The Magic of Boredom (Part 1)

The Magic of Boredom: Part 1

I notice the magic in myself, sometimes—in the moments of calm-despite-the-chaos of new parenthood, where I find those precious moments when I can steal away to the delightful space of mental wandering.

This is where magic happens.

Often, I wonder if my creativity has waned in adulthood. Maybe this is true. Or maybe the space for creativity has been drastically reduced under the weight of naturally-occurring responsibilities that snowball with each new season of life.

Boredom, or at least some stillness of the mind, begets creativity. Adults must often carve this space out for themselves or seize the moments when they come. But for children, a little boredom is absolutely essential for healthy development.

“Children need to sit in their own boredom for the world to become quiet enough that they can hear themselves” – Dr. Vanessa Lapointe [3]

My daughter is only 8 months old, but I have already found myself falling into the cultural trend of over-structuring her playtime. As her “wake windows” first began to lengthen, I remember telling a friend, “I am running out of content to entertain her this long!” Luckily, the constant pressure to entertain my child is not part of my job as her mother. Facilitating her safety and opportunity to explore her world, is.

I don’t need 3 different sensory bins a day to create a Pinterest-perfect childhood for her. Her world already is a sensory bin in itself! Allowing her to explore that world with my support helps build executive function and physical literacy.

Let’s slow down and define those terms for a moment.

Executive function refers to the brain’s cognitive control system that allows us to manage things such as the connection between our thoughts and actions, planning and decision-making, self-control, and task management [1].

Children learn executive function through practical application and opportunities to use these skills.

Physical Literacy “is defined as the ability to move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person” [4].

Children best learn how to use their physical bodies through activity (no kidding), and thus strengthen the parts of the brain needed to support balance, flexibility of physical tasks across different environments, and hand/eye coordination.

Both of these developmental areas involve a little child-lead exploration and opportunity to make decisions for themselves without adult instruction. As you may guess, some children may experience these opportunities as “boring” if they are used to having most of their days structured for them.

But remember, “if you don’t give kids the chance to manage their time, they won’t learn how to manage their time” [5].

I am sure most of us can think of a time in childhood in which boredom turned into a rich imaginative experience, or the creation of a new game, or a challenge to overcome a new task. For my brothers and me, it was learning how to walk with the stilts my grandfather built for us, or creating an in-depth game of pretend that could last hours upon hours.

Research overwhelmingly suggests that children need ample time to practice physical and cognitive skills without specific directions from adults. That, my friends, is where the magic happens for children.

A 2014 study determined that executive function was higher in children who spent time in less-structured activities, demonstrating better self-directed control than their peers who spent more time in adult-directed activities [1].

Unfortunately, however, most children live in an adult-structured world completely unsuited for their need for developmentally-appropriate exploration. School-aged children especially sit for long hours at a time, and the few times they are offered a chance to move, such as in PE class at school, it with a purposeful game or teacher-lead activity. While these structured activities are certainly beneficial for areas of growth and relational skills, research tells us that children also need opportunities to decide on their own tasks, game, or activity to independently nurture key skills of cognitive and physical development [1, 7]. Open-ended play is where these skills are fine-tuned and given room to mature.

If children are not offered time to explore their own creativity, they will do so when teachers least want them to. This is an age-old scene. I mean, surely I am not the only one who wrote fictional stories or drew doodles during history class, right? That type of boredom absolutely leads to creativity—but not at the time or place that the presiding educator wanted us to be daydreaming.

Boredom, facilitated through less-structured play time, is a better space for this than history class.

Stephanie Lee, PsyD, and director of the ADHD and Behavior Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute, agrees with these assertions and states that practicing boredom, while not always initially pleasant for a child, helps him or her develop distress tolerance for when a situation is not going the way the child would prefer. Boredom creates an opportunity to “manage and regulate” emotions, a skill that Jodi Musoff, MA, MEd, an education specialist at the Child Mind Institute, states that children who are often used to highly-structured environments may not develop as optimally.

But what is it about boredom that is so magical for actually developing these skills?

Well, when children have to decide how to spend their time, they must use executive function skills such as planning, organizing, and problem-solving [1].

Now, I am not advocating for a completely laissez-faire style of parenting. Structure is both necessary and supportive for children (and adults) of all ages. As we all know, structure provides a predictable foundation for safety and support for kids to operate as kids without feeling pressure regarding meal time, sleep time, or playtime. Offering predictable, unstructured time (also known as “Independent Play Time”) gives a child ample opportunity to practice the executive skills that adults have been modeling for them throughout structured times of the day.

