The Boredom Problem

January 17, 2010

3 min read


Don't feel inadequate for not constantly entertaining your kids.

How do you prevent kids from saying “I’m bored?” When you discover the answer to that question, I’d like to tackle the next one: “How do you stop them from chewing gum?”

I’m not sure we can ever stop children from expressing boredom. I think what we can do is stop them from expecting us to solve the problem.


“I am not your camp counselor” is what I’ve been heard to say on all too numerous occasions.


I have found that as long as our children expect us to entertain them –if we put them off with the prospect of “maybe,” -- they will never quit pestering. “Are we going?” “When are we going?” “Can we go now?” “When will you know?”


But if, on the other hand, we are very clear that the desired activity is not going to happen, that we really are too busy, they will go off and entertain themselves beautifully.


It’s our own guilt and ambivalence that gets us in trouble. We feel like we are bad or, at the very least, inadequate parents if we are not constantly entertaining our children.


But it is actually not to their benefit. Creative play stimulates them in ways that the entertainment we provide does not. It encourages their minds to stretch, strengthens their imaginative skills and provides an antidote to passivity.


It also stands them in greater stead for their future educational experience.


One of my teachers once mentioned that he felt that even the charming Sesame Street was destructive to children. It encouraged unrealistic expectations of the learning process; that it would be all fun, entertaining and effortless.


Children need to learn that they are not the only people in the world.

Another reason not to indulge every “I’m bored” whine is because, from a young age, children need to learn that they are not the only people in the world, that it is not only their needs that matter (I know; there are a lot of adults that need to learn the same lesson). Dropping everything to indulge their every whim teaches them that their needs are paramount and trump all else. This does not make for healthy adulthood.


On a practical level, it is helpful to do things like rotate the available toys so that only a few can be used at once, to save some for special occasions, to invite a playmate over and even, if your child is a voracious reader, to limit trips to the library.


When you do set aside time to be with your children, ignore your phones and your blackberry. Although their need for attention is insatiable, it’s worse if they feel you are never really focused. Be present for them when you can and explain clearly when you can’t. And by the way, did I mention the use of earplugs…


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