The truth about boredom in children

 In Managing Big Feelings

Boredom is a universal human experience. It’s also one that is often viewed in a negative light and quite frequently misunderstood. Parents tend to find boredom in children frustrating to deal with (especially when there is a bedroom or playroom full of activities to entertain them) and as a society, we’re generally dismissive of the experience of boredom. 

We view it almost as a personal or moral failing. As something that only happens to people with too much time on their hands, who are overindulged or spoilt, or who are boring themselves (anyone else heard the expression, ‘Only boring people get bored’?).

Unfortunately, the way we view boredom as a society, and the way we speak about boredom in children, only makes it more difficult to navigate. Many of us dismiss boredom as an unimportant or insignificant experience. And in recent years, I cannot tell you how many times I have seen professionals tell parents that “Boredom is good for children.” You’ve probably heard this yourself also, but the problem is, this is not 100% accurate. 

And because there are so many misconceptions out there about boredom in children, when I work with parents, I find that they tend to fall into one of two camps. Either they attempt to fill every waking moment with stimulation or entertainment in an attempt to alleviate their child’s discomfort. Or, they are quite dismissive of the experience of boredom, essentially telling their children to just “deal with it”.

And neither one of these responses is particularly helpful. Boredom is far from unimportant. In fact, it is quite a complex emotional state, and like all emotions, it plays a very important role in childhood development. 

What is boredom?

Boredom is an emotion, just like anger, sadness, worry or fear. And contrary to popular belief, boredom is important, and it serves a purpose. Like all emotions, boredom is a messenger that brings us important information about ourselves, our environment or our relationships.

Boredom generally signals to our bodies that we need a change – that the situation we are in is not sufficiently stimulating or engaging and is no longer meeting our needs. Boredom’s purpose is to inspire us to explore and to engage with our environment. To seek out novel experiences and meet our essential human need to develop autonomy and independence through exploration.

Why is your child bored?

Parents often feel quite frustrated and exasperated by their children’s complaints that they are bored. They look around at their homes full of toys and activities and wonder why they cannot simply find something to do. They may make suggestions, throwing out idea after idea that their child quickly shuts down, which only further frustrates everyone and leads many parents to wonder if they are raising a child who is spoiled or entitled.

But boredom is about so much more than not having something to do. It is ultimately a warning sign to us that something isn’t going well and we need to take action. We feel bored when we have a desire to engage in something, but are, for some reason, unable to do so.

Which means that when your child tells you they are bored they may be:

  • Disinterested in what they are doing
  • Not finding an activity meaningful or purposeful
  • Intellectually under or over-stimulated
  • Finding a task too difficult
  • Having trouble focusing on a task
  • Needing to move their body
  • Needing some specific sensory input
  • Feeling overwhelmed or stressed
  • Hungry, tired or thirsty
  • In need of a break
  • Needing connection or attention from an adult
  • Struggling with a transition

So you see, it’s really not as simple as finding something to do. It’s about finding the right thing to do. The thing that best meets your needs at that moment, and that allows you to re-engage with your environment. And for children, that is a really difficult thing to do. Especially without support.

So is boredom good for children?

You, like myself, may have seen a lot of posts and articles and comments from professionals asserting that boredom is good for children, and that we need to allow children to experience it more often. And I don’t necessarily disagree with this post, but it’s also not the whole truth.

Because like any emotion, boredom is neither good nor bad. It’s simply a messenger. It’s our response to the emotion that has the ability to impact our wellbeing and result in either helpful, or harmful behaviour. 

A little bit of boredom can inspire children to seek out a new experience, explore their world, and learn new things. A little bit helps them develop resilience and self awareness. But, too much boredom, or boredom that feels too large for a child to manage, can lead to self destructive, dangerous, or out of control behaviours. Because a stressed brain will do whatever it can to protect itself. And boredom causes stress.

When boredom leads to dysregulation

From a nervous system perspective, boredom feels uncomfortable and is experienced as dangerous. Boredom is about disengagement. And being disengaged from your environment is unsafe. It leaves you less aware of what is happening around you and therefore, vulnerable to harm.

So boredom creates a lot of stress within the nervous system. And without support to manage this stress and the feeling of boredom, children can quickly become dysregulated. 

Chronic boredom can lead to depression and anxiety and frequent disengagement from your environment means you are not learning and growing – so chronic boredom really has the potential to impact a child’s development. 

When we feel bored, we often feel both low in energy and restless at the same time. We have a sense of wanting to do something, but also feel as though we have no energy or motivation to actually do it. This is a difficult state to be in for most adults. And for children, especially our neurodivergent children, this feels confusing and downright intolerable.

And so they come to us for support to manage this huge, uncomfortable emotion. The way we respond can either help them understand and learn to effectively manage their boredom (so they don’t need as much support from you in the future), or it can make boredom a more stressful, unsafe experience, and create a pattern where boredom results very quickly in dysregulation for your child. 

How to respond to boredom in children

So how do we respond to a child’s boredom in a way that allows them to develop the skills they need to manage it? The same way we respond to any other big emotion: we emotion coach them through it. 

Here’s what that might look like:

Recognise your child’s emotion

Try to tune into your child’s early warning signs. How do they behave when they are becoming bored and beginning to disengage? What do you notice? The earlier you can respond, the easier it will be to support them.

Label the emotion

Help your child put words to their experience by stating what you think they may be feeling

“You seem a bit restless. Are you feeling bored?”

Validate how your child feels

Connect with your child by helping them see that you understand how they feel. Try to think about what need your child might be expressing and WHY this situation may be hard for them. “You want to do something, but you just don’t know what. That’s super hard, I hate when that happens to me.”

Offer comfort and containment

Set any limits that are necessary to contain the situation and ensure everyone remains safe. “I see that you’re looking for something to do. I also can’t let you swing this stick around as someone may get hurt. I’m going to hold onto it for you.” If no boundary is necessary, you may simply offer them some comfort. “Do you need a hug?” Or, “I can hang here with you until you’re feeling a bit better/until we work this out.”

Support your child to regulate

If your child has become dysregulated, they may need some support to calm their body. What you do here will depend on how dysregulated your child is, and what they respond best to – all nervous systems are different. Do they need you to simply sit with them while they calm down? Do they need (and are they responsive to) suggestions, like “Let’s do some big star jumps together to calm your body.” Or, “Do you want to take some deep breaths together?” 

Problem solve and teach any skills

Once your child is calm and has had an opportunity to express to you how they feel, then you can move onto problem solving. Rather than immediately jumping in to offer suggestions, or attempting to entertain your child, hand the reins over to them. “What do you think you might do now?” Or, “Do you need help coming up with ideas?”

Boredom is not something we need to fear or avoid in our children, but managing it is a skill that develops over time, and with help from safe, supportive adults. As with all emotions, leaving children alone with the feeling of boredom (or any other emotion) before they have the skills to understand and manage it, often leads to dysregulation and challenging behaviour. But when we truly understand what boredom is and how it impacts development, we can effectively use emotion coaching to support children to learn skills to better manage it, and empower them to view it as the learning opportunity it is.

Are you finding your child’s big emotions challenging right now?

Come and join me inside of Mindful Meltdown Mastery! This 3 part workshop will help you learn how to quickly de-escalate your child’s big meltdowns and outbursts without losing your cool, or resorting to threats, bribes or punishments, so you can support them to develop lifelong self regulation skills (and finally get some relief from those tantrums!)


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