When one of my kids utters the two words, "I'm bored," some part of me immediately generates a mental list of 23 things they could be doing while simultaneously wishing that I too had an opportunity to be bored.
If you have a similar knee-jerk reaction to hearing your child complain they have nothing to do, you know that falling into the trap of trying to redirect or motivate a "bored" child or teen almost always backfires.
Best case scenario, you offer a solution that's accepted and everyone moves happily along (full disclosure, this is far from the norm in my house).
Typically, you try to help by suggesting anti-boredom activities and then you or your child (or both of you) grow increasingly frustrated until someone walks away in a huff.
Worst case scenario, a full-blown conflict breaks out and then your child is too busy arguing with you to be bored anymore—not the kind of "win" you were hoping for!
The truth is that boredom is a great thing for kids to experience, and the way you respond to your child’s proclamations of boredom can help sidestep unnecessary drama. Here are 5 things to keep in mind next time your child complains they have absolutely nothing to do:
1. Accept that your child will be bored.
Surrendering to the fact that your child, whether a toddler or a teen, will be bored helps you parent more rationally in these moments.
When you set the precedent that it's okay for your child to be bored, hearing your son or daughter express that sentiment won't feel like a problem that you need to solve. He or she may be upset or distressed about the lack of entertainment, but you won’t jump on that emotional roller-coaster.
2. Know that it's important to let your child to be bored.
Being bored is not an unhealthy experience. In fact, it's a fantastic opportunity for your child to hear his or her own thoughts without distraction. Plus, boredom leads to creativity and reflection.
The digital world constantly bombards your child with information and stimulation, and opportunities to sit in uninterrupted thought should be embraced (even if it's uncomfortable for your child at first). Let’s face it—being bored is a part of life that everyone has to cope with and allowing your child to experience boredom is great practice for the real world.
3. Fight the urge to rescue your child from boredom.
Don't fall into the trap of offering information that wasn't requested because it's the best way to find yourself in a conflict that you had no intention of being in.
If you want to try and coach your child through the experience of boredom, ask, "Do you want to hear my suggestions?" or, "Do you want to know what I do when I'm bored?" If the response is no, you move on. If the response is yes, check out tip #4 below.
4. Give smart suggestions.
What are smart suggestions to help your bored child? Well, the pragmatic part of me wants to say you can list off six chores and five productive activities that are all well within reach. But, because there has to be a but, that's the same as rescuing your child from boredom.
Instead, you can encourage your child to daydream, use their imagination, or just sit until they come up with something they want to be doing. You’ll be normalizing your child’s experience of being bored and by avoiding the practical suggestions your child expects to hear (think, “Clean your room,” or, “Read a book”), your response will really hit home.
5. Be honest.
We've established that being bored is a not such a bad thing, so next time your child talks about being bored you can honestly say that you think it's fine. Better yet, you can share that you think it's great to be bored.
You'll probably get some serious eye-rolls and maybe even some earnest persuasions as to why being bored is not so great from your child’s perspective, but in the end your commentary will shape your child's expectations. In the end, if you can help your son or daughter move towards accepting the experience of boredom instead of dreading it, your work is done (at least for the moment).
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