Once in a while we may hear these words: “I’m bored!” from younger family members. This can be bewildering when we consider what we provide for our children. Professor J. D. Eastwood, from Canada, defines boredom as “wanting to but being unable to engage in satisfying activity.”

What would be helpful to do and to say when we hear such a phrase? Our actions and responses should reflect the hope for long term benefits, not just short term fixes. One response could be to provide an environment in which children can play/work on their own, make their own choices, be challenged and develop self-motivation.

We must take time to regularly connect with our children and to give them focussed attention. Connecting as we play games, as we work on age-appropriate jobs together around our homes and as we simply have meaningful conversations are good ways to do this.

When their emotional tanks are full, we guide and support our children to work out what to do about being bored. We coach our children. We empathise, ask questions, show understanding, inspire, let them know we have faith in their abilities, practise active listening and even allow for some frustration-but not to the point of neglect.

Limiting their structured activities and having more ‘free’ time are essential for our children to develop skills and abilities to entertain themselves. We can collectively brainstorm at our family meetings with ideas going into a Boredom Jar to be retrieved later. However, let’s give our children time and space to work out for themselves what to do about being bored. Sometimes, our children just want to stop, be still, think and reflect.

While working this out, and while engaging in their preferred activity or task, children develop skills and abilities. These include to discover, explore, be creative, imagine, invent, manage time, problem solve, self-regulate, focus, follow interests and to seek new experiences. They develop longer attention spans and the ability to work things out for themselves.

So, when we hear, “I’m bored!” let’s view this an opportunity for our children to grow, develop, reflect and learn and for us to coach them as necessary. I agree with Nancy H. Blakey (parent educator and author): “I cannot plant imagination into my children. I can however, provide an environment where their creativity is not just another mess to clean up but welcome evidence of grappling successfully with boredom”.

Diane McKinstry
REAL – coaching for parents & educators