Children spend much of their time either being entertained or in scheduled activities. Structured activities such as day care, school, camp, classes, sports and other activities involve adults providing the format and directions. Increasingly, downtime involves electronics and screen time where children are plugged in being entertained and stimulated by something other than their own imagination. Children today have fewer opportunities to sit in solitude, to daydream, to use their imagination and simply be.
Many parents complain that when their children are faced with unstructured time they are hearing “I’m bored” or seeing behavior such as whining or begging for screen time. These behaviors demonstrate that many children today are having difficulty figuring out what to do on their own. Children need help discovering the pleasures of free time. They need to develop tolerance for siting with their thoughts and feelings. They need time alone to allow their imagination and passions to emerge.
“I’m bored” is often what children say when they do not know how they feel or what they want. “I’m bored” often triggers parental anger. Parents think, “How can he be bored when he has all of these wonderful toys?” or “How can he say he is bored after all we have done together today?” The statement “I’m bored” also leads to parents jumping in to rescue their child from their boredom. They rescue by throwing out tons of ideas-- all of which are likely to be rejected.
What is a parent to do?
1. Remember “I’m bored” is really your child’s way of saying I am having trouble just being still right now and figuring out what I feel and want.
2. Empathize. “It looks like you are frustrated and having a hard time figuring out what you want to do.”
3. Ask questions to help your child tune into his needs:
“Do you feel like moving or do you want to be quiet and still?”
“Do you want to be with people or alone?”
“Do you want to be in an open space or more cozy?”
“Do you want to make something or play with toys?”
Even if the answer is “I don’t know.”, your questions will help your child focus inward so that he can discover his own needs.
4. Do not rescue or problem solve. Allow the struggle. Be reassuring and give your child permission to just be. “I am sure you will figure out something. Give it time. It is okay to just sit for a little while.”
5. Rejoice. It is okay and healthy for children to be bored. It is how they learn to discover their needs.
For more information about our online parenting course or parent coaching, contact Karen Jacobson, MA, LCPC, LMFT at 312-330-3194, Karen@parentingperspectives.com or Lauren Bondy, LCSW at 847-562-9503, Lauren@parentingperspectives.com. Or, visit www.parentingperspectives.com.