Smiling boy

How to handle a bored child

“I’m bored”. It’s a phrase that sends many a parent’s blood pressure rocketing. “How can you possibly be bored? You’ve got enough toys!” might be your reply, (after all, you’ve spent enough time tidying them away.) But breathe a sigh of relief. We are here to teach you how (and why) to help your kids embrace boredom so you can forget thinking up yet another activity and go put the kettle on.

The importance of boredom

Boredom is the state of wanting to, but being unable to, partake in satisfying activity. When our kids are bored it means they’re looking for more stimulation, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we have to create the opportunities for this stimulation for them.

Aideen McCartney is a play therapist and parenting coach with a passion for helping parents unlock the power of boredom. She explains:

“If you can manage to be patient and let your children experience boredom, there are so many benefits… Boredom is the birthplace of creativity and imagination and helps children to initiate activities for themselves – an important skill for life.”

“Children may not like to admit it, but they need periods of unstructured time to rest. If they’re used to a busy schedule of after-school activities, sometimes they need time to rest, rejuvenate, work at their own pace and consolidate all the skills they’re gaining at school and elsewhere. This rest and recovery time might be quiet, or it might be rambunctious, but so long as the playing is initiated by the children themselves, it will be revitalising and stress-relieving for them.”

Boredom and unstructured playtime are also key to children discovering who they really are and where their interests lie. The more children can ‘be’ without distractions, the better they’ll get at listening to their inner voice and letting new ideas flow.

Using the right language

Once your child knows your reaction to their boredom, they’ll quickly cotton on to how to get the results they want. If your child knows you expect them to wait in their boredom and come up with their own ideas, they’ll stop coming to you with the “I’m bored” whine. 

An excellent response for setting your expectations and empowering your child is: “You’re bored? Oh, how exciting… I can’t wait to see what you’ll come up with. You’re always so imaginative!”

When your child is used to being entertained, being truly bored for an extended period can be challenging. Be patient with any whining that ensues and keep in mind that it will get easier with practise to tolerate it.

Further empowering your child

If you have a younger child who really struggles to spend time on their own, empower your child by giving them a list of options to pick from instead. This ‘boredom-busting’ checklist can be placed somewhere they can refer to it quickly, reminding them of the activities available that will allow them to go off and play on their own. Add pictures if your child can’t yet read.

Examples could include puzzles, mini-figures, dominoes, drawing/colouring, fuzzy felt and other quiet games that need little input from others.

Boredom outside of the house 

The reality is our kids are often bored outside of the house too, which makes things trickier. If you’re experiencing the dreaded ‘this is boring’ while wandering a museum or spending time at a family event, it’s time to bring a bit of creative thinking to your family time. Can you challenge your children to look for something to make you laugh or find one interesting fact that surprises them? Or can you encourage your kids to talk to three different people or invite another child to play? 

Rather than dismissing your child’s feelings, validate how they feel and emphasise your belief in them – they’re smart and creative enough to find something fun to do within the confines of your trip! 

Enjoying the results

Watching your child deal with boredom for the first time is fascinating and highly rewarding. Seeing their imagination take over and watching your child become who they truly are is beautiful. Once they’re ‘in the zone’ of play or creativity, hold back from interrupting them – no matter how proud you are. 

When they’re done, then is the time to praise them for the way they pushed through their boredom and came up with such fun ideas! Give yourself some praise too: watching our children be uncomfortable with boredom (and listening to the whining) is hard. Rest assured, once they have pushed through boredom and been able to initiate their own activities, you can know they are developing confidence, resilience and problem-solving skills so valuable for later life. 

Aideen McCartney adds: “This process really fosters the sense of independence we want for our children; it’s hugely satisfying and empowering to show them they can do this for themselves. They don’t need you to rescue them. They have the internal resources to create, have fun, solve problems and keep going, even when things are tough. “

Why not share this article on to any other parents and caregivers who need to shake off the guilt of boredom and help their children embrace it?

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