My child is bored again! Tips and tricks for coping with boredom
“I’m bored”. It’s a simple phrase, but one we – especially those of us who are parents – simply dread. We go out of our way to ensure that any guests we invite into our home won’t feel bored. We worry that our children will be bored if we do chores with them rather than play with them. When planning holidays, our top priority is to make sure “it won’t be boring”. However, nothing is black-and-white, and believe it or not, boredom isn’t all bad.
What is boredom?
Have you ever thought about what boredom really is, or about why you get bored? Boredom is a signal that the activity you are engaged in is not, for whatever reason, currently satisfying you. Perhaps you find it uninteresting, or you’ve been doing it for too long, or you’re tired. The unpleasant feeling one calls boredom is designed to alert us to the fact that it would be a good idea to change activities, or to try doing things differently. Boredom is not, in itself, either good or bad – it’s just your mind telling you to find some new stimuli.
When children get bored – a brief guide
You know the situation all too well. Your child gets grumpy and starts acting up or wandering around the house aimlessly, and it seems like they don’t know what to do. Our first thought as parents is usually I need to think of something fun for them to do. But that isn’t always the best move. We might manage to keep them amused for a little while longer, but it would be far more constructive to find out what it is that made the child feel bored to begin with.
Because the thing is, children (and adults too) often feel bored when the root problem is actually something totally different. For example:
they are thirsty, hungry, or unwell
they have been overstimulated and are now tired
they are feeling unloved and want to spend time with their parent(s).
So… what now? The easiest thing you can do is to take a little time and sit down with your child. Try asking them how they feel and what they need. If they can answer clearly, continue to ask questions. Would you like something to eat? Are you thirsty? Does anything hurt? You might find that the whole situation can be solved by making a snack together.
You will likely discover that the activity they were busy doing wasn’t interesting. Perhaps their brain is tired after all their homework and they just need a rest. Or perhaps it would help to switch to a more amusing activity – if the maths homework was too brain-frazzling, have a slice of pie or pizza together and show your child how maths works in practise.
Sometimes you might find that the problem is something else entirely. Your child could be missing a friend who has moved away, or longing to see their grandparents. It’s a matter of asking questions that will lead to a solution, such as: how about writing a letter to Grandma and Granddad? Phoning a friend or sending a voice message? Drawing them a picture?
Feelings of boredom are very often merely a label for the ‘ordinary’ need for the child to spend some time with their parents. The only way to fulfil that need is to sit with them and give them your full attention. Together, you can figure out what would help them feel better. You may be surprised that your child happily runs off to do the activity you’ve come up with together.
Having a regular routine, with enough free time built-in (= no fixed activities), also helps a lot. This prevents your child having to wonder what’s going to happen next, rather than playing. That certainly doesn’t mean, though, that you can’t spice up ordinary days and weekends. On the contrary, one-off changes to the usual routine are healthy, as long as you talk to your child about it. We all know how uncertainty can take the wind out of our sails. So when you’re going on a daytrip or to visit the grandparents, or to spring-clean the house or to do other seasonal jobs, or even when you’re going to organise a treasure hunt — agree it in advance with your child.
Boredom is good because…
It forces us to rest and process our thoughts. We tend to plan every free minute of our children’s days, assigning an activity for each afternoon of the week, and enrolling them in all the best extra-curricular activities. That’s understandable – we want them to learn and have fun. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions (as the proverb goes), and what we don’t realise is that by constantly coming up with activities for our children we are actually robbing them of opportunities to learn how to cope with boredom and to make use of their own creativity.
Time we spend feeling bored is also time spent discovering or realising what kinds of things we enjoy.
When they’re bored, children learn how to organise their own time. When we give them time to use how they see fit, we send a very important message: “I trust you to manage your own time without my having to stand over you or supervise you. I know you can organise your own time – and if you run into problems, I’m here and we can sort them out together.”
It isn’t easy for any parent to attend patiently to a grumpy, bored child. But the effort you put into it will pay off. If you sit with your children and go through the whole process of coping with boredom, after just a few sessions they will learn how to deal with the unpleasant feeling. They will also realise that they can turn to you whenever they need advice, and they will gradually learn to cope with their own difficulties, which will boost their confidence.
Whether we like it or not, boredom is part of life. It helps us grow and progress, even though we might prefer to live without it. It’s a feeling which reminds us that we ought to get on with something or discover something new. But just in case you don’t feel like tackling any of that at the moment, you can always read a story. For instance, this one about boredom.
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