“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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Ten Tips for Encouraging your Middle Schooler to Read More
Whether your middle schooler likes to read or avoids it entirely, here are ten simple and effective ways to engage and encourage him to read more often.
- Connect books to life. If your reader likes Harry Potter, consider learning magic with him. If he likes Diary of a Wimpy Kid, help him create a journal. If he likes Hunger Games, go to an archery range. If he likes mystery, create a dinner mystery at home. If his book has been made into a movie, ballet, or play, go see it. If he likes outdoor adventure books, go hiking or camping. Bringing a book to life through real-world activities is not just fun, it also helps your reader connect with story and characters on a deeper level.
- Create a “book culture.” Take your reader to book signings. Go to local author events. Research an author, his background and interests – maybe write him letter and ask him questions (authors really do enjoy these). Schedule trips to the bookstore on Saturday mornings, during which you each get breakfast and coffee/hot chocolate, and read or peruse books for an hour.
- Go to a university library. Take your reader to the archives where the “old” books are kept. Imagine how much time and effort someone put into writing each one. See who can find the oldest (or weirdest) book. Look at the pictures. Smell the books. Look for ghosts. Then let your reader observe all the “cool” college kids reading at the library.
- Create a Summer Reading Challenge…for the entire family. Set a page count to be reached by the end of summer. Identify individual goals that are appropriate for each family member. Choose a fun reward to enjoy when the family reaches its goal (maybe a family rafting trip). Create a log so that reading progress can be tracked throughout the summer – review this at dinner time.
- Encourage your reader to create his own stories. These don’t have to be entirely original (you might notice they are based loosely on a book currently being read). Story-making unlocks imagination, nurtures appreciation of the creative process, and encourages outside-the-box thinking.
- Listen to books on tape. Take a minute to count up all the time you spend in the car together – on the way to and from school, the grocery, baseball practice, on trips, etc. Ask your reader to pick out a book on tape/CD from the library, and keep this in the car stereo. Every time you go somewhere, you can listen to another chapter. This offers a much better alternative to radio “noise,” helps your child transition to new activities, and provides a much needed escape from the reality of school and the dramatic lives of young adults.
- Let him read what he wants. If your reader is drawn only to Calvin and Hobbes, that’s fine. If he likes sports magazines, no problem. The goal is to encourage him to read, not to dictate what he reads. Kids are far more likely to read when they can pick what interests them. Besides, an astute parent knows that what a child chooses to read offers key information about his natural passions, interests, and gifts… Pay attention to these selections, as they can provide invaluable direction when it comes time to help him select a college major or career years from now.
- Read what he is reading… and read with him. If your reader enjoys Harry Potter, read Harry Potter. If he likes military history, read military history. And better yet, read a chapter or two aloud every night with him. This activity shows love, respect, and interest in your reader.
- Let him see you reading. If you want your child to read, model reading. Turn off the television and unplug the internet. Make a cup of cocoa and a snack, put on some classical music if you’d like, and read. Or pack a picnic, go to the park, and pick out a nice shade tree.
- Get an evaluation. If your child avoids reading altogether, complains about his eyes hurting, skips (or rereads) lines, inserts (or misses words), or has difficulty recounting what he has read…. consider having him evaluated to rule out a visual processing problem or other challenge that may negatively impact his ability to read.
Do you have ideas? Please comment below or email me with your own successes – I will compile them in a follow up blog post.
– Dr. Katen
©2016 Individual Matters, LLC. All rights reserved. Feel free to republish so long as credit is given.