What Do You Do When Your Child Says, ‘I’m Bored’?
When a child says, “I’m bored,” many of us immediately feel a moment of dread. We assume that they don’t have enough to do or whatever they are doing isn’t engaging or is too easy or too difficult. Worst of all, we might simply think that we have not fulfilled our role as parents or educators.
When children are bored, our first line of defence is often to offer more toys, add more activities or to immediately give in to what they want. When we use these tactics, we are only delaying the inevitable because boredom is like a game of Whack-A-Mole. We “solve” one situation for our children, only to find that the boredom comes creeping back.
Instead, what if we helped our children embrace the uncertainty of not knowing what to do?
Boredom can act as a powerful invitation for children to think differently about their world. They can be pushed to use their imagination and to think critically and creatively about their play.
Often, we assume that we need to rescue children from their boredom, partially because we want to help, and partially because we do not want to hear their kvetching. However, when we allow our children to be bored, we are giving them the opportunity to problem solve and delve deeper into their learning. We are also teaching them how to sustain their attention instead of constantly moving from one toy or game to the next. They are able to take responsibility for their learning and entertainment instead of it being served to them.
This does not come easy for all children. In fact, it takes practice, sometimes a lot of practice, but the results can be life-changing.
It’s important to be bored
Boredom is also really important for learning about gratification. We live in a world where we have come to expect instant gratification, so boredom can help teach kids about patience. In our fast-paced society, we receive email responses in minutes, Uber Eats provides delivery in under-25-minutes, and Netflix allows us to binge watch an entire season of a TV show in one evening. While we appreciate aspects of this fast pace (me included), there is also something powerful about slowing down.
Instant gratification teaches kids that we can always expect to move on to something bigger and better the moment that we are no longer satisfied – but in real life, this just isn’t true! If we do come to expect this, we are contributing to a generation of youth who are not able to sustain their attention on a single task long enough to learn from it.
We need our children to understand that there are going to be many boring moments in life. Sometimes we cannot change this reality and we must accept it, while other times the onus is on us to take charge and create new and different experiences for ourselves.
What does boredom really mean?
In our Kindergarten program, purposeful play acts as the basis for learning. Students become fully immersed in what they are doing by actively engaging with the world around them. However, there are moments when a student will approach the teacher and say, “I’m bored”. While boredom can be the result of an activity being too easy or too difficult, more often than not, open-ended play allows each child to give and take what he or she needs from the experience.
Children are not bored. Rather, they have not yet taken their activity to the next level.
Albert Einstein is often quoted in Kindergarten classrooms as having said, “Play is the highest form of research.” When we keep this in mind, we no longer see boredom as an obstacle, but as an invitation.
As the adults in our children’s lives, how can we help?
- First, we can provide our children with open-ended play experiences and the tools to build them. When buying toys, look for items that are multi-purpose, rather than a game with only one set of solutions, like an alphabet matching game. When the child learns the answers to this type of game, there is little motivation to keep playing.
- In fact, some of the best toys are household items or items found in nature. For example, go outside and ask, “Can you name all the things that you see which start with the letter ‘A’?” The possibilities are endless and offer many learning opportunities.
- When your child comes to you and says that they are bored, let them know that it is perfectly okay to feel bored and that not every moment in life is exciting.
- Give your children time to practise reinventing their boredom on their own. Allow them to come up with solutions or alternate plans even if it does not come easy at first.
Below are a few picture-book recommendations to reframe boredom into new opportunities. Take the time to embrace the quiet moments and reinvent possibilities. There is nothing boring about that.
- I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black
- Not A Box by Antoinette Portis
- Not A Stick by Antoinette Portis
- Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
- The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen
- Jillian Jiggs by Phoebe Gilman
- What do you do with an Idea? By Kobi Yamada
- The Idea Jar by Adam Lehrhaupt
- If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen
- Use Your Imagination (But Be Careful What You Wish For) by Nicola O’Byrne
- The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson
- Chalk by Bill Thomson
Vice Principal, Primary Division