Kids of any age (and plenty of adults!) struggle with boredom.
For moms and dads, a moment of boredom might be a welcomed reprieve from a busy work week. Our children, on the other hand, view boredom as an untenable situation lacking fun or motivation that must be resolved. A parent’s inclination is to suggest a fun activity or provide yet another distraction. But these boring moments are critical for your child’s social-emotional development.
Boredom is inevitable and teaching your child how to handle themselves during these moments can boost self-sufficiency and creativity as they get older. It is even harder today to see the value in boredom, as the ‘problem’ can be so easily tackled with YouTube. But is that healthy? If not, what can you do when your child whines “I’m bored!”?
Guide, Don’t Give
When your child tells you he is bored, don’t provide a solution immediately. Instead, use it as a teaching moment that will help him learn two very important skills.
Creativity: A boring moment allows your child to get creative. Encourage him to explore his environment to find ways to entertain himself. How, you ask? He isn’t a boredom MacGyver! Well maybe he can be… Start by modeling this skill. Next time he says, “I’m bored,” you could say, “there’s no reason to be bored when you have so many ways to entertain yourself.”
If you have ideas for how he can busy himself, don’t just tell him. Instead, ask him leading questions that will help him come up with the idea independently.Eventually, stop giving suggestions. Simply say, “I bet you can handle this,” and then give his mind the freedom to solve the problem on his own. Beyond boredom, this exercise will help him in learn to problem solve in academic and social challenges throughout his life.
Emotional regulation: Also known as “coping with the boredom.” It is important to teach your child that sometimes she’ll be in situations when she has to simply sit and be bored. In public places, such school, restaurants, religious services, her sister’s recital, etc. she won’t be able to get up and find a fun activity. She will simply have to to handle boredom in that moment.
Expectations are crucial. Before you enter a boring situation, remind your child that she might feel bored and that’s okay. Teach her that there is an expected way to handle boredom that makes others comfortable versus an unexpected way that would make others upset. Take a brain breather. As adults, we have all developed mental boredom busters but for our children, it’s not yet a learned skill. Help your child learn mental strategies for handling boring moments. For example, tell her that it is okay to distract your mind for a moment by thinking of your favorite movie, singing a song in your head, or counting the people around you quietly, before trying to refocus on what’s going on around you. Explain that since other people may not be bored, it might upset them if you walk around, talk or sing out loud, or play with a distracting toy.
Boredom and Electronics
While many of us learned to cope with boredom independently, children today have the luxury (or curse) of electronics to provide constant entertainment. This may seem like a blessing when you want your child to behave in a restaurant, but none of us wants our child to grow up to be a teenager or adult that is unable to put their phone away. And no child can succeed in school (or in a job later in life) if they can’t handle a boring moment without their phones to distract them.
It is your job to teach your child to handle boredom without an electronic distractor by implementing some of the strategies discussed earlier.
What is the best way to teach this skill?
Be a positive role model. Kids mimic their parents. If you immediately reach for your phone in a boring moment, they will learn this behavior as well. Instead, narrate your thoughts when you are bored. This will teach them that adults feel bored too, and that they can use creative, mature strategies to handle these inevitable moments.
Lizzie Gavin a speech-language therapist and the founder of LG Speech Therapy, a private speech therapy practice in New York City. She specializes in treating language, learning, and social communication disorders. You can contact Lizzie through her website, LGSpeechTherapy.com or her email address: [email protected].