Creative Kids — The link between Boredom and Creativity

I see art as a visual metaphor for reflecting the path we all take towards wholeness. It is a tool for understanding and expressing our deepest emotions. Our lives then are the canvas. We are all artists and as such, what we do on the canvas, makes us both the creator and the creation. In living creatively, we connect more closely to The Creator.

Ann Gadd from the Preface of The Collector’s Guide to Art and Artists in South Africa.

“But mummy, I’m bored.”

Words that are destined to push the ‘Great Guilt’ button in mothers and have us stop paying bills online, cleaning the kitchen, or feeding the dog, as we attempt to entertain our offspring. As parents, we soon learn that “go and play outside,” has the same effect as “stop watching TV,” “do your homework,” or “have a bath and go to bed.”

It’s as if the word “bored” is intended to manipulate our attention instantly. But is boredom a bad thing? My feeling is that creativity, rather than be stifled by boredom, needs boredom or a void if it’s to emerge. Now I’m not talking about extreme sensory abusive deprivation type boredom, but the boredom that is born from a gap between TV and computer games, where, exploration and creativity can emerge from the stillness of the mind.

As a child I spent many hours alone, often by choice, and because my siblings were quite a bit older than myself. There was no TV or computers, so I had glorious days when boredom became the precursor to a new creation. If in those still moments, I conceived of some idea, the rest of the day would be spent making it happen. Complicated treehouse structures, an ‘automatic’ juice device that allowed one a delicious sip whilst lying in bed, a pulley system from my room to my friend’s next door to exchange secret messages (no MSN) and home-baked treats at curfew time, boats that ran on cotton reel motors, complicated devices constructed of wood and edible concoctions made from freshly picked mulberries.… life was one of continuous creativity. (And happily still is.)

How different might things have turned out if I had had my mind filled with technological fantasy games and my free time filled with extra murals? My ideas would never be allowed the time to come to fruition. I believe it was those hours of boredom that allowed creativity to thrive.

When we make boredom a symptom that we, as parents have to relieve, we inhibit much of the child’s potential for creative exploration.

The common reaction to a child’s plea to be entertained is either to sigh resentfully and head off to play cops and robbers, give in to letting him/her watch TV, or to resort to some form of bribery.

Why we need solitude to create

People seldom invent great things in corporate meetings. Nor do they get inspired to write music while playing World of Warcraft. Would Einstein have created the theory of relativity glued to his favorite reality TV show? Or Shakespeare have written his plays if he could have watched The X Factor? I doubt it. It is time alone that creates space for a fertile imagination to grow.

As a parent, I discovered that if the boundary between “Mummy is working now” and “I’ll play with you at three o’clock,” was firmly in place, my daughter would find other ways to amuse herself. She may have started making birthday cards with tissue paper and cardboard invented a game with buttons or started to build elaborate castles in the sandpit. To do so though, she had to go through the initial process of being bored. Then when we did play together she had my full attention. Now in her late twenties, the benefit of that time playing alone, (but supervised) has manifested into a highly creative and motivated adult with an ability to see the world differently and who, when temporarily tired of socializing, is happy with her own company.

Why creativity is important

Creativity is far more than the ability to paint a pleasing picture. To live a creative life is to live with infinite possibilities. To see creative solutions where others see only problems. To find beauty in all things. To be magicians and feel empowered to create what you want in your life, (instead of feeling that you have to accept what doesn’t work for you). Creativity allows us to overcome fear and move into a world of vibrancy, ‘aliveness’, and potential.

Busy little bodies

Our children have so much more in terms of entertainment today than previous generations. The schedule of the average middle to the upper-income city five-year-old can frequently look like an IBM executive’s diary. Then, in the little free time they do have, our children watch TV, play computer games or operate sophisticated robotic toys and dolls that don’t just wet, they speak. Boredom arises the minute frenetic activity is not happening. Despite all the activity, it prevails and parents see it as some kind of dirty word that needs to be erased by further activity.

For instance, a colleague of mine had a six-year-old niece living in the USA who did no less than eight extramural activities a week. The child was shipped from ballet to tennis, to karate, to modern dancing among others, arriving home exhausted just before supper every day. There was no time to unwind. To just lie on her bed and ponder. Life was all go, go, go. While her parents believed they gave her everything, (often sacrificing their own needs to do so), in many ways, they deprived her of a vital part of becoming an integrated person — time alone.

Now imagine this child as an adult. Life would be about being driven, often unsure as to the real goal. Self-worth would relate to what you did, not who you are. And success would be about earnings and what car you drove. Do-ing would have replaced be-ing.

Being alone also allows us time to process our emotions, rather than when an uncomfortable feeling emerges, finding an activity to engage in, as a way to avoid them.

Each time we create we add to our self-esteem. Children feel good about what they create and a certain amount of praise gives encouragement and confidence to create something new. By doing everything for them, as in when we color in the picture or built the Lego model for them, we are subtly giving the message “you aren’t capable of this.” The struggle to do it oneself gives the reward of achievement.

I have worked hard at being fulfilled. I want my children to have a good example to follow. To do this I require time alone — it is essential to my work and well-being. I want them to feel fulfilled, which they can only be if they are in touch with their emotions, enjoy their own company, have healthy self-esteem, and relish their ability to be creative, whatever form they choose their creativity to manifest in.

And yes, they may at times have complained that this quiet time was “being bored,” but I trust that the so-called ‘boredom’ will prove to have been a blessing. Creativity is born out of a void. Confidence arises, not from what has been created, but from the belief that we have what it takes to create.

In the words of American novelist and essayist, Susan Sontag:

The life of the creative man is lead, directed and controlled by boredom.”

Leisure by WH Davies (1871–1940)

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

Ann Gadd is in iEQ9 Enneagram Coach and the author of Sex and the Enneagram, The Enneagram of Eating, an Enneagram illustrated kids’ series and 22 other books.

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