I recognize that it can be a little daunting to allow your child to be bored and work through the initial fussiness of their distress. Before they settle into their chosen activity, they will most assuredly tell you that they are bored no less than 34 times. However, knowing that the result of their boredom (and your momentary frustration) is increased creativity and executive function hopefully provides a positive motivation for your family to work through these times of boredom together.

Be sure to check back in with us next week for Part 2: Fostering Creativity through Boredom for practical ideas to make the most of your child’s boredom!


1. Barker, J. E., Semenov, A. D., Michaelson, L., Provan, L. S., Snyder, H. R., & Munakata, Y. (2014, June 17). Less-structured time in children’s daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning. Frontiers. Retrieved June 19, 2022, from

2. Belton, T. (2016, September 16). Want to be a great parent? Let your children be bored. World Economic Forum. Retrieved June 20, 2022, from

3. The benefits of boredom. Melbourne Child Psychology & School Psychology Services. (2016, December 19). Retrieved June 20, 2022, from

4. Gehris, J. S., Simpson, A. C., Baert, H., Robinson, L. E., MacDonald, M., Clements, R., Logan, S., & Schneider, S. (2018, August). Resource to share with parents: Helping your child develop physical literacy. Physical Education and Health Education-Shape America. Retrieved June 25, 2022, from

5. Grove, J. (2016, September 25). Study suggests that kids suffer from too much structured activity. Active For Life. Retrieved June 19, 2022, from

6. Hurley, K. (2019, June 20). Kids’ anxiety can spike during the summer: Here’s why, and what parents can do to help. The Washington Post. Retrieved June 19, 2022, from

7. Miller, G. (2021, September 22). The benefits of boredom. Child Mind Institute. Retrieved June 20, 2022, from

8. Plowman, V. (2021, February 24). Independent playtime lengths by age. Chronicles of a Babywise Mom. Retrieved June 19, 2022, from

9. Scagell, J. (2021, February 12). This teacher’s viral ‘summer packet’ should be required reading for parents. Scary Mommy. Retrieved June 20, 2022, from

Cheers to the Good Ones

As a new mother navigating the changing dynamics of my own tiny family, I am so much more aware of this day than in previous years. While my husband has handled much of our recent changes with amazing resiliency and support for myself and our daughter, the postpartum journey has not been particularly easy for either of us. But really, is the postpartum journey easy for anyone? It is difficult by nature: a turning-on-end of everything a person once knew about the rhythms of life. Though beautiful in its own way, the months after bringing home a child are by far one of the most stark transitions a person can experience. With this transition brings a host of new internal and external challenges and conflicts.

Through the experience of new parenthood, it has been obvious to me how much postpartum community support and attention is placed on mothers and babies, while fathers are also struggling to manage new mental and emotional tolls, re-evaluate their household roles, and support their partners who are experiencing massive hormone shifts and potentially problematic mental health concerns. Our empathetic fathers, bless their souls, are at particularly high risk for becoming silent sufferers of paternal postpartum depression or other postpartum disorders.

And yes, you read that right. Men can, and do, experience postpartum depression (PPD).

Even maternal PPD was not a formally recognized diagnosis until the early 90’s. Since then, the research has continued to develop in several directions on perinatal disorders, and with it a glaringly obvious recognition that men’s and fathers’ health needs more specific attention for the sake of the family at large.

With good reason, perinatal mental health disorders such as postpartum depression and anxiety are becoming more openly discussed. Women are screened multiple times throughout pregnancy and the postpartum experience for mental health concerns. Fathers, however, have been somewhat left in the dust in terms of research and treatment up until the past several years, despite there being an up to 25% prevalence of paternal PPD in new fathers [6].

Quick facts about paternal postpartum mental health:

– Paternal postpartum depression rates tend to be the highest 3-6 months after having a child [1].

– 70% of fathers noted increased stress in the first 12 months of having a child. 24% say that this increase was significant [6].

– Up to 25% of fathers will experience postpartum depression on some level. 18% will develop an anxiety disorder “during pregnancy or within the first year of parenthood” [6].

– Fathers’ bodies change during the postpartum period. In the first weeks after a child is born, a father’s testosterone is estimated to drop by 1/3 [2]. Some professionals speculate that this is to foster attachment and nurturing between father and child

Another thing that I have noticed thus far about parenthood is that Dads are an easy punchline, especially in the social media sphere. And while sometimes these jokes are warranted (Let me be honest, I have shared my fair number of laughs at my sweet husband’s expense), I cannot help but wonder what so much of the Dad-bashing is doing to the mental health of the world’s already-supportive and exhausted fathers. There are good dads out there, and they need a break from our constant criticism.

