As the days of summer approach the common topic of conversation with parents of children I work with turn to the end of school and plans for the summer break. The immediate response from parents is typically a sigh of relief that they and their child(ren) successfully navigated another school year. The attention then quickly shifts to all the camps, activities, and trips on the summer schedule. All of these things at a cost, including your sanity when the inevitable "I'm bored" is heard after all the effort to keep them busy and happy. So, it begs the question, is there really a solution to this perennial problem?
Comedian Louis CK, encounters his daughter's boredom first hand on a car ride in an episode from his television show. Give a listen to his compelling response!
Let's first look at, "I'm bored." What is bored? Lots of different possible answers to this one, most of which revolve around I'm not entertained, captivated by anything, or this isn't something I want to do. A typical response you may have as a parent or adult is to suggest something or create something for your child to do. An intriguing article entitled "What is Boredom", speaks to a few studies conducted which identified triggers for boredom including lack of attention, lack of control, and negative association. All things experienced whether we are enduring a dull waiting room or even an overstimulating situation. The article gives some interesting examples and even points to the correlation between stress and boredom. So it begs the question, how do you combat boredom?
First answer this, what message does it give your child when you routinely find something for them to do? A couple thoughts in a child's mind might be, "You are here to keep my entertained" or "I can't solve my own boredom". This habit or tendency of adults may come from you being a problem solver or fixer. It could simply come from a more pleasant alternative to pulling your hair out after hearing "I'm bored" for the umpteenth time. Ah yes, the child's trump card. They are persistent little buggers. They are masterful at wearing adults down. Boredom isn't the only example of that.
A possible response you can try is, "I think that is something you can figure out" or "You can decide if you want to find something to do". This keeps you from owning their boredom and gives it back to them. If they feel bored, okay. You can hear them out. Ultimately, your job is not to save them from every difficult feeling they experience. Another idea, turn boredom into an activity. Have your child(ren) sit down and brainstorm ALL the fun things they could possibly do (when bored). Have them cut little slips of paper and jot down all the toys, sports, games, puzzles, crafts, activity books, and science experiments they can do. Maybe it involves you and taking a trip to the library to learn about a new country, person, or language, or going to a museum you haven't be to visit in a while, or to the neighborhood pool. Maybe it is make it a afternoon of coloring or drawing, starting a business (i.e. lemonade and cookie stand, rainbow loom bracelets), or going on an outdoor adventure riding bikes or in your own backyard. Feel free to throw in some of your own suggestions to get the ball rolling. This can be great as a mobile activity. Move around the house together as you are doing this to see and put your eyes and hands on these various things. After they are done place all the ideas into a "Bored Jar". (Note, you can put ideas in this jar year round to keep things fresh and up to date!) Perhaps while you are on your walk around the home you see that it is time to do some decluttering so your children can see all the different things available to them. Now you are not only working on getting rid of boredom but also superfluous stuff in your home. Win-Win! In identifying things to purge, this becomes a learning opportunity in temperance for your child as well as in works of mercy, as these items can now be donated to those in need, a non-profit and/or a children's hospital. Make it a annual trip where you take your child along with the box of items so they can deliver it themselves. You have now helped to combat your child's boredom, decluttered your home, and given your child a life changing experience of caring for others in need. Win-Win-Win!!!
So, the next time you hear that magical phrase, "I'm bored", simply motion them to their "Bored Jar" and off they go on their next adventure!!