By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
The summer vacation wasn't three days old when ten-year-old Jason Cunningham walked into the living room and announced to his parents, "I'm bored." Both parents looked at each other incredulously, surprised by what they had just heard. Neither one knew what to say or how to respond.
It might take your child longer. Maybe it will happen after two weeks or a month. Yet, there is a good chance that sometime this summer you will hear, "I'm bored. There's nothing to do." How are you going to handle that announcement? What do you say next? As a concerned parent, what is your next move? Not sure? Consider the following do’s and don’ts when dealing with a bored child this summer.
1. Do not rescue. Do not schedule a trip to the zoo this afternoon and another to the water park tomorrow. It is not your job to fill your child's schedule with exciting adventures day after day.
2. Do not tell your child, "That's silly. There are a million things to do. How could you possibly be bored?" This type of verbal reaction tells a child that his feelings are wrong. This will discourage him from sharing his feelings with you in the future.
3. Do say, "That's an interesting choice you’ve made. Tell me more about it." Know that boredom is a choice. It is a state of mind created by the thoughts a person creates about their situation. Your job is to help your child see boredom as a choice without making her wrong for making that choice.
4. Do use empathy. When your child announces his boredom, lead with empathy. "That's too bad. It must be frustrating to be bored on vacation." Once you begin with an empathetic response, you can follow it with information-seeking questions. "Do you have any plans to change that?" "Got any ideas for what to do about it?" "How long do you think that will last?"
5. Do suggest possibilities. "I've seen a lot of kids get bored from time to time. Would you like to hear some things I've seen them do? I can help brainstorm possibilities and then you can decide if any of them fit for you."
6. Do give a one-minute problem-solver/problem-keeper lecture burst. "You know, Tennille, there are two kinds of people in the world—problem solvers and problem keepers. In this family, do you know who gets to decide which one they want to be? That's right, the kids. And in this case you get to decide. You have a bunch of choices here that we brainstormed. You now get to choose whether you want to be a problem solver or a problem keeper. Problem solvers pick one of the possibilities and check it out to see if it works for them. Problem keepers don’t do anything different. They just sit around and feel bad. It’s your choice. I’ll check with you when I get home tonight and see what you decided to do. Create a great day."
7. Do debrief later. "Hey, how did your day go? What did you create? Did you decide to be a problem solver or problem keeper? How did that work for you? Tell me more." Debriefing is the key. Here, you are demonstrating your interest as well as your caring. This is not a telling step. It is an asking and listening step. It is helping your child stay conscious about the choices she is making.
8. Do maintain your healthy limits. Your limit of one hour of TV per day and one hour of electronic game time does not need to be wiped out in an effort to reduce your child’s boredom. Allowing a child to sit with an electronic game, TV, or computer for hours on end so they won't choose to be bored is NOT effective parenting.
9. Do not overschedule your child this summer. A young friend of ours recently asked his parents to limit the activities he was enrolled in this summer. "When I'm too busy the summer goes too fast and I don't get to enjoy it," he told them. This is an example of a child that wanted more downtime. Children do not have to be kept busy every minute.
10. Do realize that some boredom may be necessary to move your child to find alternative activities for herself. Some degree of discomfort could well be the motivator that spawns new and creative possibilities. This could be the impetus that gets her up, off her rear end, and outside to enjoy nature or some form of exercise.
11. Do not go racing out and buy a bunch of stuff. Things are not what eliminate boredom. Creative thinking does. Creativity, ingenuity, and uniqueness have little room to surface in an environment full of things.
12. Do use self-referred comments. "I'm feeling bored. I think I'll go outside and look around for something to do." To make a self-referred comment, structure the first part of your communication so that you are speaking about yourself: "I need some excitement." Follow your statement about yourself with a connection to responsibility: "It's time for me to take some action. I'll be out in the garage if anyone wants me." This style of speaking teaches about values, personal power, and personal responsibility by adding a verbal component to your modeling of appropriate behavior.
It might be one of your children. It might be your spouse. It might even be you! Sooner or later you'll hear, "I'm bored." When it happens, use the do's and don'ts above to help you respond effectively.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the authors of Parent Talk Essentials. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free Uncommon Parenting blog. To obtain more information about how they can help you or your group meet your parenting needs, visit their website today: www.uncommon-parenting.com.