What do I tell my kids when they’re bored?
This interview is from A Kids Book About: The Podcast, with host Matthew Winner and author of A Kids Book About Boredom, Kyle Steed. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
What is boredom?
Boredom for me is this magical power that we all...
Sometimes I don't even know that we think we have it. And if we do recognize it, I think oftentimes we try and we try and get rid of it. It's like this, this gum on the bottom of our shoe that just won't go away.
It's kind of like what boredom is. And I think the more that we get curious with boredom, the more we start to uncover, it's a real gift to us in life.
Boredom! Boredom might be the very reason that brought this episode today. That feeling that your brain is not being stimulated and you just want to find something to do or engage with to light up your brain again, to pass the time, to just do something because you're frustrated at the feeling of doing nothing. Or of doing the same thing for so long that you’ve lost interest.
So, of course, I had to ask Kyle his thoughts on why we get bored.
That's a great question. Uh, so I can speak only from my own experience. You know, as growing up like most other children, and I recognize, you know, there are certain privileges I had growing up.
I mean, I had a mother growing up. I was raised by a single mom, mostly, but even within that, you know, I didn't do a lot of extracurricular [activities]. I played baseball. I did some of the team sports things, but it's in those moments, right. It's in the moments between the rest of life happening that boredom finds us.
And it's like that, “Mom, I'm bored. Dad, I'm bored.” I hear that so often at home and the most common thing now that I like to respond to is, “It's okay to be bored.” And then that's immediately met with like, Ugh, like this just there's like this angst, there's this unsettling feeling with being a child that like, go, go, go, you know, they're sponges. It's like as a child, you absorb everything—you want to be entertained.
And now more than ever do we have every available opportunity to fill all those gaps with media, with things to do.
Yeah, it's a real conundrum, isn't it? Because we're not really taught it, but it just kind of comes along with the whole package of the human experience.
Oof! A conundrum is right!
The phrase, “I’m bored” is said at least once a day by at least two people in my house, on any given day. And when I hear that, I usually take it to be a problem that needs to be solved.
And yet, Kyle said at the start of this episode that boredom can be a positive thing. Let’s unpack that, shall we?
In my experience, the feeling, the weightiness that, like, achiness, that heaviness of feeling bored, it can feel really hard. It can feel hard because… it's almost like you step into this void, this empty space and you're left really to your own imagination. And that's where I think we can cross that bridge into this magical land of all things are possible, but you really have to be willing to engage with yourself and with what you have around you when you're bored.
‘Cause oftentimes it's like a feeling of lack. Like I wish I could do this. I wish I could do that. I wish I had X, Y, and Z that I don't have, instead of sitting and appreciating, [looking] at all the wonderful things that are with me. And maybe that's just a simple pencil. Maybe it's a whole suite of musical instruments. I don't know what you have around you, but oftentimes we can easily be blinded to what's right in front of us if we're always thinking about what we don't have.
So, really it's like boredom begins to turn into something special when we begin to cultivate gratitude and appreciation for what we do have.
Kyle, how does boredom make you feel?
Now as an adult?
As a child, it made me feel that way. It made me feel like I'm missing out on something like there's this hole in my life and I gotta find it. I gotta fill it.
But when I would, you know, go through that tunnel of feeling, oftentimes where I ended up was in my own room. Uh, I'm drawing on paper. I'm playing on the floor with Legos. I'm cultivating this whole imaginative experience in play.
And as an adult now, I just turned 40 this year, it's almost come full circle where I find more space. I find more room in my work at my paintings and, and the artwork that I make to be playful first. Now there is a further refinement because of my years of doing it in my practice that I'll get into during my process. But the beginning phases are all about that playful attitude of “I've got space. I got time. I don't really know what the end result is gonna be, and I'm okay with that.” Because for me, like, this is the most important part right now.
Boredom can often feel uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad or that we need someone to help us make it go away. That’s something I need to be reminded of all the time as a parent.
If you're a parent or you're a mentor to someone younger, we can affirm them in their feelings. We can affirm them, give them, see them, right?
That's what's so important—is not rushing in to fix it. We don't need to be the fixer for our children, but we need to hold that space for them and let them know you're feeling that way. And I see you and that's okay. You're allowed to feel that.
And for me, my wife is a therapist, god bless her, because she has really helped me to see that. And so as we parent together, I mean, in a, in a lot of ways, it helps me. When I reflect and I look back to, to be like, oh right, that is okay.
And we need that. Even as adults, we need that. Right. But as kids, for sure. Like that is one of the greatest gifts of parenting, is to help your children see that.
If I sit down at my table and start drawing, 9 times out of 10 my girls will follow. Follow suit. They'll pull up a chair. They'll see dad’s doing something. So that…
I mean, it doesn't happen all the time, but I've found that the more we can lead by example.
