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What To Say When Your Child Says, “I am bored!”

Your child comes up to you and says, “I am bored!”

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Do you say,

“What do you mean you are bored? You have so many toys! In our time we didn’t even have half as many. “

Or 

“When I was your age I managed to keep myself busy, I didn’t whine to my parents.”

Do you think that response helps?

Most probably all you did at the moment you reacted was hurt your child’s feeling. You definitely didn’t help the child figure out a way to keep himself busy.

what to say when your child says I am bored
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WHY DO WE GET UPSET WHEN OUR CHILD SAYS, “I AM BORED?”

Have you ever thought, why some statements like, “I am bored!” trigger a rude response from us? What happens?

Maybe, at that moment we feel like incompetent parents. As if we failed to teach our child to play independently or constructively. This elicits a shocked and hurt reaction from us. We feel the need “to teach” our children. 

But, we need to understand that we are not responsible for our child’s feelings. And that all feelings must hold space in our relationship with our child. Even boredom. You don’t need to fix anything.

Try and resist the urge to moralize, teach, or criticize your child. The child is only voicing out a feeling. We need to allow space for uncomfortable feelings too. The feeling is theirs, not ours. We are there as a guide and support system for the child.

The problem lies in the fact that a lot of modern parenting has become “fix it all”. We assume this responsibility to solve everything for our children. We leave no space for them to just be. From highly parent managed schedules, structured activities, and the use of screens and video games as distractions, children of today spend less and less time in unstructured and slow routines. 

Related reading: How to raise intrinsically motivated children without punishment or rewards.

WHAT TO SAY WHEN YOUR CHILD SAYS, “I AM BORED!”

We all need time to slow down sometimes and figure out for ourselves how we want to use our time. Only out of this boredom, can creativity be born. We need our children to experience a slow life too. I want to give an example from my own life here.

Every year as summer vacations would arrive I would dread the trip to our village.
My grandparents lived there with two dogs and life in the village was super slow. For a child coming from a city, no T.V, no electricity for the most part of the day, and no friends of my age group, village vacations were boring.

I remember sitting on our veranda with the dogs, bored and grumpy. I made a hundred requests to my mom to go back home. I would complain, “Mom, I am bored.” and my mom would say, “What can we do about it?”

I would settle in eventually after the first couple of days. There was no T.V and you can only play so much cricket and badminton. I would start using my creativity and come up with some art or craft project.

One year I made a lantern, another year I made buntings for all the windows. I would cut pictures from newspapers and make scrapbooks or greeting cards, read my grandpa’s Readers Digest magazines, officiate our dogs’ wedding day in pretend marriage ceremonies, climb the chikoo trees, ask the local chikki vendor to show me how she makes chikki, or go for long walks with my grandpa and listen to his stories. 

Basically, in the end, boredom lead to new ways to entertain myself. 

When I grew up I thanked my mom for taking me back to the village every vacation (something I gave her much grief about when I was growing up) because I realized all that time I spent alone with myself (half daydreaming) really helped me develop the skills needed to take charge of my life. Boredom made me creative, organized, and focused on my work. It fuelled my drive to use my time in life better.


So now when my son says to me, “Mom, I am bored”. I say “I hear you, what can we do about it?

The mantra here being,

The parent is not responsible for the child being bored.

HERE IS HOW IT GOES

A typical scenario in our home. You can use these responses when your child says’ “I am bored”

Child says: “I am bored. I don’t know what to do”

Listen and Empathize

“I hear you. That is bad.”  

Sometimes children just need us to acknowledge how they feel and go on to figure out what they can do. The above statement can lead to a release of emotions related to feeling lonely, or whining about not having someone around to play with. The child might say something like, “ Both dad and you are busy, I have no-one to play with.”

Listen with empathy and tell your child,

“I understand, not having something to do is very frustrating.” 

Or,

“I understand, not having someone around to engage with you feels lonely and boring.”

Support but leave your responses open ended.

“What can you do?”

“I wonder what you will do?”

You will be surprised at how the kids start figuring out a solution for themselves.

The child may say, “Umm, maybe, I will listen to my audiobook.” Or “Umm, maybe I will do some colouring in my book.”

To which you say, “Sounds like a great idea!”

SOME MORE POINTS TO THINK ABOUT

Sometimes, I am bored could also mean your child wants more time with you. In which case you need to do just that and fill your child’s cup.

Another point that we must also consider in case the child is saying, “I am bored” too often is that maybe the child is not used to unstructured days or is used to a lot of screen time and does not know what to do when left by himself.

In such a case, you may need to re-evaluate your schedules and come up with ways to reduce screen time. This was surely my case, growing up. But, with a little guidance and support from my parents, I quickly adapted to enjoying slower days.

To sum it up for you,

When your child, “ I am bored!”

Acknowledge and support. 

And like with everything parenting use your child’s cues to parent better. Nothing in parenting is one-size-fits-all.

My hope is you can use this post to empathise with your child and enter the conversation from a non-judgemental point of view. Support your child in helping himself rather than finding ways to distract his attention or yell at him. Sometimes, it is good to be bored, right? 

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