How to Handle “I’m Bored!”

Ah summer with the kids. The first week will be great. Everyone will relax, revel in their free time, probably play on screens too much.

And then you will hear the dreaded, “I’m BORED!”

Uh-oh. When our kids are bored, we’re in for a long day of either A) planning things for them to do, or B) setting limits on them to find something productive to do.

While going out with the kids is great, every child needs to learn how to entertain themselves away from screens. This is a life-long skill. Knowing what we enjoy, how to self-soothe and using our creativity aren’t just tools we  need to get through the summer months, they are skills we all use throughout our lives to be healthy and happy.

How to Shake the Boredom Doldrums

We all get bored. Often kids with ADHD and executive dysfunction are bored more than the average child. This can be because it’s harder for them to initiate creative play or their play is rough, loud and sometimes not appropriate and adults often them them “no” when they want to engage in impulsive activities they enjoy.

Managing boredom is a life skill. We all have to know how to occupy ourselves when we are waiting in line, stuck in a dull meeting or just have  few minutes between activities. While many of us now use our phones to distract from boring moments, we certainly don’t want our children plugged in all day long to stay entertained.

Tolerating down time is important for our brain health, too. A constantly engaged brain quickly becomes an exhausted brain and can become more inattentive and anxious. So let’s help our kids shake the boredom doldrums in healthy ways!

Quick tips on managing boredom

1. Expect boredom to arrive quickly this summer. During the school year kids are busy every minute of the day for at least 6 hours a day. A full 12-14 hours at their disposal will feel overwhelming for some, so just be prepared ahead of time to have a “boredom plan.”

2. Develop a loose schedule for the days the family is at home. Children who struggle with schedules and time management won’t be able to effectively structure their time independently. So create a structure for them that sets time frames for certain events to occur. For example, I recently spoke to one family of a schedule that included a quick run around the park in the morning, an hour or so of chores, a set time for video gaming and open blocks for playing with friends/hanging out with family.

3. Write schedules down. Many kids with poor attention and executive skills can’t easily hold a plan in their mind. Write down the daily schedule on a white board or chalk board so everyone can see what’s next and minimize questions about “what are we doing??”

4. Consider utilizing this BORED system. I’ve seen this idea around Facebook and wish I could attribute it to it’s originator. If you know who that is, please let me know. I think it is brilliant!

When your child claims boredom, ask them:

Have you…

B – Been creative?
O – Outside play?
R – Read a book?
E – Exercised 20 minutes
D – Done something helpful?

Ask your children to answer all of the questions on the BORED. The rule is, they can’t claim they are bored until each one is checked off their list.

5. Create a “Things to Do” jar with your children. Sit down and brainstorm all the things they can do when they feel bored. These can include quiet activities such as play with Legos, do a craft, read a book, and active endeavors such as go outside and shoot hoops, ride their bike, etc. Write each idea down on a popsicle stick and put them all in a jar. When your child claims boredom, have them pick a stick out of the jar. Whatever is on the stick is what they do for 20-30 minutes.

6. Reward them for  time and emotional management. It can be hard to do activities we don’t prefer. A child may pull a popsicle stick and not want to build his Legos. Talk to your child about rewarding him/her with a preferred activity if they occupy themselves appropriately (no whining) for a period of time. Maybe this could be a few extra minutes of video games or special time with you.

7. “If you don’t find something to do, I’ll make you match socks!” This was my mother’s approach to managing my claims of boredom as a kid. Old school, but effective!

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