Mom, I’m bored! They whine, they yell, they act as though that is your problem! And more often than not, you make it your problem. When you see that face or hear those words you spring into action, offering options for entertainment; here’s a toy! Do you want a book? And the all-time favorite, here’s the iPad. We can’t stand to see them bored or hear them bored because in the end, their boredom threatens your peace. It’s their problem. THEY are the ones bored, yet you fix it. You make boredom the enemy. What if it’s NOT! What if boredom was actually GOOD for them.
As a child development specialist who works with the brains of thousands of children, I often encounter this question, “what should I do when my kids are bored?” Most parents are surprised when I answer, “Nothing.” Boredom is a gift! It is a wonderful way to build problem-solving skills, rouse creativity and supports a person’s ability to adapt in life.
The definition of boredom is not wanting to be where you are or doing what you are doing. You could be in the middle of Disney world and be bored…if you don’t want to be there.
So being bored is in what I call a don’t want, they have a problem. The question is whose problem is it? It’s theirs. Life has offered them a child-sized problem to solve. They need to a) identify it as their problem, b) identify if they want to solve it, c) identify solutions and d) implement the solutions. Those are the steps in all problems.
This problem is one they can manage. When your child is bored and they come to you, rather than problem solving they are problem telling. I’ll tell mom what’s wrong and she’ll fix it for me. When you jump in and fix the problem, you have stolen the opportunity for your child to solve a child-sized problem. We all know life is waiting to offer them more problems later. As I often say, little people, little problems; big people, big problems. If you don’t give them the opportunity to work on the little ones, you are not helping them develop the skills they need for when the big ones come. Let them be bored. Let them solve that problem. It is a gift to you and to them!
In addition, boredom offers the opportunity for them to not only do steps A and B in problem solving, that is, identify the problem and identify their own want to resolve the problem, but it opens the door for creativity. A bored child who is left alone with that problem can look for solutions and use their imagination and creativity to implement the solution. The painful part for parents is getting the child there. It requires a hands-off approach. This is the hardest part. To DO NTHING and let your little dear be bored. Be quiet and wait. They will rise up and surprise you.
As a gift that keeps on giving, boredom teaches adaptability. There will always be the boring teacher, meeting or situation and kids must learn to adapt and develop their own internal 'boredom muscles’ so to speak. It’s part of life and what boredom teaches is that you can wait, it reduces impulsivity and it teaches self-control. It allows the child to learn how to adapt or deal with discomfort. Boredom is NOT torture no matter what your child says, it’s just uncomfortable and uncomfortable is part of life. So, let your child be bored. It helps them see that they can be uncomfortable AND survive! What a gift.
While I can identify all the reasons why boredom is good for the child, there is one more challenge on the table, which is the discomfort you as a parent faces when you need to allow your child to be bored and do nothing so that they can have the benefits of boredom. That’s the hardest part, but why is it so hard? Because parents can’t stand for their children to be unhappy. Boredom looks like unhappy and parents want to fix unhappy and get back to happy.
The bottom line is that when a child is unhappy parents feel uncomfortable and they rush in with solutions; electronic devices, like iPads and TV, round-the-clock activities and educational enrichments to make their children happy and comfortable. This in turn makes parents happy and comfortable. It solves the immediate problem, but it undermines EVERYTHING you want to teach your child to prepare them for life. It takes away the gifts that come with boredom.
When I work with parents, one of my first jobs is to help parents change their parenting patterns by using neuroplasticity to rewire their brains and learn new ways to think. I use my W.A.Y method which I have developed over the years, to teach parents how their own brain tricks them into wanting to solve the child’s problem as a quick fix to survive. This brain pattern, which most of us cannot see because it is unconscious, ends up causing more hurt for the child’s development and for their parenting relationship. I teach parents how to rewire their brains so they can SEE their behavior, CHANGE how they are thinking and reacting to their child’s boredom so that they can DO something different when faced with this challenge. I teach parents how to get out of the way so that they can help their children develop healthy brain habits and promote successful life-skills.
About Julia Harper
Julia Harper, PhD, MS, OTR/L (www.juliaharperinc.com) is a wife, mother, occupational therapist, business owner, psychologist, life coach mentor, speaker and writer. She brings all of these roles together to serve her mission of helping people-all people to live their lives beyond limitations.
For over 20 years, Julia has worked as a pediatric occupational therapist focusing on creating brain-based therapeutic programs that tap into neural-plasticity, the brain’s ability to adapt and change. Her world-renowned therapy center offers a WAY to HOPE which merges her two models: HOPE (Harper’s Optimal Protocols for Enrichment), which focuses on re-wiring the brain of those with physiological, learning and limitations in attention and WAY (What About You), which retrains the brain to move beyond emotional and thought limitations.
Creating change is at the center of her work, as she knows that to best serve the world, she needs to be an agent of change. She hopes that these changes have the ripple effect of changing the world. She is a firm believer that all change begins with her. Daily she lives this change to be the change