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The Informed Parent

I’m Bored

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Mar. 04, 2002

Sarah hung on her mother’s leg while mother prepared dinner. “What can I do?” she whined. “There’s nothing to do.”

Jason sat at the back of the classroom fiddling with his pencil while his teacher explained the math lesson. When the class started to work, Jason continued to fiddle. “This is stupid math. It’s boring.” he called out.

Macie finished her spelling and put her book away. She took out her reading homework and quickly completed the story and questions. “Now what shall I do?” she asked. “This class is so boring.”

Teachers and parents quickly tire of their children talking about being bored. They often lose patience and respond to the query of what to do with, “Just find something. You know what your choices are.”

The fact is that children whose needs are met don’t get bored easily. Children do get bored when they are tired or when they want attention. They get bored when the activity they are asked to do or have chosen to do is too difficult for them. They get bored when an activity isn’t challenging enough.

Some specialists believe that with the fast pace of TV shows, movies, and video games children tire of activities in school and at home more quickly than did children of past decades. I don’t believe that this true. I believe that if the needs of the child are known, if the environment is child centered, and if the materials are interesting and age appropriate, children become engrossed in play as deeply as they ever have.

Knowing Your Child

Observant parents know the interests and activity levels of their children. They know what motivates them. They know their cycles of activity and rest. Paying attention to what you know ensures that boredom is not likely to set in.

Four-year-old Kathleen liked to play with her dolls. She chose to play with dolls at preschool and spent many hours dressing them and playing house at home. Her parents wished that she showed a greater range of interest. They decided to limit her time of doll playing and among her other toys provided puzzles, crayons and paper, and clay. When her dolls weren’t available, Kathleen wandered around the house sucking her thumb. She whined and complained that she couldn’t find anything to do.

The pediatrician suggested that the parents not be so concerned about the doll play. “She’ll move on to other activities when she’s ready,” he said. “Leave the new materials out, but don’t limit the doll play.” The parents followed the instructions. After beginning kindergarten in the fall, Kathleen started playing with the crayons and clay at home. Later she became interested in the puzzles. She still liked her dolls the best, but on her own she expanded play activity.

Children of all ages have their favorite activities. When activities are too difficult, not challenging enough, or not of high interest, they are no longer play. When my older daughter was eight or nine, she enjoyed science. In a catalogue she had seen a science kit. She saved her allowance for weeks so that she would have enough money for the kit. We sent away for it, and she eagerly awaited its arrival. When it came, we immediately tried one or two of the experiments together. The directions were not clear, the experiments were time consuming, and they didn’t always turn out. My daughter quickly lost interest in the kit. Even when she got older she did not return to it. What could have provided hours of pleasure was lost because initially the science kit had not been an age appropriate choice.

Carefully chosen toys and activities can last over a period of years. Culling out and disposing of toys periodically ensures that age appropriate choices are continually available.

Creating The Environment

Children have cycles of activity and rest. Regardless of the enticement of a toy or activity, when they are tired children need time for rest or quiet play. Children are tired at the end of the day whether they have stayed at home, gone to school, or been at daycare. When busy parents rush home from work and into the evening activities children often whine, are grumpy, or are just plain obstinate. Transitioning into the evening creates a more harmonious environment.

Before preparing dinner, take a little time to talk to each of your children. If there’s time for a short walk take one. Suggest that your children have a small glass of juice or milk before beginning homework or quiet play.

Frequently we forget how important transitions are in assuring that what follows a previous activity will be positive. We hurry from one event to the next without awareness that children need to take a breather between what was and what is coming. While transition time may feel wasteful to parents, taking a few minutes to move slowly out of one activity and into another ultimately saves time because the children move more peacefully into the new activity. Parents don’t need to spend time cajoling, hustling, or settling disputes.

Children engage in activities more fully when the necessary materials are available. Replacing parts of broken toys, replacing lost game pieces, and providing the necessary materials for art and craft projects sets the stage for greater interest in activities.

Periodically, taking a few minutes to notice and comment on your children’s play helps them maintain interest. Short comments such as, “I like the way you’re playing quietly,” or “What an interesting picture. Tell me about it.” will suffice. Children want and like attention. By noticing and commenting before they ask, they recognize that you are interested in what they are doing.

A Workable Idea

Regardless of how effective you may be at providing appropriate toys and materials and in creating an environment conducive to interest in play, children will occasionally say that they are bored or that there is nothing to do.

Some forethought, in the form of a “What to Do” list, assures that your youngsters can find something to do without your intervention. When parents suggest activities to bored children, the choice usually elicits the response, “I don’t want to do that.’’ Children who continually rely on complying parents to rescue them from boredom don’t learn the lesson that they are the ones responsible for their own happiness.

Creating a “What to Do” list takes a bit of time, but it’s time well spent. Each child needs to have a list of his or her own so that it meets individual needs. The list will be best utilized if it has about 25 activities on it.

Sit with each child and create a list of activities that he or she enjoys doing. The list might include drawing, riding my bike, calling my friend, and playing ball. If the list includes going to the mall or other activities where you might need to provide transportation or other support, only include them if you plan to drop whatever you are doing to give what is necessary. Leave watching TV off the list unless a specific agreed upon show is given.

Creating the list will probably take several days. It may mean looking through old toys, books, and games to see what’s available. It will require creative thinking and planning. Put the completed list on the refrigerator or in another accessible place. The list will need to be revised as children grow.

When children come to you saying, “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do around here,” refer them to their “What to Do” list. They may say, “There’s nothing on there that I want to do.” Respond by replying, “I’m sure you’ll find something. If not, I guess you’ll just have to be bored for a little while.” Children learn quickly that you don’t plan to make a decision for them or to entertain them. Once this happens, statements about being bored quickly diminish.

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