Mar. 21—Spring break is fast approaching our children in northern Michigan. Going on a year with limited things being open and so many activities canceled, the cry from children of "I am bored" is heard often. Their lives have been impacted a great deal during the COVID-19 pandemic by attending school differently, being on screens more often and having a lack of friend interactions. Our young children are justified in "being over it" and "bored."
However, boredom is not a bad thing for our children to encounter. In fact, it is helpful for development when kids are unplugged from electronics and have nothing to do. During these times children will build problem solving skills, planning skills, improve creativity and flexibility.
"The key is to help kids learn how to manage their boredom so they can develop independence and feel agency over their own happiness and well-being," advises Stephanie Lee, PsyD, the director of ADHD and Behavior Disorder Center at the Child Mind Institute.
A way to help children problem-solve around boredom is to be proactive. It can be helpful to sit with your child(ren) and create a list of things that can be done when they are bored during the day. For younger children you can suggest a tea party with stuffed toys, creating things from a cardboard box, using play dough, making forts, playing balloon tennis, and/or creating racetracks from painter's tape. For older children you can suggest learning Tic Tok dances, developing a scavenger hunt, playing a board game, reading and/or creating art.
A cry of boredom from a child could mean they are expressing a deeper need. The child could be hungry, feeling the need for connection, or searching for the word to label a deeper feeling.
"When children or teens say they're bored, I always think they're searching for what they actually feel" says Michael Thompson, a clinical psychologist, author of several books, including "Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys." When being proactive, teach children how to engage in letting them express these needs. One way to do this is giving two positive choices of an activity to do. If neither is chosen by the child, don't be quick to fill in the space with entertainment but to sit with the child. Help them put words to the feeling, such as "we haven't had lunch yet. Is your stomach growling?" or "I have been very busy with work today. I wonder if you miss our time together. Give me an hour and then we can read together."
Also, especially for younger children, they may need some teaching on how to start activities when they are bored. They may need help the first time building a fort or creating something from a box. Being able to attend to children during the proactive time will help them sustain in boredom.
Enjoy spring break with you children and give yourself credit for going through a year of restrictions together. This may be a good reminder that every day doesn't need to be an action-packed Pinterest board. As Michael Rich, an HMS associate professor of pediatrics and director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children's Hospital states, "Boredom can be a very good thing — that's when kids say 'let's build a tree house, let's put on a puppet show.'"
Jen Kraus is a mental health therapist at Mental Wellness Counseling.
She specializes in helping children heal from trauma, anxiety and depression, as well as early parenting struggles with attachment, postpartum depression and perinatal mood disorders. Learn more at www.mentalwellnesscounseling.com