Anthony Nedelman, a psychologist, father, and writer who works specifically in men’s health, speaks bluntly about the mental and emotional weight placed on the modern father [3]. Men are taking on more non-traditional gender roles of household chores, childcare, and meal preparation in the modern age. Women, likewise, participate more actively in the workforce. And we love to see this! Studies even support the notion that fathers who are present and active in the rearing of their children are overall healthier and have increased longevity [2]. These changing roles in the home, however, place added pressure on mothers and fathers alike to fulfill entirely new areas of mental and emotional toll associated with parenting that previous generations were not navigating.

The Mental Health of a Father affects the entire family

We know that men in general are already less likely to seek therapy. Fathers whose partners are experiencing maternal PPD may feel increased pressure to support her emotionally and physically, provide for the household, and may even try to “fix” the new mother’s mental health. Their personal needs are easy to ignore or put on the back burner until the problem becomes more severe.

Paternal PPD impacts not only marital and partner relationships, but bonding and attachment with children in the home, and is a predictor of future “child psychopathology such as conduct and emotional disorders, hyperactivity, and anxiety and depression, as well as language delays” [1].

New Fathers are not the only Dads susceptible to mental health concerns

Fathers are not out of the woods after the risk of postpartum depression fades.

Nontraditional fathers in particular, such as stepfathers, are at higher risk for depression than biological parents [5]. As well, low-income fathers are at higher risk for depression [2].

Parenting brings a specific set of challenges that can affect a man differently throughout new developmental stages of his children, his marriage/relationship, or lifestyle changes. As an added complication, many men raised by fathers who were not active in their own childhood can struggle to feel confident in their role as parents.

The National Institute for Children’s Health Quality states that “Father involvement, then, has significant benefits for everyone involved. But too often, social expectations about masculinity and structural barriers make it difficult for fathers to get involved, especially during the early years of life” [4].

So if we understand the importance of a father’s connection with his children, that it is an overall benefit for the entire family, why aren’t we better supporting fathers in this important role of parenting? Thankfully, there are groups doing just that (see resource list below).

But for us mothers, and women, and the general public at large, I would like to call us to a new way of speaking about the good fathers in our life—the ones who show up in heroic ways to support, encourage, and intentionally weave their children’s wellbeing into the fabric of who they are.

Just like us, they are going to make mistakes—probably very consistent ones. They will probably set glasses directly beside an available coaster and throw dirty clothes on the floor beside a hamper. Instead of nagging about these little quirks, what if we instead became intentional about speaking positively about the actions we are grateful for?

As I type this, my husband just entered the room to ask if he could take our little one on a Costco trip so that I could complete this article. Now, I get to choose: At the end of today, do I want to remember this moment when I think about his role in our family, or do I want to remember the beard trimmings in the sink? It is so very easy to focus on what frustrates us instead of what we are grateful for.

For the sake of our relationships, our children, and the world at large, today I choose to focus on my husband’s active role in our family—his imperfect, beautiful role that is helping sketch out a healthy worldview for our child. His treatment of me and of her is already helping her create a sense of self-awareness and connectedness to her surroundings.

After all, my role is just as imperfect and beautiful as his. As the world chooses to support me and nurture me as a new mother, may I remember that the man beside me is carrying his own share of emotional and mental burdens for the sake of our family that is not always recognized.

Let’s raise a glass.

Cheers to the good dads out there today. We support you and we love you.

Resources for new and experienced fathers:

List of risk factors for paternal postpartum:

Postpartum Support International:

Help for Dads

– Phone Helpline, Dad support groups, discussion forums with professionals, local chapters of support

“Boot Camp” for New Dads:

Center for Men’s Excellence:

Advice for New Dads – Videos and Interviews with Dr. Daniel Singley

A First Person Account of Paternal PPD:


[1] Musser, A. K., Ahmed, A. H., Foli, K. J., & Coddington, J. A. (2013). Paternal postpartum depression: What health care providers should know. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 27(6), 479–485.

[2] National Fatherhood Initiative. (2015, October 15). How fatherhood affects men. Institute for Family Studies. Retrieved May 21, 2022, from

[3] Nedelman, A. (2020, December 21). The mental health of the modern dad. NAMI. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from

[4] Promoting fathers’ mental health during children’s early childhood. NICHQ. (2021, June 16). Retrieved May 23, 2022, from

[5] Vogel, K. (2022, March 31). Why stepparents are more prone to depression. Psych Central. Retrieved June 12, 2022, from

[6] What most of us don’t know about fatherhood and mental health – sondermind. SonderMind Therapy and Counseling. (2020, June 20). Retrieved June 12, 2022, from

The Problem with Dragons

I have decided to let you all in on a therapy trade secret. It is my own little room-of-requirement for my counseling practice that I stumbled upon a bit by accident.

