Boredom comes in many forms. Sometimes children are bored because they have “nothing to do”. Other times, children are bored because they aren’t engaged in the activity that they are expected to participate in.
But boredom can be managed by controlling how you think. This really is a critical skill for people of all ages. With practice, you can make your downtime productive in a way that then fuels your work time.
“I’m bored,” says the child.
Every parent in the world wants to roll their eyes when their child says this. The parent looks at their “to do list” and very much wishes that he could make time to be bored.
What is boredom? Is there really such a thing?
Boredom is a physiologic state when the sensory nerves (that send information to the brain) become lulled into a state of “nerve accommodation.” The nerves have actually become so accustomed to the experience that it is filtered out, or the nerves become “accommodated” to it. The nerves are so used to it, they don’t even feel it anymore.
The tenth time your children watch the same cartoon, they become accommodated to it. They may, as a result, become restless and try to arouse their nervous system (amuse themselves), by any means.
You might pick up your crochet project or a crossword puzzle. They may want to make popcorn or make grilled cheese sandwiches to amuse their tummies. Or, they may start to fidget and tease one another.
The point is, children need to understand how to fill their own time in a productive and satisfying manner. Being bored is okay. The brain needs some “down time” to make space for new and creative thinking.
Deal with your child’s complaints of being bored up front. During the first day you start this new concept, give them a list of to-do’s that include a range of brain-body activities. Include imaginary play outside, being bored, sweeping the front porch and taking the trash out. The message to your child is that being bored is okay, in fact, it’s on the to-do list as it’s bound to happen anyway.
Often this state of non-activity is marginalized. In fact, great creative ideas come out of the powerful phase of human reflection. We want to create periods of time when the mind can rest and periods of time when the mind needs to flow.
Situations in which there are challenges with clear rules and immediate feedback are likely to support flow. Great moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times. Rather, they occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. The intensity of flow experiences helps people understand who they truly are. However, when the mind is ready to rest, allow rest. The contrast and range of experiences between rest and flow in thinking stimulates further brain growth. It is vitally important to help your child (and yourself) learn this.
Our role as the parents, educators, and caregivers of children involves a responsibility to teach children how to manage their own energy level. Not just completing tasks and improving competence, children must also be able to manage their own need for rest from intense activity and the need to create a stimulating environment to promote flow.
As adults, we know when and how to step back, take a break, try a new approach to an old problem, let it go and come back to it later. These are all survival skills we have developed.
Many children, especially unique learners, need help developing a balance between tension/excitement and calming/quieting. These states of mood need to be given labels much like we label the states of weather. “Feeling cloudy today? Sounds great, I’ll make a hot breakfast for you and it’s okay to stay cloudy feeling while you get dressed.” The message to your child is that it’s normal to feel cloudy. Once your child feels supported despite feeling low energy, then you can help shift gears for a “get ready for the great day” mood and routine.
Being bored is one of many states along the range of mood. All moods are welcome if they continue to nudge the child forward in their understanding and love of learning. The key is to teach your child how to manage their thinking, and therefore moods, so that they don’t get sucked into negative habits of boredom or of chaos.