How to think about boredom, even during crazy times
“She refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn’t boring.”
“I’m so bored!” How many times do we parents hear our children express tedium? Even our eclectic young Cobras, involved in academics, extracurriculars and community activities, get bored from time to time. Now, in a time when so much is closed or inaccessible, the phenomenon is even worse.
Perhaps, though, we may be looking at boredom in the wrong way. Journalist and writer Jill Waldbeiser explains that for a few people, boredom can reflect something serious. For example, boredom may serve as a possible indicator of depression. In addition, among certain groups of people, ennui can lead to sadistic and destructive behaviors beyond what may be considered relatively normal acting out. At times, being bored can accompany or mask other types of self harming tendencies.
However, for most people, boredom is simply a normal part of life, according to Waldbeiser and Dr. James Danckert, a cognitive neuroscience professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. He says one of the best ways to deal with what would be considered normal boredom is to change how one approaches a routine task or problem. “‘The best boredom coping strategy might involve simply reframing how you view a boring task or situation,’ said Dr. Danckert. ‘Thinking about quarantining as a Robinson Crusoe-style adventure, rather than an annoyance that makes fun things off limits, can help kids deal.’”
Waldbeiser advises parents to avoid filling up a child’s day with even more structured activities when they complain; resisting this understandable response will help children develop their independence and creativity. Youngsters may want their parents to find them the latest and greatest new thing; nevertheless, like other skills and mindsets they develop, they can learn and grow as they make a habit of maximizing their time.
In addition, as parents, we should avoid allowing our children’s complaints of boredom to create anxiety for us or make us feel inadequate. We can guide them to learn how to use their free time productively; then we may need to leave them on their own to grow. As Dr. Damon Korb explains in a CHC blog, “Of course, you should not be responsible for all of your child’s fun, all of the time, but sometimes you have to demonstrate how to make fun happen. Help model creativity for your child. Show your younger children new ways to use everyday objects, finger paint on glass shower doors with shaving cream, make figures out of popsicle sticks and rubber bands, teach them how to cut paper snowflakes out of folded paper, make some homemade play-dough, or go outside and play hockey using sticks and a rock. Learning to solve boredom is like exercise for a child’s brain; it requires a child to think about possibilities. A child must learn to consider all of the things she could build, play, or create. Thinking about multiple things at once is the foundation for higher thinking skills (e.g. planning, insight, perspective taking, and grasping the big picture), so battling boredom is great for your child’s development.”
At school, Keystone students seem to be constantly on the move, and I love seeing the many children carry books they are reading for pleasure. Having a book wherever one goes provides one great method to avoid boredom while offering a myriad of other opportunities for intellectual and creative growth. During aftercare and in classes, children demonstrate amazing ingenuity when they take simple objects and make them into entirely new inventions. Our young Cobras do an excellent job of finding ways to entertain themselves, and we should applaud and continue to encourage their inventiveness.
Nevertheless, there may be moments, particularly in our COVID world, when they may need to “change things up.” It is during those times that we can guide them toward finding new and exciting ways to occupy themselves and then watch them fly.
When our children were young, the comebacks my wife and I used if they complained “there’s nothing to do,” were either “Only the boring are bored,” or “If you’re bored, it must be because you’re boring.” It was probably not the sweetest way to say it, but our sons rarely griped about boredom because they knew our rejoinder.
Perhaps a better approach comes from noted expert on children and parenting, Dr. Seuss: “You’ll never be bored when you try something new. There’s really no limit to what you can do.”