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Babies need boredom—here's why

It's healthy and critical for them to have scheduled unscheduled downtimes when they are allowed to play alone, without structure.

Babies need boredom—here's why

We live in a world of plugged-in people. Walk down the street, ride an elevator, or jump on the subway and look at the people around you. Everyone seems to have their earbuds in place, engaged in something. And it never ends. This endless electronic stimulation leaves little space for contemplation, reflection and creativity—or boredom, for that matter.

For babies, this is not good. It's healthy and critical for them to have scheduled unscheduled downtimes when they are allowed to play alone, without structure.

Charles Dickens, one of the greatest and most productive writers in the English language, had a habit of working from 9 am. till 2 pm and then venturing off on his own downtime, which took the form of long walks through the streets of London. He once wrote, "If I couldn't walk fast and far, I should just explode and perish." It was during these long walks that Dickens's creativity was ignited and his books were "written."

Giving babies this kind of quiet time to reflect and play alone, even though it may not appear to be productive, is extremely valuable. It allows them to ponder through and consolidate the activities of the day and allows them time to discover their environment without distraction.

Boredom is one of those human feelings that nobody particularly enjoys. It represents a dissatisfaction and, for some, a profound weariness with the present. But for most people, boredom creates an intense sense of restlessness and angst.

So what happens when people and babies are bored?

They cast about to escape their plight. When children feel bored, they become creative. They look around for something to capture their attention and their imagination. They find something to grab, a toy to play with, an image to study.

In other words, boredom stimulates creative thinking and action. This happens in babies as much as it happens in adults. Writer Thomas Kersting, in his book Disconnected, wrote, "Boredom is to your brain what weightlifting is to your muscles."

He calls boredom "mental fertilizer" and decries the urge of parents to fill every moment of a child's life, including young babies, with some sort of external stimulation, particularly electronic stimulation.

A hurried overly pressured education that is focused on academic preparation and an overly scheduled lifestyle are interfering and interrupting the ability of children to have "child-driven" play. —Pediatrics magazine, January 2007 (vol. 119, issue 1)

You are your baby's enrichment program

Mommies and daddies who spend time with their children doing normal, everyday, mundane things are their children's enrichment program! Engaging and sharing with your children the routines of daily living and enlivening their five senses to the wonders that are in our world is all your children need during the first formative year of life.

So have fun and embrace the everyday moments of life. Take a lesson from Moses by teaching your child how to live "when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." Here's how I paraphrase Moses's advice to the parents of my patients: "Put your kid in your back pocket and take them with you wherever you go!"

Instruct them about how life is really lived by including them in all the mundane events that each day brings, and as they watch you go about your daily tasks, take heart knowing that you are helping your baby learn and grow in the best possible way!

From 7 SECRETS OF THE NEWBORN: Secrets and (Happy) Surprises of the First Year by Robert C. Hamilton, M.D. with Sally Collings, copyright © 2018 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Press. On sale September 4, 2018.

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