So, your kid is bored…and ‘bored’ doesn’t begin to describe just how sick and tired you are of hearing about it. Should you A) reach for the remote control B) rattle off a list of fun things for them to do C) book it to the toy store and buy that game they’ve been eyeing or D) do nothing at all? Well, friends, if you chose D, you’re on the right track. Still, ignoring a complaining kid is easier said than done. As such, we suggest you prepare yourself with a solid (in)action plan—like this one, courtesy of Dr. Siggie Cohen, a psychologist who specializes in child development. Here’s exactly what to say when your kid starts to whine about having nothing to do.
But First, Don’t Fear Boredom…
While it might drive you nuts when your kid whines about it, the expert tells us that boredom itself is not a problem. Per Dr. Siggie “boredom is neither right nor wrong; it is just a passing feeling on the way to initiative, imagination, motivation, self-reliance, and problem solving.” In other words, you can think of boredom as a catalyst—an uncomfortable, but fleeting experience that can play a significant role in helping your child develop a whole host of important skills.
…And Turn Off the Screens
OK, your knee-jerk reaction when the whining starts may still be to toss a tablet in your tot’s direction or turn on the tube, but Dr. Siggie offers a compelling reason why you shouldn’t. “The age of screen time has created a culture of accommodation,” she says. In other words, when you provide your kid with a quick fix in the form of technology, you’re really only exacerbating the (non) issue and hindering your child’s ability to tolerate (or banish) boredom in the future.
How to Respond to Your Kid When They Tell You They’re Bored
Your first instinct might be to raise your voice and gesture wildly at the ridiculous number of toys cluttering your home for the sole purpose of entertaining your kid. (We get it.) However, the expert says exasperation isn’t the best way to react to a child who’s saying “I’m bored” on repeat. Instead, stay neutral and try to validate your child’s feeling without communicating that there’s anything particularly exceptional about it. And here’s the important part—don’t try to fix it. That’s right: Don’t pick up the phone and schedule an impromptu play date, don’t take them to the dollar store for a new toy, don’t even suggest at-home activities that are readily available to them (they’ll just pooh pooh them anyway).
Dr. Siggie suggests a refreshingly simple script: When your child tells you they’re bored, just say, “I know”; and when they say it once more with feeling, because they will, reply with, “I know you’re bored, and you think I can fix it…but you can fix it.” Short, sweet and—once your kid gets the memo—empowering.
If your kid is used to having you provide on-demand entertainment, this new approach might require some commitment on your part—namely because self-reliance doesn’t happen overnight; nevertheless, it’s a tremendously important life skill to encourage. Just stick to the script, stay the course and “let your kid be bored,” says Dr. Siggie. By doing so, your child will have no choice but to show some initiative—and you might be pleasantly surprised to see just how creative and resourceful your kid can be.