Here's why to welcome kids’ boredom and when to worry about it.
Pay attention to a child or teenager's boredom, because it can mask deeper problems.
Parents should make sure their children have what they need to find and create their own happiness.
Boredom can be one of the best possible catalysts for self-discovery, imagination, and creativity.
When a child solves their own boredom problem, they're developing coping skills and resilience.
Boredom can be a wonderful opportunity for a child or teenager to discover their interests and abilities. Ample unscheduled time encourages their creativity and helps them develop important coping skills and resilience Boredom can also mask deeper problems that need to be addressed.
9 Reasons to Welcome Boredom
Boredom can be a gift of possibility. If things are mostly going well in your child’s life, boredom is a crucible for self-discovery, creativity, exploration, imagination, and restoration of equilibrium.
Restoration of equilibrium: Recent brain research shows that ample time where nothing is scheduled can help restore a person’s equilibrium, allowing them to catch their breath cognitively, socially, and physically.
Catalyst for self-discovery: If your child spends all their time engaged in scheduled activities and never has time to be bored—they’ll never discover what it is they want to do, learn more about, or do better.
Stimulus for authentic engagement and autonomy: It’s only when your child has enough unscheduled time that they can discover what they really want to do and get engaged in actively doing it, whole-heartedly knowing it’s their own.
Agent for the development of coping skills and resilience: A young person’s boredom can teach them about mindfulness, frustration tolerance, and self-sufficiency, thereby helping them acquire coping skills that lead to resilience.
Spur for creative problem-solving: A bored child or teenager is motivated to think about possibilities and to work toward creative solutions.
Vehicle for creative exploration and invention: Creativity, exploration, and invention are built on interest, previous learning, and imagination in a context where there’s ample time with no demands and no technological distractions.
Acquisition of collaboration skills: When kids are free of adult-imposed structures and schedules, they can work together to make up games and activities, learning in the process how to interact productively with others.
Fostering creative productivity: In stimulating a child to find and explore their interests, boredom increases the likelihood they’ll develop the keen attention to detail, motivation, perseverance, and engagement that are prerequisites to creative productivity.
Key to long-term success: Successful artists, scientists, businesspeople, and others describe childhoods full of boredom potential. By discovering what they enjoyed doing, they found, explored, and developed the passions that eventually became their achievements.
But Sometimes Boredom Masks Problems
When a child or teen’s boredom is chronic, it can be a mask for other problems:
Lack of challenge: The simplest reason for children’s problematic boredom—and the one that’s easiest to solve—is consistently low expectations and challenge. The solution is to find a better match between the child’s ability level and what they’re being asked to do. This often shows up in a school environment where the child's advanced knowledge and ability means the work is too easy.
Work that’s too hard: If a child or teenager has a hard time doing what’s expected (whether at school, at home, or elsewhere), they might describe their frustration and sense of defeat as boredom. The solution is actually similar to the problem of expectations that are too easy: Find a better match between the child’s ability level and their challenges and expectations.
Manipulation: Parents who feel responsible for filling their child’s day with scheduled activities hear expressions of boredom as a call to action. Predictably, their child learns to look bored whenever they want something. The solution is a parenting challenge: Give up feeling responsible for your child’s entertainment. This is much easier said than done and requires a change in perspective, sometimes involving counseling. The bottom line: Ensure your child has what they need to find and create their own happiness.
Depression, helplessness, sadness, loss, anger: Sometimes, a child’s boredom masks deeper emotional problems that require more than an adjustment of academic challenges or new parenting strategies. A good starting point is to ask yourself how your child is doing generally in their life. Do they seem happy, healthy, and engaged in activities? Do they have at least one good friend they enjoy spending time with? Are they sleeping and eating well? Do they welcome new ideas and possibilities? Are they generally cooperative and positive? If the answer is no to most of these questions, or you’re not sure about the answers, you may need some help getting to the root of the problem. That might mean engaging in some family therapy with your child.
When your child or teenager appears bored or says that they're bored, do pay attention. Help them solve the problem if there is one, but don’t feel it’s your job to keep them entertained. Having enough do-nothing time to figure out what they want to do is an essential part of self-discovery, autonomy, resilience, and creative fulfillment.