How many times has your child complained, “I’m bored out of my mind!”
Parents often feel they must keep their children busy and entertained, and provide immediate stimulation when a child is bored. In fact, children need to be bored sometimes.
Unstructured time, when a child is left to his own devices, is essential for healthy development. Boredom is an opportunity for self-discovery. A bored child starts looking around for something interesting to do.
During periods of boredom, a child’s attention turns inward and the imagination begins to work. Boredom allows children to explore new avenues of thought and to seek new social interactions, such as with a younger sibling or a grandparent.
The skills that a child develops during unstructured time become valuable tools for coping with the challenges of adult life later on. Whether it is reading, shooting hoops or solving puzzles, a child discovers activities that can bring him pleasure and relief during times of stress.
The child learns how to manage his free time. Unstructured time also allows a child to delve deeply into something of particular interest to him, such as a hobby or project. Educators recognize that children at play naturally seek out activities that satisfy their developmental needs.
Studies have demonstrated that people are able to think more creatively after participating in a boring activity. When the mind is not fully focused on one thing, it becomes more open to new possibilities.
The immediate gratification of social media and the on-demand stimulation offered by TV, internet and video games, are a constant temptation. It is easy to turn to an electronic device for effortless entertainment, but interacting with a screen does not develop the brain in the same way as doing physical activities with the hands and eyes.
While a child’s conscious mind is engaged by a video game, he is not able to explore new ideas and concepts. Studies in England found that the stories written by schoolchildren who were exposed to multiple TV channels were much less imaginative and unique than the stories of children whose TV exposure was limited.
Here are some tips for dealing with a bored child:
- Do not attempt to provide an immediate solution. Acknowledge that your child is bored, then engage him or her in conversation on another topic. If, after some time, the child is still looking for something to do, offer suggestions.
- Keep an “art box” or a desk or work station stocked with craft supplies. Have items such as games, building sets, puzzles, books, sports equipment, wood scraps, tools, dress-up clothes and baking supplies available.
- Allow freedom to make a mess (and clean it up afterwards!).
- Provide materials to encourage your child’s interests.
- Children need to socialize. Identify potential friends and create situations where they can be bored together.
- A small child who declares he is bored might simply want some affectionate attention from you.
- Children might experience “ withdrawal” and boredom when parents restrict their screen time or the school year ends. They need several days to adjust to having more free time.
- Boredom in a situation where the child’s mind should be engaged, like a classroom, is not good. Either the child is not stimulated enough or has despaired of keeping up with the pace. Schedule a conference with the teacher or a school administrator.
- For an adult, boredom is a sign you need to seek out new and rewarding activities.
Dr. Carlene Wilson is a board-certified internist and pediatrician in private practice in Crystal River. Call her at 352-563-5070 or visit www.IMPWellnessCenter.com.