Boredom is a condition seen in infants, children, and adults of all ages. Much of the time, your infant entertains herself. She really seems to enjoy just being alive and involved in the world. At other times, though, she becomes fussy, irritable, unhappy, and generally discontent. What is wrong with her? She is bored.
For your infant and toddler, boredom is a frequent state of affairs. This fact is partly why your toddler is always getting into everything and always under foot. Nothing holds his attention very long. He is always looking for new things to get into and novel ways to deal with boredom. Further, he spends a lot of time trying to get you to relieve his boredom.
Your preschooler experiences boredom less often, since his attention span is longer. Nonetheless, he becomes bored fairly easily, especially on rainy days or when he is sick and has to stay in his room, or when he is full of energy and has no good outlets for it. You understand what boredom is (an uncomfortable low level of stimulation) and understand it is a problem for children when they do not have enough to occupy their active minds and bodies.
When children are bored, then, what should you do about it? You have three options for dealing with children who are bored.
First, you can respond in a negative (limit setting) way.
Second, you can respond in a positive or helpful way.
Third, you can do nothing about it.
Although all three possible responses are used with children of all ages, the specific choice depends on the age of your child. With your infant, your most typical response is positive and helpful. With your toddler and preschooler, your response is a combination of helpfulness and limit setting. For the grade schooler and adolescent, your response frequently reflects a do-nothing or “that is your problem” attitude. Let’s look more specifically at these three options.
A positive response to boredom is essential if children are to learn constructive and creative ways of dealing with being bored. With your infant, once you have recognized the signs of boredom, you can pick her up, play with her, make noises or do other things to amuse her – move her from one place to another, turn on the music box or the radio. For your toddler or preschooler, you can sit on the floor and play for a while, read to her, help her think of something fun to do. For your grade schooler or adolescent, you can suggest she visit friends or have friends over, offer to play a game, involve her in what you are doing, or just sit and talk for a while.
It helps to anticipate situations in which children are likely to become bored. For instance, when children have to spend a lot of time in a car, it is good to have a travel kit with a supply of pencils and paper, puzzles, hand-held-games, coloring books and crayons, and toys. Most children also enjoy a sing- along while riding in a car, or word games.
Children are inclined to express their boredom in somewhat negative and destructive ways. They may become more irritable and more inclined to fight and argue with each other, may do destructive things such as picking at the upholstery or pulling holes in their clothing, may just start getting into everything they should stay out of. When children behave unacceptably because they are bored, first respond to the misbehavior by setting limits letting them know the behavior is not acceptable. Once you have dealt with the problem in a firm way, you can consider whether or not to help relieve the boredom.
Your third option is to ignore the boredom. Life really is boring sometimes for everyone including you. When you are bored, you may think of something to do; when you have to do something boring, you learn to tolerate the boredom and do the job in spite of it. Your children must learn both of these approaches to boredom, to follow through with boring jobs and responsibilities.
Your best approach to your older child’s boredom is usually to ignore it. She needs to learn to entertain or occupy herself, to be innovative and creative when bored, to follow through with responsibilities despite being bored and most importantly to tolerate being bored from time to time.