Children’s Boredom: Opportunity for Self-Discovery, or Mask for Chronic Problems

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Most of the time, parents should welcome their children’s boredom as an opportunity for them to discover their interests, activate their imaginations, and explore their enthusiasms. Chronic boredom, however, can be a call for help.

Why to Welcome Momentary Boredom

When children’s boredom is a momentary reaction to nothing scheduled for them to do, it’s a gift of possibility. Rather than trying to rescue their kids from that kind of boredom—and rather than providing electronic babysitters—parents should welcome their kids’ expressions of boredom. Here are ten reasons why:

  1. Opportunity for decompression. If your child’s normal life is run on a tight schedule, she’ll probably experience a slow-down as boring, and try to avoid it. However, that boring decompression time is important for her cognitive, emotional, and physical well-being.
  2. Catalyst for self-discovery. If your child spends all his time engaged in activities created by others—and never gets to be bored—he’ll never discover what it is he wants to do, learn more about, or do better.
  3. Stimulus for authentic engagement. It’s only when your child has had enough unscheduled (aka ‘boring’) time to discover what she wants to do, that she’ll be able to get engaged in actively doing it, whole-heartedly knowing it belongs to her.
  4. Development of coping skills. Children’s boredom can be the best possible teacher of mindfulness, frustration tolerance, and other coping skills that lead to resilience.
  5. Spur for creative problem-solving. When a child is bored, she’s motivated to think about possibilities, and work toward creative solutions.
  6. Discovery of imagination. Exploration and invention are built on imagination, and imagination is one of the fruits of productive boredom.
  7. Acquisition of collaboration skills. When kids are free of structures and schedules, they can work together to make up the rules and the games, exploring and discovering together how to interact with others.
  8. Ownership of learning. When children’s boredom leads to self-discovery and exploration, they’re less likely to be restricted to others’ agendas, and more likely to take ownership of their learning.
  9. Prerequisite for creative productivity. In stimulating a child to find and explore his interests, boredom increases the likelihood of his developing the keen attention to detail, motivation, perseverance, and engagement that are prerequisites to creative productivity.
  10. Key to long-term success. Successful artists, scientists, businesspeople, and others describe childhoods full of boredom potential. By discovering what they enjoyed doing, they found, explored, and developed the passions that eventually became their achievements.

When Children’s Boredom Masks Problems

When children’s boredom is chronic, though, it can be a mask for other problems:

  1. Lack of challenge. The simplest reason for children’s problematic boredom—and the one that’s easiest to solve—is consistently low expectations and challenge. The solution is to find a better match between the child’s ability level and what he’s being asked to do, or what he’s being given a chance to do.
  2. Work that’s too hard. If a child is having a hard time doing what’s expected of her, she might describe her frustration and sense of defeat as boredom. The solution is actually similar to the problem of expectations that are too easy: find a better match between the child’s ability level and the challenges and expectations.
  3. Manipulation. Parents who feel responsible for filling their children’s schedules hear a child’s expression of boredom as a call to action. Predictably, their children will learn to look bored whenever they want something. The solution is a parenting challenge: give up responsibility for your child’s entertainment. Ensure your child has what he needs to find and create his own happiness:
  4. Depression, helplessness, sadness, loss, anger. Children’s boredom that masks deeper emotional problems requires more than an adjustment of school programming or new parenting strategies. A good starting point to knowing the difference is to ask how your child is doing generally in his life. Does he seem happy, healthy, engaged by activities? Does he have at least one good friend he enjoys spending time with? Is he sleeping and eating well? Does he welcome new ideas and possibilities? Is he generally co-operative and positive? If the answer is no to most of these questions, or you’re not sure about the answers, you may need some help getting to the root of the problem. That might mean engaging with your child in some family therapy.

For more on boredom:


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