“Mum, Dad – I’m bored!”
We’ve all heard it. The signs and cries of boredom and restlessness leave parents everywhere scrambling to find a source of entertainment for their little ones, and fast.
We are now in the final stretch of the school holidays and likely running on empty when it comes to ideas to provide fun-filled days.
“I’m bored” is, unfortunately, a phrase that we’re all too familiar with, and it likely sends parents into a frenzy of panic and planning.
Fear not, as an international family psychotherapist says, letting children and young people be bored in the summer holidays can actually be a good thing, believe it or not.
Fiona Yassin from The Wave Clinic is here to put all your anxiety and eye rolls to bed and reassure you that there are actually some benefits to boredom.
“Ultimately, children feel bored when they are doing something that doesn’t give them satisfaction or fulfil their desire for stimulation,” she explains.
“Letting children sit with some degree of boredom can encourage them to problem-solve and work things out for themselves, which we know is a building block for so many skills later in life.”
The founder and clinical director of The Wave Clinic says problem-solving skills can aid a child’s development, particularly as they approach the teenage and adolescent years.
“When there is too much scheduling for children, they may lose some element of creativity. Boredom can allow children the time and space to develop imaginative and creative play and resourcefulness.”
However, Yassin says it’s crucial to understand what boredom means for your child and the warning signs to look out for that may indicate something more is going on.
When children move into a mental health struggle or challenge, it often goes back to them feeling like they don’t have the ability to make solutions or change the situation.
Is your child really ‘bored, or is there something else going on?
Yassin says that often when children say they are bored, they may actually be feeling other emotions such as anger, frustration, or loneliness, so it’s important to work out what boredom actually means to a young person.
“Parents may find their child is surrounded by lots of play or activity options, but they do not want to engage in any of them. In this situation, sometimes children describe being bored, but their true emotion may be something else, such as anger,” she says.
“If parents find this is the case with their child, it’s important to explore this as there may be more to the feelings of boredom.”
There are a number of ways to differentiate boredom from something more.
For example, boredom is paired with feelings of hopelessness, and comes with low mood or agitation, or a child talks about a feeling in their tummy they can’t scratch away, then it’s important that parents take notice and explore this further, according to Yassin.
This may also include instances where it’s difficult for parents to motivate a child or it’s tricky to switch them to another activity.
Taking note of when or if boredom seems to lead to destructive behaviours
“For a minority of children, boredom may lead to behaviour that hurts others,” she explains.
Interrupting boredom or destructive behaviour with movement, which can be scripted movement like an exercise class or simply a change in activity like a walk or cycle, can be highly effective, according to Yassin.
“We tend to experience boredom when we’re doing something that is repetitive or monotonous, and it’s really important to allow children to piece together what they can do to change how they feel.”
“One of the great aspects of boredom for young people is that it gives them the opportunity to sit with their feelings, work out what they are feeling, and change what they are feeling.”
However, there are some ways you can pull them out of their slump.
According to Yassin, giving a child agency over the decision of what they want to do and responsibility over their environment can be very beneficial when combating boredom.
For parents of older children, it may be helpful to put together a list of activities that are available in the house and the community and allow them to make their own choices about what they do.
According to the American Psychological Association, boredom also results in kids feeling more motivated and can improve a child’s mind and well-being.
“Is it useful to be organising and scheduling every second of our child’s downtime this summer?’ The answer is no.”
It’s also important for parents to think of their own mental well-being so they can fulfil their roles happily and to the best of their ability.
“Parents may end up exhausting themselves and their children if they fill their summer holidays to the brim with activities.
“If a parent puts a lot of pressure on themselves to fill their child’s time, the added stress could cause friction in the family system.”
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By Sophie Collins