"I'm bored. Can I play on the iPad?" asked the 6-year-old for the second time that day. It was only the third day of school break, and it was one of those times where it would've been easier to say yes. I was tired, had a deadline looming and an hour's peace and quiet would have been just what I needed. But instead, I packed up a few things and we all headed outside.
My daughter happily took the sketching pad and pencil and began drawing the beautiful landscape. "What can I do?" Mister Six continued in that all-too-familiar whiney voice. And then, it started. He began trying to disrupt his sister and she started screaming at him to go away and stop ruining her picture. You should have brought the iPad for him a little voice inside my head suggested.
But I persisted, "Why don't you go exploring?"
After five minutes of gently standing my ground through his protests, he did just that. I opened my notepad.
"Mummy, do you want to come to my bakery?" a little voice piped up.
"Yes, sure I do!" I said as I marched down towards him. "This is the kitchen... and this is the counter..." and he happily continued his game. When I went back to our spot, my daughter had finished a beautiful picture of the trees and lake and it was propped up on a tree with a sign, "if you like this picture, please put money in my shoe." My words of making a career out of something you love had clearly sunk in. Even if it was a decade too early!
"Mummy, come and buy a cake," he called and we both went down to where he was still drawing in the sand. "This cake is chocolate and it's five bucks," he said proudly.
"Can't mummy have that for free?" I played along.
"No, because the money goes to making cakes for kids who don't have the money for birthday cakes," and he proceeded to show me the pick-up area for free cakes. My 6-year-old had created a social enterprise!
As we went home, I reflected on what an amazing afternoon we'd have. Sometimes boredom is one of the greatest experiences you can give a child. In fact, it must be experienced during these early years if they are to have any chance of surviving in a world where attention is constantly under assault. Until faced with this empty space, until they can feel its full width and breadth, they will never learn to let their attention uncoil to its full potential. Like a stabled horse, the child whose mind is constantly entertained develops a short and restless attention span, always reined back in too soon. Fed with answers, protected from failure and steered through possibilities, how can they learn the deep satisfaction of breaking through, the awe of discovery and the pleasure of finding their own connection with life? They grow as they have been nurtured. The pathways they will need later to come into their own skin and fulfill a life of real purpose must be laid down early.
As a parent, one of your most important roles is to protect and guide your children's attention. To help them see that the beauty arises in those idle moments. To support them to discover that wisdom and creativity can be uncovered in stillness. These will be critical skills as they grow up living in a noisy and distracted world.