10 Ways to Cure Boredom for Kids With ADHD

A Parent's Guide

Sisters doing crafts in bedroom
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Hearing children say they are bored is a normal part of family life. However, if you have a child with ADHD, you might hear that phrase many times a day.

Feeling bored usually happens when there is nothing in the surroundings that captures a child’s interest. While boredom starts in the mind, it can also affect how a child feels physically and emotionally.   

Everyone experiences boredom from time to time.

It can feel unpleasant and mildly irritating. Usually the discomfort of boredom causes people to get creative and find something that captures their interest. 

However, that discomfort is amplified a 100 times for people who have ADHD. Being bored can be so distressing they are desperate to relieve that feeling. That might mean doing something potentially dangerous like a movie-style physical stunt. Or they might do something very out of character like going to bed even though it is still daylight.

Boredom Can Worsen Core ADHD Symptoms

  • Inattention – a child who is bored can lose focus and start to daydream in an effort to feel removed from the low-stimulation environment.
  • Impulsivity – when bored, a child might take impulsive actions as a way to create more excitement. An example would be starting a fight with a sibling.
  • Hyperactivity – a child might find it hard to sit still, and need physical action to relieve the boredom. This could mean talking to a friend at a nearby desk in school or asking to go to the washroom. 

    Like many characteristics of ADHD, there can be a lot of moral judgement around feeling bored. For instance, there is the saying ‘only boring people are bored.’ Parents might blame themselves because even though the home is full of toys, the child is still bored. Or perhaps they wonder if somehow they have spoiled the child, who now cannot provide his or her own entertainment.

      However, the reason why a person with ADHD experiences boredom so intensely is chemical related, rather than due to any parenting style. 

    What Causes Boredom?

    The boredom children experience is related to the neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger) dopamine. Children with ADHD have less dopamine in the synapses in their brains. (A synapse is a gap between two nerve cells, where one cell passes signals to the other.) This means that they do not get the same sense of reward or satisfaction that someone without ADHD does when they are doing activities. The absence of satisfaction means they feel under-stimulated and bored. This is why uninteresting tasks are particularly hard to complete. 

    Helping a Bored Child

    Not every child with ADHD feels this intense type of boredom. However, if yours does, here are some suggestions.

    1) Structure

    Children with ADHD excel in a structured environment. This structure provides them with a framework where they know what they need to do and when. Having a busy schedule, without it being hectic, is helpful for children prone to boredom.

    An after school routine might be something like this: 

    • Get home from school. 
    • Have a snack like an apple and nut butter.
    • Play outside for 20 minutes. 
    • Homework time.
    • Supper.

    Routines and structure do not need to be complicated to be effective!

    2) Exercise

    In his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, John Ratey says that exercise increases dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals reduce ADHD symptoms like distractibility and impulsivity. Exercise also helps fight boredom! Depending on the age of your child, exercise could come through active play, or more formally like a martial art or a team sport. 

    In addition to this daily exercise, if your child feels bored, doing something physical will help relieve boredom almost instantly. If you have a yard, a trampoline or a fun obstacle course are both great ideas.

    3) Timer

    Using a timer can turn even the most boring task into a fun game. Use a kitchen timer (rather than the timer on a phone, which can be distracting) and set it for five minutes. 

    • “Can you pick up all the clothes from your bedroom floor in five minutes?” 
    • “Can you brush your teeth and comb your hair and be ready for school in five minutes?”

    The race against the clock makes it fun. It also gets routine tasks done quickly rather than dragging on for a long time. The timer can be used for homework too. Set the timer for 15 or 20 minutes and your child will know there is a mini-break coming soon. Containing a potentially long and boring task into a set time period, where there is a clear beginning, middle and end, can help boredom.

    4) Simple Things

    Sometimes, a simple thing can make a big difference. Taking notes in class might be more interesting if your child uses different colored pens rather than writing everything blue. Different things motivate different children. So, when there is a boring (but necessary) situation, experiment together with different options until you find something that works for your child.

    5) A Perception Change

    One of the reasons children try to avoid boredom is that when they feel bored they can sink into a low depressive mood, which does not feel good. Children who fear boredom will try to avoid it at all costs. This is when they become impulsive and take actions that might lead to an accident, overeating, and so on.  Help your child to recognize the early signs of boredom and empower him or her with coping strategies. This will help your child to develop personal resourcefulness and to feel control rather than helplessness in his or her environment.

    In class, your son or daughter could take notes or use a stress ball. Another option is to carry an entertainment pack in case there are a few minutes with nothing to do. The pack might include a puzzle book, a reading book or magazine, or paper to doodle or draw on. Depending on the child’s age, he or she might have a phone, which can help boredom.  However, be aware that a phone can cause other problems.

    6) Hyperfocus

    The opposite of boredom is hyperfocus. This is where someone with ADHD becomes so interested and engaged in a task that they block out everything else, and time whizzes by.  There are downsides to hyperfocus. A person’s life can become out of balance because the hyperfocus activity pushes out other important activities like homework and family time.

    However, if your child does hyperfocus on certain activities, you can use that information to help you to know what he or she finds interesting, and what activities might be enjoyable when boredom occurs. For example, video games are a common hyperfocus activity for many children. While you do not want to suggest playing a video game every time boredom arises, perhaps your child can do something related to a favorite game. For example, the mom of Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer, used his love of swimming to make other activities interesting. For reading, she would ask him to read the sport section of the newspaper. For math, she asked his tutor to turn math problems into problems related to swimming. 

    7) Phases 

    Some children go through phases. They seemed to be completely consumed by a topic or hobby, but then a new one replaces it. Once they have moved on, it is very hard for them to be interested in a previous passion. This concerns some parents, who wish their child would pick one thing and stick with it.  

    You may have noticed that your child goes through phases. However, rather than trying to foster interest in something he or she has grown bored with, think instead what that topic taught. For example, a car phase at three years old might have been how colors were learned. A skateboarding phase might have led to the development of social skills and spatial awareness. Acting classes could have helped increase self-esteem, which spilled over into all other areas of life. The Harry Potter books were perhaps the first that were read cover to cover.

    8) The Perfect Match

    Boredom is not always a simple issue to fix. An activity to remedy boredom needs to match the child’s mental and physical energy in that moment. For example, at the end of a school day, your child might not have the mental energy to engage in another activity that requires focus, such as playing the piano or solving a problem, even if it is an activity he or she usually loves. Equally, if your child has had a physically demanding day and is feeling bored, another physical activity might not be the answer. 

    Getting good at knowing the perfect match between energy and activity is something you and your child can develop together.

    9)  An Idea Jar

    Get a pack of colorful index cards. Write a different activity on each card, and place the cards in a big jar.  When boredom appears, ask your son or daughter, with eyes closed, to pick a card from the jar. Your child then gets to do the chosen activity. It might be something fun, like jump on the trampoline for 10 minutes. It could be a housework task, like run and collect all the stray cups that are lying around the house and bring them to the kitchen. 

    The only rule to this game is the child has to do the activity on the card! The reason for this is when a child is bored, nothing sounds interesting. Ten different cards might be picked and still nothing sounds fun. However, by completing one activity, that boredom feeling is shaken away and life seems more interesting again.

    10) Keep Things Fresh

    If something happens repeatedly, then it becomes unexciting and dull. Think of ways for your child to experience new things within the usual daily structure. New experiences can range from a big day trip, to small things like a different route to school. You do not have to generate the ideas yourself! Your child will almost certainly have many creative ideas and suggestions.

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