Your child walks into the kitchen. “Mom, I’m bored.”
How do you deal with your bored child? Do you get frustrated because you’re so busy and now you have to stop to pay attention to your child? Do you invite your child to join in whatever you’re doing? Do you assign the child something to do? Or give them more things to distract them, like more technology?
All of these are common reactions from parents, and while each one addresses the issue in a different way, they all operate on the same premise: boredom is something not to be tolerated, in our life or in our children’s life. But this point of view blindsides the many benefits boredom can bring a child.
Boredom is an opportunity, not a curse.
First, let’s look at a few causes of boredom:
- The child is looses interest in what they’re doing because they are lonely and want the parent’s attention.
- The child has run out of stimulation and ideas.
- The child still has ideas, but none of them seem appealing.
In the first case, the child isn’t really “bored”, but is reacting to an unmet need for attention. Once they’ve had a little quality time with the parent, the symptoms of boredom will disappear and the child will busy themselves again. In the second two cases, however, boredom won’t dissipate until the child channels their attention in a new direction.
Assuming that the child is bored for one of the latter reasons, the child can benefit from the state of being bored in three ways:
1. Learning to be proactive. Before being “bored”, the child is busy reacting. They are busy because their attention has been guided, either by a schedule and activities previously set up, or by stimuli around them that has naturally caught their attention. Once the activities set up for them have run out, and there’s no other stimuli jumping at them, they get “bored.” This is when they have the opportunity to be proactive, to take initiative. Instead of following, they now need to instigate. Leave them bored for a while. You can point them in a few directions, and let them figure out how to generate and pursue their own ideas in an unstructured manner. In this sense, unstructured does not mean disorganized, but free – the child will develop their own structure, rather than relying on a guided structure.
2. Learning how to appreciate the world around them. The many activities and devices that fill a child’s life often limit their scope of thought. When they are “bored”, they have the time they need to observe some of the “little things” in life. They have the opportunity to learn how much they can do by just interacting with the world around them or using simple tools. They have the opportunity to “de-complicate” their mindset a little. They might even learn new things about their environment that were there before but went unnoticed.
3. Learning more about themselves. When left to their own resources, the child has to experiment. As they explore new things, they’ll begin to discover new things they’re interested in. They might even find new talents they never knew they had.
Boredom, then, is not a problem meant to be solved, but an opportunity meant to be used.
Here are a few ways you as a parent can help your child utilize the opportunities boredom presents.
1. Spend quality time with your child on a regular basis. This will help prevent boredom as a symptom of really wanting the parent’s attention.
2. Encourage your child to invest in projects and activities they enjoy. The more hobbies and projects they have, the more they’ll find to do with their time. Also, life is interconnected, so when they have a few interests they are exploring, they’re very likely to discover other activities or concepts they want to look into. Keep encouraging them and giving them the means they need (often just providing some household supplies or pointing them in the right direction) to keep going. Show them that you’re proud of them. Express an interest in what they are doing and learning. This will encourage them to continue their exploits.
3. Teach your child SKILLS they can use to occupy themselves. The more skills your child has, the more they can do and discover. Reading, for example, opens up a world to them. Research skills, critical thinking skills and reflection skills are all essential for a child to occupy themselves effective and learn on their own. When you spend time with them, make sure it’s quality time that invests in their abilities. Even if you’re just doing something fun together, like watching a movie, you can always open good conversations that help them work on their thinking skills.
4. Limit the time your child spends on technology. While video games and TV might be entertaining and pass the time, they heavily dampen creative thinking and cause children to expect to be entertained instead of expecting to entertain themselves. If your child seems to be getting bored increasingly often and struggling to come up with ways to occupy themselves, try reducing the amount of time they spend using technology devices so they have more time to discover the world around them and learn how many different things they can do with something simple, like a ball.
5. Have your child make a boredom jar. Sit down with them and ask them to come up with as many ideas as they can. Tell them to think about indoor and outdoor projects/activities, learning opportunities, community service ideas, chores, etc. Have them cut each idea out and place them all into a jar. Whenever they are “bored” and having trouble coming up with an idea, they can pick an idea from the jar.
Try using these strategies and others you come up with to teach your kids not to be scared of boredom, but to see it for the wonderful opportunity that it is!