The words “Im bored” are probably one of the most common childhood complaints. And it seems to cause the most defensive reaction in parents. That could be because many parents take their words at face value. They also may try to immediately solve the problem by telling their kids specific things like, “Go clean up your room, then” or “Go read a book” or “You’ve got dozens of toys to play with, I can’t see how you can be bored.”
What I’m bored really means for your child
But the fact is, “I’m bored” can mean different things to different children. It could also be a catch-all phrase used to describe a general feeling of angst or restlessness without knowing why. Yet when it comes from kids in that whinny, helpless voice, it’s particularly irritating. But what children are really saying can cover so many things like, I’m overwhelmed, I want to do something more creative or exciting, I don’t like this, I want your attention, I’m scared, I don’t know what to do next, I need a break, I’m fed up and don’t know what to do about it, I feel I need to do something else and don’t know what that is, What I’m doing right now doesn’t challenge me, This challenges me too much and so on… It can be anything at all. No wonder a parent can miss the mark in a big way. There may also be a cultural thing at play here. Kids are so overstimulated and over-scheduled these days with school and extracurricular activities like sports, dance, art, drama, music, etc… that when they have a moment or space between activities, they don’t know what to make of it. So they feel the pauses in activity as discomforting.
What you need to do when your child says “I’m Bored”
Probe your child in an open, non-judgmental way to uncover what’s really going on. Listen, reflect, restate and validate to uncover the underlying theme of how they feel. Let them try to solve their boredom problem on their own. When you get an “I don’t know” response, try to break the issue up into its parts and ask what part bothers them the most. Let them know you have periods of boredom too and you make it a quiet time to dream or read or garden, and so on. Brainstorm some ideas with your child for the next time they get bored. Help them change their perception of the situation with, “what if you…” Make sure your child gets enough unscheduled time to generate their own ideas and activities. Teaching a child that it’s ok not to know what comes next is really an opportunity for them to use their imagination to uncover their own resourcefulness. Boredom should not be something to dread. It is a natural part of the ebb and flow of life. It’s not a signal for the parent to immediately fill the void.
Once the parent understands the why behind the words ‘I am bored,’ it will become much easier to coach them in dealing more effectively with their boredom. Maybe that means helping them find a process to work through the situation in using their imagination to find other things to do, or to just dream up new ideas. Got a burning question on how to relieve your child’s boredom? Put a sensible spin on expert advice, with a little humor thrown into the mix.