Complaints of boredom almost always arise during summertime as kids adjust to idle days after months jam-packed with school, sports, and other activities. Now, as we are all moving through a summer in which our vacations, camps, and road trips have been cancelled or postponed and many of our plans changed or been put on hold, our kids are likely to encounter boredom more than ever.
It can be tempting as a parent to try to prevent boredom in our children, especially when our kids are asking us to try to solve the ‘problem’ of boredom for them. We want our kids to have access to enrichment and learning activities, to engage in team sports and learn how to play instruments. We love seeing our kids light up whenever they are being delightfully entertained and sometimes, frankly, we just need some time alone to work or rest.
However, parents should be slow to jump in and ‘fix’ boredom. There are many ways that we, as parents, can guide our children through their boredom and help them learn more about themselves while empowering them to emotionally regulate.
The fact that our children usually come to us with the cries of their boredom is a clue that one of the reasons our kids get bored is because they are lonely. Sandi Mann, a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K., describes boredom as a search for neural stimulation that isn’t satisfied. So much of a child’s learning comes from social interaction and our increased isolation during the time of COVID-19 has increased the potential for everyone, especially our kids, to be a little lonelier.
Try to listen to what kind of boredom your child is experiencing. If it sounds like loneliness, you might look for ways of connecting your kids to their friends more. Try a combination of ways to connect that can also ignite your child’s creativity, generosity, or kindness. Provide stationary, letters, and envelopes or help coordinate facetime phone calls between friends, even with younger children. It will still be meaningful even if the video call is short and distracted. If you have older kids, it is fine to have rules about socializing over screens that mimic your in-person rules, such as having to be in a common area while on a device and having a “curfew.”
Some children, younger kids especially, may simply need to feel your empathy and connection through their boredom. Normalize the feeling of boredom, listen to what they have to say, and help them problem solve. If you have time to play, certainly take the time to play. But connection will also happen through the simple act of taking the time to make eye contact, listen, and simply be with them. Kids rarely have “run out of things to do,” and instead just need a break to be with someone for little while.
One of the most impactful ways that we can help our kids with their boredom is by engaging with our own. When we keep ourselves busy or distracted by screens, we start to lose our ability to move out of our own boredom. It is easy to drown out our boredom with podcasts, tv, and scrolling, but in the process we lose our ability to be creative in alleviating our own boredom and become dependent upon outside stimulation.
Boredom has been found to be a fount of both creativity and emotional processing. Dr. Mann states that, “Once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to really wander, you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit into the subconscious, which allows sort of different connections to take place. It’s really awesome, actually.”
When you are bored, your brain begins to do amazing things. It is the space in which your brain sets goals, assigns meaning to your past, and processes emotions. It is also the space in which we dream up new solutions to our problems. It is really tempting in this season of boredom, burnout, and uncertainty to want to check out at the end of the day (or even mid-day) and just numb out with some Netflix. But just like our other emotions, boredom communicates something important to us. If boredom is the unmet need for stimulation, then boredom, like hunger, is simply trying to get us to pay more attention to what we really need.
Just like with our kids, boredom can be delayed by constant entertainment, but that will just make creating stimulation for ourselves so much harder. We can model good mental fitness by allowing ourselves to get bored during the day. This can look like engaging in menial activity, practicing mindfulness, sitting and thinking, or even just putting away our screens.
Provide a Space for Exploring Boredom
Personally, the hardest part of allowing my kids to be bored is letting go of control. Younger kids learn better through concrete experiences so while a teen may find themselves lounging under a tree and getting lost in their thoughts during productive boredom, toddlers and preschoolers tend to be a little, erm, *messier.*
Create space, perhaps both inside and out, in which your kids can explore. Set up a drawing station or pull out some play dough. Dedicate a section of your backyard to dirty and messy play. Have a cache of puzzles, books, or other engaging activities on hand. Set a time everyday during which everyone has alone time in a space made special for them. When we give kids ways to constructively work through and process their emotions, including boredom, they are more likely to grow into adults with healthy emotional regulation.
Many of us are still finding ourselves in survival mode this summer, but boredom is one thing that we don’t need to run from. Let’s all lean a little harder into boredom and see what amazing things happen.
Being bored and brilliant with you,
Ducharme, J. (2019, Jaunary 4). Being bored can be good for you—if you do it right. here’s how. Time. https://time.com/5480002/benefits-of-boredom/
Kovelle, K. (2020, March 25). Boredom is OK! Here are 13 ways to help your kids embrace it. Metro Parent for Southeast Michigan. https://www.metroparent.com/daily/parenting/parenting-issues-tips/boredom-is-ok-for-kids/
Zomorodi, M. (2017, April). How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas [Video file]. Retireved from https://www.ted.com/talks/manoush_zomorodi_how_boredom_can_lead_to_your_most_brilliant_ideas?language=en