“I’m bored.” We’ve all heard this complaint from children. What do these words mean, and what’s a helpful response?
The causes of boredom in children are many and diverse, ranging from low interest in a particular activity or subject, high energy (without knowing where to direct it), perceived lack of control in an adult-driven world, desire for novelty, anxiety, feeling under/over challenged, and attention and learning problems. While it’s no surprise that under-stimulation can lead to boredom, so can schedules that are too full and busy. Another factor may be “screentime,” which has been linked to sleep deprivation, “trimming” of unused neural connections, and compulsive behavior driven by variable reinforcement (aka the “Vegas effect”).
But regardless of its cause, occasional boredom is not a bad thing. In fact, for children whose minds are developing, it may be especially healthy and rewarding.
For one thing, taking a break from an information-overloaded world may be beneficial to mental health. Also, being bored provides an opportunity to wonder and daydream – a sort of “call to adventure” that fosters curiosity and inspires new ideas. Studies have shown that daydreaming can lead to increased creativity by stimulating divergent or “outside the box” thinking. Finally, managing boredom may help children develop important executive functioning skills (planning, organization, focus, self-control). Rather than relying upon external stimuli to keep them occupied, they get an opportunity to explore their own interests, set personal “goals”, and experiment with ways to pursue them.
So, the next time your child says, “I’m bored,” just roll with it! Allow the child to be bored and see what happens. Yes, there may be a period of adjustment…but give them a chance to learn how to self-direct, to create, to daydream, and to explore possibilities!
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