So many of our clients are reporting feeling bored. And rightfully so. For most of us, our world has been turned upside down, and the activities we used to look forward to during summer have turned into days at home with restless children. So, most parents are left feeling frustrated and overwhelmed as they try to provide structure and activities for their children.
This boredom is very difficult to navigate for parents. It is leaving most of us feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, anxious and dreading the school year – which is looking in some regards to be partially, if not all remote learning. If you missed our post on giving yourself grace during this time, please read it here. As parents, we are feeling more overwhelmed and agitated than usual. It’s ok to be feeling more emotional – but it’s important to make sure you give yourself the space to take care of yourself. More on that in another post…
So how can we deal with boredom and our children? First, as tedious as it sounds, adding some form of flow of routine and structure for your kids is vital in lowering anxiety and over stimulated behavior. This does not have to be a rigid schedule, but perhaps a list of a few things you are gong to do together during the day. So, for example, on a whiteboard (like this one), you could write down the morning and day routine:
- Eat Breakfast
- Get Dressed
- Play By Yourself
- Play Outside
- Lunch Time
- Screen Time
- Go for a Walk
- Dinner Time
- Evening Chores
With a visual schedule, your children know what the day is going to look like, and you have spaced out some time that you know you will be able to get a break (during independent play and screen time especially). You have also addressed going outside, which is a VERY important piece of limiting negative behaviors.
Another problem we face is that most children do not know HOW to play independently. Our generation of parenting – which is filled with pressure to multi-task and “do it all” on top of the increase in the ‘mom guilt’ – has left parents feeling that we need to fill our child’s every waking minute so they are happy and productive. However, this is a HUGE issue as it continues to cause parents to feel burnt out – but it also leads to a child who does not know how to occupy themselves, and this self-geared playtime is vital in increasing self-awareness, regulation and has been linked to higher IQ and verbal skills as well.
So boredom, for a child, is OK. They are supposed to feel bored! It is a necessary emotion. And our best way in helping them navigate boredom is not to take it away by keeping them busy, but to help them problem solve how to fill their time. What can you do that’s productive? You can make a “bored box” or a “bored list” for them to use when they feel bored, for one! See below for our favorite stimulating toys.
Also, you can start setting up their play schemes for them. By using open-ended toys such as blocks, cars, figures, animals, and art supplies, you are providing them with the tools to play endlessly. You may need to help them get the wheels turning, especially if they are not used to playing alone.
What does this look like? You can set up a road or building with some blocks and start playing with them (about 5 minutes or so), and then fade back. You can start making some play dough and model some ideas of how to play – and then fade back. If you do this series 5 minutes on, 15 minutes off for an hour, they will start to calm down and play more effectively. More needy or over stimulated children may need more of your attention at first.
However, the best part of this is after a week or two, they are learning how to play all on their own and how to work through their boredom. This skill of managing their own time, building and working through their imagination and having alone time productively without a screen helps balance out brain chemicals and increases self regulation.
For you, you get the space to get things done around the house, catch up on emails, talk to a friend, or sit with a WARM cup of coffee! Keep your expectations realistic – if left alone too long, children start to act out for attention, so make sure you are tuning into their balance and needs, as every kid is different.
Some of our favorite open-ended toys are: