbinger of a growth spurt and will be followed by a child’s most amazing project to date. Or it may be an antidote to previous overactivity — a chance to veg out, recover, assimilate what’s gone on before. Don’t be too quick to jump in with activities for the child who says she’s bored …. there’s a lot to be said for learning to find one’s way out of boredom.”
Just like it’s okay to feel bored, it’s also okay to feel hungry. According to the book French Kids Eat Everything , feeling hunger pains is actually a good thing.
The author points out that it’s OK to feel hungry between meals. The French believe that “Hunger is the best seasoning.” The premise being that food tastes better when you’re hungry, and kids will eat more “real” food when they’re hungry. If kids have had a bunch of pretzels and goldfish all afternoon of course they aren’t going to be hungry enough to eat broccoli. So snacking can be a detriment to healthy eating.
The book also explains that it’s good for kids to learn how to handle the feeling of hunger. It’s good for them to learn that it is not the end of the world. They can survive another half hour until dinner. If children are unfamiliar with hunger they may become adults who feel the need to eat something at the first hunger twang instead of waiting for the next meal.
If you want more information on French Kids Eat Everything, here is a book review on my favorite real food blog.
So when my kids say “I’m bored” or “I’m hungry” I just say “That’s okay.” because giving a bunch of solutions makes it seem like they actually had a problem in the first place.