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Rae Largura: What to Do When Your Child Says, ‘I’m Bored!’

It's summer time, the kids are home more and their minds are not being challenged in the way that school provides. As my own child gave me the “I’m bored” remark, I turned confused and appalled. How could anyone be bored? There is so much to do!

In a quest to understand, I talked to four parenting experts, with four different and interesting views on what to do when your child says, “I’m bored!”

Christine Carter, parenting coach and author of Raising Happiness, says this often means that there is another feeling behind the boredom. If we rush in and give them something to do, you have taken away the opportunity for them to get in touch with the actual feeling, which is not boredom.

The “boredom” is actually loneliness; they want some social connection. Help them explore ways to get social connection, whether it is with you, the parent, or playing in the neighborhood. Giving them a few minutes to explore how to get out of the loneliness on their own will be of greater benefit to them than giving them something to do.

Dr. Paul Meisel, Ph.D., a clinical and child psychologist in Santa Barbara, defines boredom as “the anxiety that comes with not knowing what to do with yourself.” It feels very uncomfortable for a child. Rather than think your child is lazy, know that he or she simply doesn’t know what to do. Kids are not able to visualize yet, to project a view of how to get out of the uncomfortable.

Parents try to be helpful, but because it comes out of the parent’s mouth, it is not interesting. The solution can be to have a variety of things around that they like to do. They will remember where all the fun stuff is, then the fun stuff will remind them of options to get out of the boredom.

Enlist your child in the solution process. Ask questions to get them thinking: Are you looking for company, or something to do on your own? Help them understand if the boredom is from what they are doing or what company they want. Rather than say, “Why don’t you _____”, say, “I remember that you liked _____ .” This small change is verbiage could alleviate any defensiveness. It pays off to support them while their brains grow and develop until problem solving becomes natural.

Stacy McCrory, MA, MFT of Santa Barbara, says to take your child outside. Depending on the age, have him or her build something, draw with chalk, dig, create a fort, collect bugs — whatever is of interest. This is a time for your child to experience nature.

Typically parents will insist that their children go outside, and the children will insist that it won’t work for them. The whining might continue for a little, but what ends up happening is the children will get industrious and creative. They will come back into the house happy, involved and refreshed.

Christopher Taibbi, teacher and author, has associated that often “gifted” children experience boredom. They might feel “uninspired” or that what they are doing is a “waste of time.” Gifted children want the meaning behind the action. If it doesn’t make sense to them, it becomes menial, or boring.

Taibbi explains that the solution to boredom for gifted children is to explain the reason or real life meaning to what they are doing, and to teach them that life is full of some boring moments and that valuable growth comes from facing those moments.

Thank you, Christine Carter, Dr. Paul Meisel, Stacy McCrory and Christopher Taibbi for turning a frustrating statement into, actually, an interesting topic. Hopefully families will learn and grow from your knowledge, as I have.

Ask a Tutor runs biweekly. Any subject, any grade: What is your question for a tutor? Email [email protected].

— Rae Largura is president of Leading Edge Tutors. The opinions expressed are her own.

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