Summertime Blues: “Are we bored yet?

It’s easy to think of summer vacation as one of the greatest times of the year for a child. They aren’t in school, and they have time to do whatever they want. They have more time to play with friends, play sports, go swimming at the beach or just relax. One would think that boredom would never come into play during the summer months, but for kids across the country, boredom is a very real problem when school isn’t in session.

Boredom is obviously pretty hard on a lot of kids, but it can also be just as hard on their parents. When parents hear the words “I’m bored” from their children, many of them get frustrated. They start to think that they aren’t doing enough to keep their children entertained or that they need to make the effort to seek out more character building activities that will keep them entertained.

Although parents and other caregivers often take responsibility for their children’s boredom and wonder if they have somehow failed in an aspect of parenting, new research suggests that many of them are being too hard on themselves. A 2012 study published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science suggests that many children who complain about being bored aren’t being lazy but are in fact in a tense, negative state. They feel unfocused and unable to mange unstructured time. Many younger children who complain about being “bored” show many of the physiological signs of stress such as an elevated heart rate and an increase of the hormone cortisol. In other words, what many kids feel when they complain of boredom is actually frustration.

Young people, particularly those with underdeveloped social skills or other special needs, might be “crying boredom” to mask the fact that they simply don’t know what to do without structured activity. “Boredom” becomes a way to avoid dealing with the unfamiliar, something that can be scary for children who have become accustomed to and thrive in a structured environment.

Fortunately, there is plenty that parents, caregivers and teachers can do to help children deal with boredom. One method that works well is called “scaffolding,” which involves sitting down with your children and introducing games that involve imagination and fantasy. After a period of play, the adult leaves the children alone but with some new ideas of how to play by themselves. Other methods involve active listening – asking a child face-to-face why they feel bored and listening carefully to their response – and planning out possible activities in advance. Physical contact such as cuddling a younger child or ruffling the hair of an older child can also ease the tension that comes from being bored.

When a child says that he or she is bored, parents should neither automatically blame themselves nor conclude that their children are somehow deficient. Managing unstructured time can be a challenge for adults and children alike, particularly when they are used to functioning in a school or work setting focused on tasks generated by another. There is plenty they can do to engage their children to get over the mental paralysis that boredom can bring, but they must understand that the problem doesn’t lie with not giving a child enough to doi.

A Final Note:

At Stanfield we know that many parents don’t have their summers free to spend with their kids to motivate and challenge them. Many others have little time to direct caretakers in this pursuit. Keep summertime activities simple, and check out what is available in your local communities. Church camps often have scholarships, and local non-profits generally have some type of kid-friendly pursuits. If available in your area, don’t rule out summer school. Our kids with special needs can benefit from the review and the opportunity to practice social skills. They often do best with structure and the familiarity of a routine.

Copyright 2013 James Stanfield Company. All Rights Reserved.

i Adapted from: SHELLENBARGER, SUE. “A Smart Answer to the Season of “I’m Bored'” Wall Street Journal. N.p., 11 June 2013. Web. 13 June 2013.

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