Boredom is Not the Enemy

Boredom is Not the Enemy

The most common advice given to parents when faced with a bored child is to load up that kid with chores. The thinking goes that the child will never utter the words again to avoid mopping, vacuuming, and laundering.

Other advice:

Leave the child in it and eventually he or she will come out of it.

Remind kids that life isn’t always interesting; that we all have to do things we don’t like.

Less punitive advice:

Send bored children outdoors.
Post a list of possible activities and hand it to the child.
Remind the child of all the toys and supplies at hand.

For me, these responses to the “I’m bored” cry feel inadequate. I know when I express a feeling, I want someone to “get it” at minimum. I want my feeling recognized as legitimate or valid—at least, understandable given my circumstances. Offering me solutions or punishments for being bored, frustrated, lonely, tired, cranky, or sad feels dismissive.

On the other hand, being confronted by a bored gaggle of kids when they have a house overflowing with toys, books, play equipment, video games, movies, and siblings can be utterly exasperating!

Here’s a down and dirty guide to boredom and kids

(feel free to use, edit, disregard as suits you and your family)

1. Agree with equal amount of emotion in your voice. Like this:

“Mom, I’m bored.”

“You’re BORED!? Oh man I HATE that feeling.”
“I remember feeling bored when I was a kid. Drove me NUTS!”
“Boredom is SOOOO BORING! Ugh. Yuck. I get it.”
“Don’t you hate how you can be bored even though you have cool toys and games to play? I get that way sometimes.”

Let that stand. You don’t have to solve it. Sometimes just getting it is enough.

2. Resist the temptation to solve the boredom with practical activities. Instead, offer support in “handling” it, like this:

“How have you solved being bored before? Can you remember? What usually works for you?”

“Sometimes when I’m bored I have to sit for a little bit to think about how I might get to the other side. Want to pull up a chair while I’m in the kitchen and sit here with me while you think about it?”

“I remember the last time you were bored, you took the dog for a walk and you came back with a new idea of what to do. Do you think that would work this time? Or do you have another idea for what to do when you are bored?”

Or ask the question: “Do you mind being bored? Sometimes I like doing nothing—as a change of pace, just sitting around doing absolutely nothing at all. Do you ever like that?”

3. Invite the bored child (the one who is really struggling to find anything to do) to hang out with you until the child has a new idea of what to do.

“I hate being bored. I wish I had time to play a game with you. I’m washing dishes and I would love it if you would create a musical playlist for me to listen to while I do them. Would you mind doing that until you figure out what you want to do instead?”

“I was about to fold laundry. I know that probably doesn’t sound like fun, but until you know what you want to do, I’d love you to come talk to me to keep me company while I fold clothes. Would you mind doing that?”

“I’m on the computer right now. Come here! Look at these photos (story, pinterest images, facebook feed). Sometimes when I’m bored I just scroll through these news feeds endlessly. Not very productive, eh? Want to show me something online that I haven’t seen today?”

The goal here is to recognize that boredom is a condition of experience, but it doesn’t have to be overcome. Companionship is often one way to “heal” it for the moment allowing new ideas to come forward.

4. Suggest (after you may have tried the three ideas above) a project that is messy, that the child has wanted to do but you have put off, that is involving.

The key to overcoming boredom is “surprise.” Boredom is about relentless predictability. All of us get tired of that. Our toys bore us because they are familiar. Our books bore us because the newness has worn off. Our siblings bore us because they are always there. Our parents bore us because they are such adults all the time.

To rise above boredom means upsetting the stability and predictability of routine and familiarity. If your child is truly at the chronically bored place, it’s time to involve new experiences and those usually require time, companionship, and big messes.

  • Painting
  • Brand new board games
  • Hammers and nails
  • Taking apart old radios, bicycles, furniture, computers
  • Modeling clay
  • Baking
  • Sewing
  • Video games
  • A six part movie series
  • Having friends over
  • Planning a party

In other words—boredom may mean that life has become a bit dull, a bit of a drudgery, a bit repetitive.

Even in the academics, this happens. If you have been using the same set of workbooks for the entire fall, it may be time to put them away for a week and do all hands-on activities for math, language arts, and science. Just change the tone and energy of the home.

Alternatively, use them in a new setting: at the local Starbucks, go to the library, hang out at a park, “do school” at a homeschool friend’s house where you all study together for a day.

Boredom is real. It’s not the enemy. It doesn’t mean your child is misbehaving or willful. Boredom is not a sign of lack of gratitude or ingenuity. Boredom simply is—it’s another feeling that human beings have that deserves respect, support, and love. Like all of our feelings.

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5 Responses to “Boredom is Not the Enemy”

  1. Beth says:

    Oh my word, I LOVE this!! Thank you for being a fresh voice.

  2. Joyfulmomof6 says:

    I agree with Beth!
    It is interesting to make this connection with some information I was reading yesterday about ADHD and Executive Functioning. (Here is a short podcast called Executive Functioning 101
    Three of my children have ADHD (and my husband and I have strong tendencies towards it). For a child with ADHD, the boredom may not be the issue, but they are having trouble with the Executive Function of “Task Initiation” or maybe “Time Management” or “Metacognition” (aka Self-monitoring.

    So “punishing” with chores would be the WORST possible thing (and it just plain feels awful, as I remember from my childhood).

    I just love the practical advice I get here! It all boils down to the Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” doesn’t it? Our children deserve that same kind of respect.


  3. Joyfulmomof6 says:

    P.S. For some children, it might not even be a matter of ADHD, but just an immature brain that needs to learn good coping strategies and how to get along in the world.

    This post has made my day and given me so much to think about! I love when that happens.

  4. Joyce says:

    Thank you for this Julie! You spoke what my heart has cried for years. There is ALWAYS something for me to do but I don’t always want to do what needs to be done. Sometimes I just need to ‘play’ (with make-up, or hair, or clothes or a new craft, etc) or read a ‘brain-candy’ kind of book, or go gallivanting for the day, but won’t give myself permission because there is work to be done! As a result, I putter ineffectively, having a very unproductive day, plus I’m often crabby, or moody, or just ‘out-of-sorts’. If I feel this way, then it is logical to presume that my daughter does to. I need to make room for ‘play days’ for us to refresh us, revive us. It will fortify us to keep on keeping on. Thanks!

  5. Kathleen says:

    Timely. Thoughtful. Inspiring. Thank you.