When kids say, “I’m bored”, it can send parents into a frenzy to find distractions and activities to keep them entertained.
But family psychotherapist, Fiona Yassin, says letting children and young people be bored in the summer holidays can be a good thing: “Ultimately, children feel bored when they are doing something that doesn’t give them satisfaction or fulfil their desire for stimulation. Letting children sit with some boredom can encourage them to problem-solve and work things out for themselves, which we know is a building block for many skills later in life.
“Problem-solving skills help a child’s development, particularly as they approach the teenage and adolescent years. When there is too much scheduling for children, they may lose some creativity. Boredom can allow children the time and space to develop imaginative and creative play and resourcefulness.”
The importance of understanding what boredom means for your child
The benefits of boredom
Yassin explains: “When children move into a mental health struggle or challenge, it often goes back to them feeling they can’t make solutions or change the situation.
“One of the great aspects of boredom for young people is that it allows them to sit with their feelings, work out what they are feeling and change what they are feeling. We tend to experience boredom when doing something repetitive or monotonous, and it’s really important to allow children to piece together what they can do to change how they feel.
“It’s beneficial for children to feel they have agency over decision-making and can exert responsibility within their environment. It may be beneficial for parents of older children to put together a list of activities available in the house and the community and allow them to choose what they do.”
According to the American Psychological Association, boredom also makes kids more motivated and improves children’s minds and well-being.
Yassin suggests another way to look at this: “‘Is it useful to be organising and scheduling every second of our child’s downtime this summer?” – the answer is no.
“Parents may end up exhausting themselves and their children if they fill their summer holidays with activities. If a parent puts a lot of pressure on themselves to fill their child’s time, the added stress could cause friction in the family system.”
Is your child really “bored” or is something else happening?
Yassin says: “Often when children say they are bored, they may feel angry, frustrated or lonely. It’s important to work out what boredom means to a young person.
“Parents may find lots of play or activity options surround their child, but they do not want to engage in any of them. In this situation, sometimes children describe being bored, but their true emotions may be something else, such as anger. If parents find this is the case with their child, it’s important to explore this as there may be more to the feelings of boredom.”
What are the warning signs to look out for?
If boredom is coupled with feelings of hopelessness, low mood or agitation, or a child talks about a feeling in their tummy they can’t scratch away, Yassin says: “It’s key that parents take notice and explore this further.
“While boredom can be beneficial for children and young people, it’s really important that parents understand the warning signs. These may include instances where it’s difficult to motivate a child, or it’s tricky to switch them to another activity. If boredom seems to lead to destructive behaviours, for a minority of children, boredom may lead to behaviour that hurts others.
“Boredom can be disrupted by movement – this does not necessarily need to be scripted movement like an exercise class; it could simply be a change in activity, a walk or a bike ride. If your child shows destructive behaviours, try to disrupt it with movement.”