But this gets into that gray area of, “Well, is that boredom if you're doing something? Is it not boredom?”
But it's just like that. I don't know. There's just that inevitable, like that little spark of that moment. And I think boredom can be a catalyst as a way to discover new things and creation.
Let’s take that one step further. In A Kids Book About Boredom, Kyle writes, “To tell you the truth… being bored makes me a better artist.”
What exactly does that look like?
That's a great question. Thank you.
I think that's why I always keep a journal close at hand. I keep sketchbooks on hand with me all the time. I have for 20 plus years. So yeah, I have a big library of being bored.
And it can be writing. It can be journaling. I think journaling is a really powerful tool to self discovery and understanding the world around us. And how we make sense of the ways that we feel is very therapeutic in a way.
So writing is a gift that I like to use. Drawing is, I think, easy… that's where I make my living now and I'm so thankful for that, but that really started young, where it was doodling in the margins. It was not paying attention in class, you know? It was just daydreaming. And just enjoying the fact that I don't know what the end result will be, but I love the journey.
And for me, that's why I love making things. Sometimes it looks like a walk around my neighborhood. Um, sometimes it just looks like sitting out back and sipping my coffee in the morning or just enjoying nature. And I think those are really, really beautiful moments. Uh, COVID, all that it entails, [was] one of the greatest gifts that it brought me and my family was that ability to really slow down, to really appreciate where we were to kind of further go into the moments of boredom, of stillness.
Kyle’s book could have taken a number of different shapes. In fact, it didn’t start out as A Kids Book About Boredom.
Initially, I wanted to talk about loneliness or feeling alone. And the difference between those two.
That kind of then started to shift into what about more like, contemplative practice of meditating and things of that nature that's part of my pursuit in life and practice.
But then in that came about with this undercurrent of being bored. And as I looked back in my life, I really began to see the root of where this passion, this devotion to my practice of art-making really blossomed out of. And if I hadn't had all that time to be bored…
You know, I'm very thankful to be raised in an age before the internet. Um, it's a double-edged sword that we live with now, and it's a great responsibility for us as parents to more responsibly understand how to use it and how to better create healthy boundaries, if you will, for it in our lives.
It's something that I'm very cognizant of that my wife and I will get very seriously in, in the ways that we use our time, and the way that our children use our time.
But yeah. And so just from having those few moments of conversing with Jelani early on. And the company was really young then, and I'm just so pleased to see how wildly successful it's been and how much it's grown. So it makes me so happy to be a part of it. It's an, I don't say it lightly, but it is an honor to have a title amongst the many other brilliant, beautiful titles that have come out recently and from the beginning.
So, sitting with or even embracing our boredom is probably going to be a new practice for you. That’s definitely true for me. Kyle offered up these tips on where to start.
I guess I'll say this. And this is just like a little… Think of it like an experiment, you know, and you don't have to be very strict around it. Get your phone out, open your clock app, go to the timer and just set a timer for 10 minutes, whatever you feel comfortable [with]. Maybe it's five minutes. Maybe it's 20 minutes, whatever spare time that you feel like you can give yourself and just put on do not disturb and see what happens.
And just tell yourself at the beginning, “I'm creating this space. I'm setting this space aside for me. And that means I can either sit here. I can lay down. I can go outside, but give yourself distance from the notifications, from the distractions of life.
But for me, that's a practice that I do from time to time. That's really, really helpful where I can, it almost takes my brain off the hook of spinning. And it just slows everything down and I'm like, “Okay, I know when this timer goes off, then I can resume normal life.”
But when I'm in that time, it's like, you're just kind of floating and it feels really nice. It is a brain break, but it's also like a little bit of a… It's not a break from life, cuz we're still living. We still have things to do, but we don't have to be worrying about [them]. I think that's it.
It's like there's so much, it feels like there can be a lot of worry in making sure we get this done or that done. You know? We can be very action oriented by wanting to check off our list throughout the day.
And this is just a little, a little way to subvert that and to say, you know what, I'm gonna take time for me right now, cuz I'm worth that time and I don't have to know what I'm gonna do, but if you have things that you like to do or that you wish you had more time to do, maybe that could be the space in which to do them and practice them.
Permission to do nothing. You, dear listener, can give yourself permission to not be in motion.
And doing this with the support of the friends or family or grownups around you will make this space and this permission even more valuable.
And if you need a little guidance, take these words from Kyle:
Just listen to the sounds around, take in the environment. Like I love to just listen to the hum of the world going by sometimes. And just, letting our minds wander… it’s amazing what we can discover.
Each week on A Kids Book About: The Podcast, we talk about the big things going on in your world with a different author from our A Kids Book About series. This week we spoke with Kyle Steed, author of A Kids Book About Boredom.