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  • Writer's pictureWork & Play

I'm Bored.

For all the hype, summer sure can get boring fast. After the fanfare and busyness of the end of school, summer’s calm can feel B-O-R-I-N-G. Parenting kiddos is full of surprises but when it comes to hearing the phrase, “I’m bored” during the summer, it’s a sure thing. Between our families, every kid, at various ages and in a myriad of circumstances, has told us they are bored. 

“I’m bored” can be said as soon as they wake up, during a vacation, the moment an event ends, or just as you sit down for coffee or a glass of wine. As parents, regardless of when it is said, it often causes a reaction in most of us. We can feel irritation, disbelief, dismay, anger, guilt, exhaustion, and worry when we hear our children say those two little words. 

We’ve found ourselves asking, “Haven’t we done enough today?” Are we expected to be available to entertain and soothe our child’s slightest discomfort? Parenting in today’s world is complicated. There are many options, opinions, and forces impacting our day-to-day family life. School schedules, birthdays, enrichments, sports, days off, camps, and playdates can make grown-ups yearn for some time for themselves. So when we find a moment when we don’t need to plan and attend to an activity, hearing “I’m bored” can be frustrating.

Thinking back on your own childhood experience, were you bored? How did that feel for you? How did you manage it? Depending on your age, memories of boredom will vary. Regardless, we are certain there were times when boredom struck and you persevered through it (maybe with some whining along the way.)

On the flip side, many of our children are less comfortable with unstructured time. Our culture often engages children in adult-led or supervised activities. While enriching, this leaves less time for our kids to practice the feelings of boredom. Add in the option of screen use and it’s easy for that to become a go-to salve to soothe the discomfort of boredom for our kids (and us!) Similar to managing the discomfort of needing to find a bathroom when you really need one or feeling hungry when waiting at a busy restaurant, practicing and succeeding at managing discomfort helps your kiddo be better equipped the next time the feeling arises. 

There is a strong case in favor of boredom in childhood. Boredom builds resilience, supports independence, builds self-awareness and allows children to flex their creative thinking muscles. Being bored has its benefits both short and long term.  A child who can manage boredom today will likely be able to manage setbacks and challenges in the future.

Your child will, at some point, feel bored, restless and weary about their surroundings. They won’t be happy with what is available to them, whether it’s toys, activities or playmates. They will bemoan this feeling. They will repeat it (possibly excessively) and plead for you to fix it. They may nosedive into a full-blown tantrum over feeling bored. They may even cry real, sad tears. 

You will have all kinds of feelings over their reaction to boredom. We have found that having tools at the ready can help your little one move through boredom and ease the big emotions and distress for all.

Quick Tips & Tricks to Manage Boredom:

  • GET AHEAD OF IT. You know it is inevitable. Boredom will come. As your child grows and you get to know them as an individual, you will become aware of their rhythms. Try to prepare for when you know boredom may strike (i.e. downloading shows to watch before a long flight or saving that podcast for a long commute).  Is it when dinner is being prepped? On a long car ride? Waiting at a restaurant? Think ahead and be ready. Talk about it with your child prior to the event. For some children, naming it and giving it a place in the day can help. “We may have to wait a while for our food at dinner. You may feel bored. Any ideas of what we could bring or do to help pass the time?” is an option. Naming it and getting ahead of it can really empower some children to keep things in check.

  • BUILD BOREDOM REMEDIES INTO YOUR ROUTINE. There are times when a boredom meltdown just won’t work (i.e. you have a work Zoom that can’t be missed, there’s a long religious service that’s a must, visiting a home with few toys or play options.) Having materials and resources familiar to and accessible for your child can be a game-changer. Keep things simple with items that are easy to play with and easy to clean-up. Think: legos, model magic, playdough, fruit squeeze pouches, playing cards, small animals, washi tape, small journal, stickers, cars, board books, seek-and-find games or a simple sensory play set-up. Consider items that get your child excited but also hold their interest. 

  • CAN'T BEAT BOREDOM? JOIN THE BOREDOM. Sometimes there’s not much you can do but sit in the moment with your child and feel the feelings. Listen. Don’t try to fix it or explain it away. Be in it and acknowledge that it stinks and is not fun. Get some fresh air for a few minutes or get a cool washcloth for your faces. Reset and start over. Boredom loves company. 

If you can find a way to tolerate it, boredom really can be of benefit to your child’s development. There is no sugar-coating it - parenting a child in the throes of boredom and the behaviors that come along with it, is not often easy. At Work & Play, we encourage parents to consider what their own comfort level is with boredom. Maybe a little whining and pouting is bearable but repetitive “I’m bored!” demands are not. The dream is that once in a while, your kiddo fights through boredom and comes up with something creative and imaginative that keeps them busy for a bit! These moments can be the best!  We get it. Once you find your personal threshold, you can support your child through any boredom episode. You’ve got this! 

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