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  • Writer's pictureCary Hamilton

What to do when they say "I'm BORED!"

It's two weeks into summer, and kids are already complaining about being bored.

But boredom can actually help them develop skills, creativity, and self-esteem. Both littles and teens often struggle with knowing what to do.

The good thing is with a bit of encouragement and patience, they can be successful with boredom.

No matter your child’s age, take a moment to discuss boredom and things they can do when it happens- because it will happen. If a list helps, great, make one! Sometimes even a jar of notes with things to do can be helpful, pulling one out when bored.

Little kids usually need a range of both indoor and outdoor activities from which to choose.

Getting outdoors is always a great option, even if it is a walk around the block or sitting on the front step watching what is happening around them. And yes, reading is an oldy but goody for them. My daughter really likes to read on her iPad, which is hard for me. It is reading, even though it is on a screen, so we compromise.

A quick way to respond to a bored kid is to ask them to give you two activities and then say, "I’ll choose one for you." Now, letting you have control is not something they will like! They will always strive to make their own choice. Great! Let them!

Part of boredom is letting creativity reign.

Remember, it’s okay for kids to be BORED.

Boredom helps kids develop the valuable skills of tolerance and patience. It may seem the end of the world to them, and it isn’t your responsibility to solve the distress; boredom is ages old, and they will survive. You did.

Life requires us to manage our frustrations and regulate our emotions when things aren’t going our way, and boredom is a great way to teach that skill.

Boredom encourages kids to develop planning strategies, problem-solving skills, flexibility, and organizational skills, which doesn’t occur when in structured activities like camps and summer classes. While those can be fun and it keeps them busy, it promotes anxiety.

If you always have to be DOING something, just BEING with yourself becomes very distressing.

Boredom isn’t really the problem. It’s what they do with boredom.

Decision-making, troubleshooting, and organizing, (and failing!) are all great skills to learn, and these skills develop when faced with boredom!

This fosters creativity, self-esteem, and original thinking. They develop independence and feel they have agency over their own happiness and well-being.

They begin to trust in themselves.

Sometimes “bored” can be code for a need they may not always be aware of.

Bored can mean: hungry, tired, lonely, seeking attention, and a desire to be with you, feeling curious about what you’re doing, or looking for something to occupy their time.

The need to feel busy is part of our culture, and it is stressing out our kids.

Brené Brown states in her research that “rest and play” are requirements for healthy living. It is required for our brains to destress, heal and develop. This doesn’t happen when stress is present (think school!).

Structured schedules are needed in the summer, AND so is scheduled downtime, aka boredom.

Ideas for boredom busters:

  • Bedroom picnic

  • Bug or nature hunt

  • Build and play in a fort inside or outside

  • Legos or other constructive toys

  • Puzzles (if you can, have a puzzle table where there’s always one to work on)

  • Coloring or craft project

  • Call or FaceTime a relative or friend

  • Chalk drawings outside

  • Sensory tables

  • Nature Mandalas

For older children and teens:

  • Board and card games

  • Drawing or other art projects

  • Read a book from a favorite series

  • Plant a plant or another outdoor project

  • Create a podcast, website, or app

  • Work on sports skills

  • Hike locally

  • Nature mandalas

  • Do yoga, go for a walk, ride a bike

When no answer you give works

When children refuse every idea, it’s because they want your attention. Engaging with you about what to do gives them your attention for as long as you will give it.

Remember to keep it simple and short and validate their experience.

Validate the boredom, acknowledge it is uncomfortable, remind them of choices (the list), and encourage them by letting them know they can do this! “I can’t wait to see what you come up with!”

Encourage their creativity

Thinking creatively is vital to beating boredom; sometimes, children need support. Encouraging them with prompts like, what do we have lying around? What supplies might you need? Where is a good space to do this? "Let’s make a plan, and I can write the steps out so you have a plan to follow."

The goal is to give them the scaffolding for doing it on their own next time.

For young children stuck playing with their toys the same way each time, you might spend some time showing them how to think differently. Give them permission to be silly! Mixing up toys and supplies that don’t usually go together is often a great way to jumpstart creativity.

GET SILLY!- it decreases the stress for both of you.

Manage Expectations for you and them.

No matter how proactive you are, boredom will come.

Activities will take different lengths of time. Some kids will rush through like it’s an assignment from school. Not helpful, and good skill. Having a time frame for these activities can help. “You have 30 min or longer for your activity.” Often they will get lost in the activity. If they don’t, then you now know the minimum amount of time expected before they return to you with more requests.

  • 2-5 years, about 15 minutes,

  • 6-9 years, about 20-30 minutes

  • 10-13 years, 60min

  • 14+ years, an hour or two.

You’ll learn how long your child/teen is able to keep busy on their own. And they will learn they can get lost in the fun of boredom if they give it a chance.

Remember, an aspect of creativity is showing it off, so be prepared to check in on them and spend some time learning about what they did. Even if it was a book, you can say, “Fill me in on the story,” “That looks colorful, tell me about it,” or “You were so focused, I want to know more about your process, tell me about it.”

Failure Distress

Failure will occur. The plan won’t go as expected, they won’t have what they need, or it was more challenging than they thought it would be.

How you respond matters.

Kids have to experience failure and know they will be ok. This is what builds frustration tolerance, perseverance, and grit. Failure isn’t terrible.

Failure is learning, and it feels uncomfortable and awkward; that is ok.

Failure means you strengthen your brain by doing something different.

Failure is frustrating, AND it is the only way to learn what NOT to do next time. And the way to learn to work through strong emotions is with your support.

This is where the magic happens! Don’t be afraid of boredom!

Dreading the whining is real. Make a plan. Know it has a purpose. Know they will survive.

AND you will survive too.

If you have thoughts, questions, or comments, please post them below & I will respond!

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