Admittedly, it is not an actual room, but a children’s book that creates an individualized space for healing and self-exploration, catered specifically to the reader. You and I may read this book and come to vastly different metaphorical conclusions about what the book is “really” about.

Yet at the same time, the magic of this book somehow allows the readers to find common ground with each other. Our problems (or dragons, as the book calls them) in life may all look a little different, but we can empathize with each other on what it is like to experience internal hardship.

You’ve Got Dragons by Kathryn Cave, illustrated by Nick Maland, is a children’s book with a sneakily therapeutic theme, using metaphor and creatively-depicted scenes to describe a boy named Ben’s experience with his inner world.

Ben, poor guy, has “dragons.”

“Dragons show up when you least expect them,” Ben begins, “You turn around, and there they are.”


Ben spends his time throughout the narrative sharing his first-person experience of having “dragons” in a raw but delightful manner. By the end, he has become an accidental dragon expert.

This book was written for children, of course, but the day it truly began to impact my counseling practice was the day I first decided to read it to an adult client.

You see, Ben’s “dragon problem” represents a lot more than just a scaly antagonist. We could drop just about any personal struggle in place of the word “dragon” throughout this book and find camaraderie in Ben’s story.

Such literary tropes and metaphors as those presented in this book are sometimes lost on children. But when placed in the hands of an adult client in a supportive counseling relationship, this book can create a fresh space for vulnerability and self-exploration.

After all, we’ve ALL got dragons sometimes. But we often need an opportunity to talk about them. We adults are unfortunately pretty stubborn like that and may need a nudge or two.

“Pretending a huge, great, ENORMOUS dragon isn’t there is exhausting. So sooner or later you stop pretending.”

I have witnessed grown individuals begin weeping halfway through this book.

Some clients swear that it is clearly written about depression. Or anxiety.

Trauma, maybe,

or an eating disorder.

“Obviously the book is referring to addiction, right?” someone once asked.

Rarely have I had 2 clients assume that this book is referencing the same thing.

You see, when we read it, we are all Ben. We can picture the dragon that is our own. A dragon that probably

“makes your heart thud and your head wobble,”

encourages you to “make silly mistakes,”

“makes everything complicated,”


“seems so much bigger than you.”

Sound familiar? I guess maybe you have had a dragon before, too. Maybe you even have a dragon right now.

It turns out that the specific identity of the dragon is fairly insignificant because the experiences of having a dragon are pretty similar.

A few things about dragons that this book teaches us:

  • Completely irradicating a dragon can feel overwhelming or insurmountable, but learning how to coexist with them in healthy ways is achievable.
  • Sometimes your dragon is big, sometimes small, and sometimes lies dormant.
  • Hiding your dragon in shame makes you tired and lonely.
  • Ignoring your dragon can make it bigger.
  • Naming your dragon and facing it head-on can demystify it.
  • Facing your dragon alone is not an option.
  • Sometimes well-meaning people in your life try unsuccessfully to talk to you about your dragon. They over-relate (make it about themselves) or do not understand at all
  • Sometimes you wonder what you did wrong to get this dragon.
  • You are stronger than your dragon, even when it doesn’t feel like it.


“Nobody deserves dragons You certainly don’t. You didn’t get them by being bad. All these people have dragons, and they’re REALLY, REALLY good.”

The book ends with letters from readers to Ben seeking advice about dragons. Even Ben’s dad has dragons!

Ways to utilize this book with your kids:

  • Draw your dragon. What is scary about it? What can we do to make your dragon seem less scary? (For example, add a silly hat or make him dance)
    • Does your dragon look differently sometimes? Smaller, bigger, etc?
  • What dragon advice would you ask Ben? Let’s write a letter to him together.
  • Let’s pretend you are challenging your dragon to an arm-wrestling match. Tell me what you would say to him while you beat him.
  • When are times your dragon seems the most fearful or annoying?
  • Who are safe people to talk to about your dragon?


Ways to utilize this book for yourself: 

  • What emotions came up for you at different parts of the book? Which pages were most impactful? Consider why that may be.
  • Work with a trusted therapist to discuss what “dragons” you have been ignoring or fearful of.
  • Remember you are not alone. Who are the support people in your life who remind you are more powerful than your dragon?


“Honor the dragons that you meet and learn from them. They’re not as powerful as you think. No dragon is more powerful than YOU.”

Cave, K., & Maland, N. (2020). You’ve got dragons. Peachtree.