How to Respond When Your Child Says, "I'm Bored!"

How to Respond to a Bored Child
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Today’s kids are used to being entertained by TV, video games, and computers. Many of them struggle to tolerate waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting quietly while adults hold a conversation. They grow bored fast and they’re not shy about announcing their disinterest.

Of course, kids also tend to grow bored in their own homes as well. Despite having hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars’ worth of electronics or toys, it’s not unusual for a child to complain, “I’m bored!”

While some parents are left frustrated and flabbergasted by their children’s inability to entertain themselves, others swoop in to end the boredom crisis fast. It’s important to carefully consider whether your response reinforces your child’s complaints of boredom, or helps him learn to better entertain himself.

What is Boredom?

Although boredom is a universal emotion, most people have difficulty defining it. In 2012, a study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science defined boredom in terms of attention and lack of stimulation.

Not having anything to do doesn’t necessarily constitute boredom - plenty of people could sit in a quiet room without feeling bored. Boredom arises when people want stimulation but are unable to connect with their environment.

Sometimes bored kids grow lethargic and they don’t want to move. At other times, they become agitated and fidgety. In this state, they’re most likely to pace around the house loudly pronouncing, “I’m bored!”

Some kids are more prone to boredom than others. Kids with ADHD are likely to grow bored with tasks that require sustained attention. Sensation seekers – kids who love to jump from high places or who love to go on fast rides – often struggle with slower paced activities.

Kids with anxiety issues may also be more prone to boredom.

A child who fears rejection, may refuse to engage in any after school activities. His lack of stimulating activities may contribute to an overall sense of boredom.

Strategies for Responding to a Bored Child

All kids complain about being bored sometimes. Here are some strategies for dealing with a bored child:

  • Resist the urge to provide entertainment. If you constantly rescue your child from boredom, he’ll miss out on learning how to entertain himself. So when he says, “I’m bored,” respond by saying, “What do you want to do about that?” That gives him an opportunity to practice problem-solving on his own.
  • Normalize boredom. Make it clear to your child that everyone feels bored sometimes and boredom is part of life.
  • Teach your child to cope with uncomfortable emotions. Just like anxiety or sadness, feeling bored can be uncomfortable. Kids need learn coping skills that can help them manage their discomfort.
  • Encourage constructive activities. If your child complains of boredom frequently, help him make a list of activities that he can do when he’s feeling bored. Include a variety of indoor activities, like coloring and building with blocks, as well as outdoor activities like riding a bike and drawing with chalk. When he says he’s bored, remind him to look at his list.
  • Teach your child manners. Teach your child that it’s rude to say things like, “Your house is boring,” when he’s at a friend’s house. Remind him that expressing his disinterest could hurt other people's feelings.
  • Curb obnoxious behavior fast. It’s common for kids to cure their boredom by annoying others on purpose. Whether your child is making rude noises, or he’s poking his sister in the arm, provide a single warning that encourages him to find healthier ways to entertain himself. If he doesn’t stop, follow through with a consequence.
  • Limit screen time. While it may seem that TV and video games are a good solution to boredom, electronics can actually contribute to the problem over the long-term. Electronics can limit your child's creativity and diminish his resourcefulness.

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