How to Ignore Your Children to Promote Imaginative Play

If you're a parent, you know the drill. School's out for the day, weekend, summer; kids have to occupy their time. You are their first target. Their ammo? Whining, fighting, complaining and repetition of the phrase, "I'm bored."

Good parents don't let their children waste away in boredom, do they?!

Well, do they?!

Yes they do.

I see their complaining and I raise them my ignoring-their-pleas. What's the first line of defense? A chore list. This is basic. My parents did it to me and their parents did it to them. "You're bored, eh? Well, you could wash the windows, vacuum the floor, clean out the refrigerator..." Soon enough I'm talking to myself.

"What are we doing today?" is a somewhat perpetual refrain at our house. I am cantankerous enough to give them a list of the pleasant things that I will be doing that day after I've finished my to-do list. Then I inquire, "My child, what will YOU be doing today?" They could read, swim, play together, make some art, build with Legos — the list goes on. They are fatigued by the options and leave me in a huff.

If I ignore them long enough they assemble into a pack and hash something out. "Who wants to play school?" They are doling out jobs and gathering supplies.

This burst of activity occurs after at least twenty minutes of despair—theirs and mine. I resist the temptation to turn on the TV; I block out their noise and claims of boredom; I offer them no more ideas and they settle into a decent hour of playing. This is sometimes their best work. They include the entire spectrum of willing siblings and resolve problems. They immerse themselves in a pretend world and strengthen their imaginations.

Of course, all good things must end and it usually ends with an altercation. That's OK. We begin again in the never-ending cycle of ignoring the children long enough that they tire of pestering their parents and go create their own fun.

Alishia Hanson