Parenting the ‘Nothing To Do’
I’m bored.’ The multiple dreaded renditions of this sing-song phrase and the ways in which my child has taunted me with this exhaustive “problem” over the past ten months isn’t just annoying-it has become somewhat daunting. In fact, my husband and I attempted to break the cycle early during the pandemic-first by offering chores every time the forbidden phrase was uttered, and then by making up an “I’m bored” challenge (#imbored). My son had to go 30 days without saying “I’m bored”, in which case he earned ice cream. I’m not above bribery and social media hashtags to market a ‘cool’ tone to shape the behavior of my somewhat civilized nine-year-old.
The truth is . . . I’m bored, too. The truth is that living through a pandemic has been, well, kind of challenging. I feel a bit like a rump complaining about this. I mean, really, this is the biggest problem I have had over the past eighteen months. Lucky.
But, here’s the thing. As a therapist and Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, I have been hearing about this feeling of boredom repeatedly for the past gazillion (it feels like) months. The truth is . . . boredom is real. It is hard. It can lead to more serious feelings of restlessness, agitation, sadness and anger. It can lead to debilitating feelings of hopelessness and depression. It is the “gateway” feeling to a whole lot of deeply painful feelings like loneliness. That one is a beast. Right now, there are not distractions to stop the pain. That kind of pain sparks trouble -experimental drug and alcohol abuse and more. This is not true for only the kids and teenagers, but adults, too.
Why Does it Matter?
Early research points to a strong connection between involvement in extracurricular activities and academic functioning (Finn, 1993). Recent research has found there is a definite effect of extracurricular participation on important academic outcomes like reading and math achievement, course grades, sense of belonging to school and academic self-concept. Tariq’s research shows that “students who actively participate in extracurricular activities benefit from higher grades, test scores, higher educational achievements and more regularity in class attendance and higher self-confidence. While out of school activities increase leadership and teamwork abilities in students, these activities also decrease the use of drugs, alcohol and behavioral and disciplinary problems related to their use” (Tariq 2018). Research also indicates that a student who participates in at least two extracurricular activities (pro-social activities like sports, music, etc) are more likely to enroll in college. (Tariq, 2018) Um, yeah. Everything is shut down. What can I do? Exactly.
What can you do?
This is an unusual time when many extracurricular activities are modified or cancelled. We, as parents, must get creative. We must find ways to engage our kids/tweens and teens. We must show them how to adapt and thrive. We can help them explore new activities and engage in life in a different way.
• Make a list of existing interests with your child. Ask them: “What makes you happy? What makes your mood better? What is something you are interested in but haven’t had the time to explore?” Chances are, you know these interests quite well. But for the sake of this exercise, develop the list together and explore ways in which you may become connected.
• Help your child explore/discover new interests. Yes, there are kinks in participating right now. But can you find something else? What else interests you? What have you been curious about but haven’t had the time to explore? Again, help your child make a list, then find activities. Find a way to bring those things to life.
• Use technology. It’s a small world. The sky is the limit right now in the ways in which all the world is using technology. Is your kid interested in coding but there isn’t a club for that right here, right now? Check out this online resource with tons of classes and prosocial activities for kids of every age. For inexpensive ($10-15 per class) exploration of new extracurricular activities via online, check out www.outschool.com.
• Find a mentor. Do you know someone interested in a specific hobby who could mentor your student? This could be an older person who is struggling with isolation. Now may be a great time to link the two of them via zoom and find a way to explore that hobby.
• Make A Boredom Box. Fill it full of activities and coping skills that will distract your child and help him/her regain some sense of normalcy. This may include coloring books and art supplies, fidgets and a mindfulness pillow, UNO cards or other games.
• Watch for signs that the boredom has morphed into something more than boredom. If you notice changes in your child’s sleeping or eating patterns, ability to focus and concentrate or even get motivated to participate in activities they once loved . . . then it is time to seek professional support. It is possible that the boredom has morphed into more of a depressed mood.
• Model the behavior you want. If you are moping around the house and saying “I’m bored,” of course that is what your kid is going to repeat. Get off those screens! Go outside and find something to do. Is there a hobby you haven’t had time to explore? What makes you happy? Find it. Then find more of it. Kids mimic whatever they see.
• Use language to identify and name the feeling. If you see your child demonstrating a certain feeling, help them verbalize it. “Hey Johnny, I hear that you are bored again (try not to sigh). When I feel bored sometimes I start to feel restless, and that can make me feel really lonely. Does that ever happen to you?”
Mostly, be gentle with yourself. Parenting isn’t easy and no one has a guide to surviving (and parenting) during a pandemic. Be gentle with your babes; they, too, are just trying to survive. Know that you are doing your best.
Finn, J.D. (1993). School engagement and students at risk. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
Tariq, N. (2018, January). Effects of extracurricular activities on students. Retrieved March 3, 2021, from Researchgate. net: www.researchgate.net/publicationTags: "I am bored", bored children, concerns about boredom and children, keeping our children busy, Pandemic and boredom