It’s a refrain commonly heard in households with kids of all ages.
And now, with schools closed since March and kids still separated from friends and organized activities, summer could start to look very long indeed!
“Kids are so used to structure and right now they are really missing their usual schedule, so it is absolutely natural for them to be feeling bored,” says Tara Mitchell, Ph.D., pediatric psychologist with Carilion Children’s Pediatric Behavioral Health.
Dr. Mitchell points out that we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves right now. After all, we are all stuck at home and feeling out of sorts.
For example, she doesn’t think it’s necessary to limit screen time too severely under these circumstances. Kids can use screens to connect with the friends they are missing, whether through FaceTime or Fortnite.
And, says Dr. Mitchell, now is a good time for parents to unburden themselves from the idea—and the societal pressure—that says boredom is something they always need to jump in and ‘rescue’ their kids from.
“Allowing kids to find their own way out of boredom teaches initiative—a lesson they can miss out on when entertainment is just given to them—and can be character-building."
"You should let your kids be bored sometimes. Really!”
Let’s take a look at a few of the benefits of being bored!
What do kids do when they have nothing to do?
“They use their imaginations!” Says Dr. Mitchell. “They daydream and they play pretend. Depending on their age, they might work on puzzles, art games or crafts. Older kids might try building things. And in doing so, they develop their creativity.”
The ability to think creatively will be so valuable to your child throughout her life, a skill to rely on when adapting to new situations, solving tough problems or dealing with uncertainty.
“This is a good time to learn how to problem solve and explore,” says Dr. Mitchell.
“Learning problem-solving skills will help your child feel more successful, now and in the future.”
The Ability to Deal With Discomfort
Often for adults, the need to be constantly busy can become a way of coping with mental or emotional discomfort. It lets us avoid having to face and feel what might be bothering us.
This is a habit we can learn as we are growing up.
“Kids will often resort to screens unless you take the option away from them,” says Dr. Mitchell. “It’s easy, and they enjoy it.”
But when a child is handed an iPad whenever he expresses the discomfort of being bored, he loses that opportunity for learning to accept and tolerate that little bit of discomfort.
Instead, teach your child that it is okay to feel bored sometimes. Like all feelings, it won’t last forever.
When we step in to entertain our kids whenever they feel bored, they lose opportunities to solve a problem for themselves.
Instead, let them engage with their environment and find new ways to have fun.
“Imagine your child all grown up, working at a job where she feels bored and underchallenged each day,” says Dr. Mitchell.
“Will she have the motivation to change the situation for herself—whether that means talking with her boss about taking on new projects, or taking steps to get into a different career field entirely?”
If she had the opportunity in childhood to ‘solve’ boredom for herself, she is more likely to have the mental and emotional skills needed to improve situations for herself as an adult.
As adults, we don’t need to be told that life is full of its boring moments!
With just about any goal we set in life, we will need to push through a lot of tedious work and waiting before we achieve what we want.
“A child who doesn’t learn how to tolerate some boredom may grow up into an adult who loses focus and gives up on goals before getting to the ‘good part,’” says Dr. Mitchell.
The Ability to Find Meaning
One day, sooner than we or they think, our kids will be adults who need to make decisions on their own. That includes decisions about what, and who, is worth building their time around.
We won’t be in the next room ready to schedule their play dates, register them for activities or offer up ideas on how to entertain themselves.
“A child whose parents—with the best of intentions—keep them busy all the time may have less practice at finding and choosing what is meaningful to them,” says Dr. Mitchell.
Letting your kids handle boredom for themselves can help them grow up into a more interested, and interesting, adult.
So, the next time you hear, “mom and dad, I’m bored,” the only thing you might want to do is…nothing at all!
This article was reviewed April 20, 2020 by Tara A. Mitchell, Ph.D., pediatric psychologist with Carilion Children’s Pediatric Behavioral Health.
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