Research has shown that being bored is not such a bad thing for kids. Boredom can foster creativity and patience. Yet, when a parent hears that tired phrase again and again, we may feel the need to “fix” the boredom problem and keep our kids happy and busy. Does this work? Possibly. But, only if you are trying to fix the problem in the short term. Once the activity or event is over, the familiar whine resurfaces. How do we beat boredom once and for all with kids while at the same time teach them some important life skills? Read the case study below and consider these four tips to beat boredom in your own family.
“I’m bored!” young Josie announced with conviction.
We were at an outdoor restaurant and she had finished eating before me.
My “keep people happy” value kicked in, and right away I felt an urgency to “fix” her boredom. I immediately started looking for something she could do. There were no crayons at the table, no booklets to page through and no playground near, and there was no way I was going to let her play with my phone. Josie sat impatiently, waiting for me to somehow magically solve her problem. And then it dawned on me.
This was Josie’s problem, not mine.
But I was doing all the brain work to solve it. Realizing that simple fact helped me choose a different course.
“Well, Josie,” I started gently, “What do you want to do about that?” I asked. This question helped Josie understand that this was her problem not mine. Her answer was predictable.
“Can we go now?”
“No,” I said with a smile, “I’m going to finish my food. It will take a few minutes. But I’ll bet you can figure out some things to do while you wait.” Josie started to complain, to which I replied, “Well, complaining is one of the things you could choose, but it will just cause me to take longer to eat. I’ll bet if you think about it, you could figure out some things you’ll like better than fruitless complaining.” I looked away from her and kept eating. Josie huffed and then sat quietly.
After a couple minutes Josie asked if she could leave the table. I asked her where she wanted to go, and she said she just wanted to go over to the fence and look out to the lake beyond. I granted permission and asked her to stay in sight. A few minutes later I finished eating. I called her and asked her to tell me what she saw. She described the scene quite well, even with a bit of excitement, and then we left.
While it’s not always this easy to help kids overcome their boredom, there are some basic principles that guided me that day and that we’ve seen be helpful for many parents.
1. Resist the urge to take your kids’ boredom on as your problem.
This can help them develop creative problem solving and the ability to delay gratification.
2. Help kids by asking questions and stating facts.
This way your kids will learn that you can’t be manipulated and that they are responsible for their own boredom. Examples of this are:
- “Whining or complaining is one of the ways you could handle this.” (said matter-of-factly, not sarcastically.)
- “You have two hours free time until we leave. How would you like to use it?”
- “Screen-time isn’t an option now, but I’ll bet you can come up with some other creative ideas.”
- “What might you do with your time that would be a blessing to someone else?”
3. Schedule a family meeting for kids to brainstorm creative non-screen activities.
Once kids come up with some ideas, you can support them by getting any needed supplies. One mom stated she was going to give her kids a weekly arts and crafts budget for the summer. Our family had a “junk box” full of random odds and ends, packing materials, and quirky garage sale items. When kids said they were bored, we offered the box as an option. They almost always had creative fun with it.
4. Change your whole family’s perception of boredom and down time.
Periods of boredom can have many personal benefits, and can even boost brain function. Research shows that boredom/down time motivates people to pursue more meaningful activities, including serving others; increases creativity; and improves memory and deeper thinking as the brain has time to process previous experiences. Discuss these benefits with your kids. Then when the next complaint comes, you can empathize but remind them, “Being bored can seem frustrating, but a lot of good things can come from it, depending on how you respond to it.”
Apply It Now:
Which of these four ideas seems the most helpful to you? What specifically will you do to put it in action?
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