How to handle boredom in Children?

I am sure many of you have seen the movie, Shrek 2. One scene that I distinctly remember is the scene when, Fiona, Shrek and the donkey are driving to the Kingdom ‘Far Far Away’ and the donkey is bored. Frustrated with the donkey, Shrek yells, ”Find a way to entertain yourself!!!” Do take a moment to see this clip

Doesn’t the scene remind you of a scene from real life? A very common situation in most families with children.

“I’m bored !!!!!”, is a phrase we commonly hear children say. When we hear them say the word “Bored” we immediately start telling the child what to do.  Almost like as if it was our job to keep the child occupied and we have failed in doing that.

If it makes you feel any better, let me tell you categorically – “It is not your job to entertain or keep the child occupied all the time!”

Let’s get into the details of boredom:

Boredom can be defined as a time when the child does not know what to do. This ‘not knowing’ creates a kind of frustration which makes the child angry, whiny or deviated. What I mean by deviated is, that the child starts to manifest behaviour that is not helping his unfolding.

For example: The child who is bored when the mom is busy with her chores may exhibit attention seeking behaviour like climbing on something he knows he should not. Or he starts using language that he knows he should not.

Not having something to do has created a frustration in the child. The frustration is the part that makes boredom a “teachable moment.’ That is a time something can be taught through dealing with the situation at hand.

It is inevitable for the child to not have something to do at times or it is inevitable that he may not like what’s happening around him. That’s perfectly ok. What is not ok is the way he deals with the boredom. I would like to emphasise “The way HE deals with the boredom.” This will teach him to take ownership of his own feelings and not blame the surroundings or other people for it. It will teach him to be proactive and do what needs to be done to feel better. This in turn is helping him become independent. 

The important lessons are :

  1. Its ok to have nothing to do .
  2. Its my job to find something interesting to do when I feel bored.

Usually one of the following happens when the child is going through the phase of boredom.

  1. We tell the child what to do
  2. We get drawn into the deviated behaviour that has manifested by correcting or lecturing the child.

In either case you are not helping the child. The child got what he wanted – fill the time with something to do. Here, he is filling it by throwing a tantrum and you are giving him company.

So how do we transform this into a “teachable moment?”

Let me go back to my example of the mom doing her chores. If the child starts climbing on something, she notices it, stops it and gives the child some choices of what he could do. Sometimes getting them to help with the chores is a good idea. But it should be their choice. However, it is not advisable to stop doing the chore and go play a game with that child at that moment. You could suggest that you will have time to play after your work. For now the child will have to find something to do. This will give him time to find a way to get out of his boredom.

  1. Acknowledge the fact that he is bored:  When you deny his feelings you are not helping him feel better. The denial could trigger in him the need to create more frustration.
  2. Try to give him suggestions: The suggestions given should be practical and possible to do then. Base it on the things he enjoys doing.
  3. Let him choose what he wants to do: You can suggest but the final choice is his. If he decides to be whiny then let it be. Don’t add your energies to it.
  4. When children are allowed to be bored, they find small things around then interesting and will be entertained by it.

An important thing to keep in mind is for adults around the child to have purposeful activities for themselves when the children are doing their own purposeful activity. If the child is always accompanied by adults in everything he does, he is not going to learn to find things to do. “ME” time is also very crucial for the development of the child.

As an adult he is not going to have company all the time with everything he does. If he has not learnt this valuable lesson early on he will hold others responsible for his boredom. This will make him unhappy. Having and giving “ME” time helps the child gain emotional independence.

So the next time you hear your child say” I am bored!!!!”, you could respond like what Shrek said to the donkey ”Go find something to do to entertain yourself.”