Another homeschooling mom once wrote, "It's a valuable lesson to learn to deal with boredom, just like all other emotions."
Until I read that, I hadn't ever thought of boredom as an emotion. I liked the idea. When a child comes to me seeking advice on how to deal with any emotional state, I'm flattered and glad for the opportunity.
Traditionally in this culture boredom is seen as a state of sin. "I'm bored" is met by unthinking parents with, "Then mop the kitchen," or "You have a thousand dollars' worth of toys, you can't be bored," or "Boredom's good for you." I believe the VERY common habit of belittling children who use the word "bored" should be rethought (or "thought," since it seems many parents have never considered it carefully but just repeat what their parents said to them).
If a child came and said she was heartbroken would you tell her she was a brat and should clean the garage? If a child came and said he was angry enough to hit would you say, "Then sit down and read a book whether you want to or not"? Wouldn't you try to help them? It's nonsensical to me that some parents shame their children for saying they are at a loss about what to do next.
The most to be accomplished from punishing or sending bored kids away is that the kids will learn not to go to that parent for advice and ideas.
Sometimes the real message behind "I'm bored" is "I'm little and feeling agitated and vaguely unhappy and I don't know what I can do to get over this uncomfortable feeling. What would you do if you were my age, in this house, on a day like this?"
I think that deserves a helpful, respectful response.
It is rare that my children say "I'm bored," but when they do I walk with them where they are, or to some other part of the house, thinking quickly about what I might have that they have never seen, or haven't seen for a while. I think of art supplies or games or toys or musical instruments they haven't thought of for a long time. I scan my mind and the house for things which would provide some visual, auditory, olfactory, or mental stimulation, preferably two or three of those. Tactile stimulation is good too—perhaps the offer of a shower or bath with new/different toys, or different soap or something. Sometimes "watering the yard" (playing with the hose) will do. When a baby cries for no clear reason, parents will often joyfully see whether the baby means "I'm uncomfortable." They'll try a change of clothes, physical contact, a change of temperature, more air, less air, hot food, cold food, a stroll outside, a car ride, SOMETHING different. Older kids have the same needs, and the expression of that need might come through as whining, irritability, or a claim of boredom.
Maybe it's not physical need, but intellectual need. Boredom is a desire for input which unschooling parents should welcome. It's a child saying "How can I add excitement to my life?" This can be a big opportunity to introduce a new subject, activity, or thought-collection.
Maybe it's an emotional need, and the parent's undivided attention for a little while will solve the problem. A walk, some joking, a hug, inquiries about progress on the child's projects or plans or friends might serve many purposes at once. If after a walk and a talk the child is not quite refreshed, you still had that time together, which made "I'm bored" a useful invitation to bonding.
Sometimes "bored" means tired, low on energy, needing a break from conscious thought and responsibility. Arranging a nap, or putting on a soothing video (even for older kids�a romance instead of an action flick, or light drama instead of comedy), leaving a pillow on the couch and herding the rest of the family in other directions might result in an unplanned but needed nap.
I'm grown. I still get bored occasionally. Thinking about why I'm bored and forgiving myself for being bored have helped me assist my children in learning some coping skills they can use in their own lives. I have also used my occasional boredom as a trigger to seek out the kids. If there's a lull in my life now I should fill it with those children who will be gone too soon.
Welcome opportunities to learn about when and why your child asks for your advice and stimulation. The threshhold of needing the parent will change over time, and parents can really use knowing where it is and seeing the benefit in it. One complaint of parents of school kids is that communications are lacking or are misunderstood. Homeschoolers have the fulltime luxury of the chance to do better. Unschoolers have the added advantage of "counting" every interaction as a learning experience. Self awareness, interpersonal skills, creativity and compassion all come into play when a child and a parent can build an uplifting memory from "I'm bored."
"Bored No More" was published in Home Education Magazine in September 1998
in Home Education News in British Columbia in January/February 2003
and in Acorns Volume 7, Issue 7, March 2004
The Lego title art was done by Robert and Robbie Prieto in September, 2012. They also did "Do it".
I read Sandra's article Bored No More and am inspired by it. I certainly will look at that statement differently next time I hear it from my child. I particularly like the idea of being able to create a special time from helping my child to deal with the emotion of boredom. How very respectful.
I forget sometimes to be with my son, and think sometimes of how to get him to leave me alone. What a rut to get into with a person I am trying to nurture to his full potential.
It is always good to be reminded by other people's experiences and suggestions just why I am doing this!
posted 1/27/03 on HEM-Unschooling list
All I can say is thank you thank you thank you for this article! My dear daughter has been coming up to me saying 'I'm bored,' and I would usually try to come up with 'Well..go read....or do the dishes..etc', but reading your article has really given me so much insight into what she is really saying. :)
We spent a nice afternoon cutting up beads (you know, the kind they throw at Mardi Gras—which led to a discussion on Mardi Gras) and making a sort of beaded doorway type thing. :) Don't know what I was saving all the beads for (because every other time she had asked for them, I always said 'no') but after this article....I thought 'O.K....we ARE gonna use these beads and have us some fun!!' Again...thank you for a poke in the right direction.
by e-mail, July 2003
Later note: I should note that with that beaded curtain thing......we were using a lighter thing and melting the beads to stick them together, but considering we burned our fingertips a couple dozen times...lol....hot glue might be a better idea.
From a discussion on the Always Learning list, September 2009:
Cara Barlow's responses to the quotes, and then some other responses from the same discussion:"my youngest, 7, is constantly telling me that she is bored. I just don't understand it because she has many, many things to do at our home as well as the many outings that we go on. She has to be doing something 24/7 or she is boredWhen my daughters were that age I realized that when they said they were bored, they were needing my attention—if I chatted with them, if we played a game,or went for a walk, their "boredness" evaporated. They're 11 and 13 now, and I still find that largely true. Just being physically in the same room is usually not enough - they need my focused attention. Hugs help too, or sitting close to each other on the couch."We've gone to Florida to Disney World and the beach. We've gone to the ...zoo. We went to Amish Country. We've gone bowling, to parks, playgrounds, picnics, .... beaches, library programs, festivals, fairs, a pottery painting place in town, other community events, and the list goes on."You don't need to leave the house to find something to do, and a seven-year-old may prefer doing things at home. One favorite activity of my younger daughter's when she was that age was for me to put together an "invention box" for her . The invention box was me walking around the house for a few minutes with an empty dishpan putting interesting things in it like tape, pipe cleaners, Polly Pockets, a partial roll of toilet paper, cardboard from a discarded box, markers and so on. We'd then sit together and talk while she created an invention from what was in the dishpan.