Week 26 | A Close Look at Boredom

Daydreaming flow to learn

{Excerpt from Flow To Learn, Week 26} When a child says, “I am bored,” or you can see that they are passive, listless, and unable to engage with their immediate environment, take that as a signal to look deeper. There are many different shades of boredom, and this child might need your understanding and support. Often boredom is a necessary part of the creative process, a precursor to an activity that is born from within. Below are descriptions of several different kinds of boredom and what you can do about them, if in fact you should do anything at all.

SIMPLE BOREDOM

Simple boredom is a passing state. It is easily recognized merely a short interruption in a child’s otherwise industrious day, especially when they are immersed in an interesting environment. It is almost like a break for reorientation, a necessary gap that may not feel comfortable but is needed in order to discover what is next.

What you can do: When a child reaches out to you with “I am bored” or you can tell they are bored, and really do need some help, come closer and be curious about this state together with the child. Unless a child is unable to recover on their own (as we will discuss next), avoid offering activities, instead simply acknowledge, “Yes, I can see you are bored.” And try to ask friendly questions such as: “Do you want to tell me about it?” “How does it feel?” “Where in your body do you feel this?” “How would you feel if you weren’t bored?” or “What would you do if you weren’t bored?” Or simply state, “I can sit here with you until you aren’t bored anymore.” Your presence and warmth will help a child accept this uncomfortable state. A child will know you aren’t here to “ fix” this. Instead they experience that this feeling is okay, that they are okay, that they are strong enough to feel this, and move on from this state when the time is right. Soon enough, they will feel a surge of energy, an internal impulse that leads them to their next self-chosen activity, “Oh, I’m going to do this now!” And off they will go to their next adventure.

BOREDOM FROM DISINTEREST

If a child is repeatedly bored and disinterested in their surroundings, the environment may simply not be inspiring enough; it may not offer the kinds of activities a child currently needs. Even prepared environments such as schools often lack activities that respond to developmental needs. This can lead to all kinds of behavioral issues, and these children may increasingly shut down over time. As best as you can, try to supplement inspiring activities at home.

What you can do: Experiment with a variety of changes in the environment as suggested in this book. Bring your child to nature, help them explore fauna, flora, weather patterns, let them experiment on their own with art supplies, instruments and sound-makers; or let them try art, music or dance classes. Offer interesting items such as an old telephone or typewriter to play with or take apart and offer inspiring books. Let your children speak and play with interesting people who you think could become role models. Change the environment before trying to change the child.

DAYDREAMING

Children who are “daydreaming” may look as if they are bored, but they are actually in a valuable, pleasurable internal state that is necessary for good mental health and integrating new information. Even in the most inspiring environment, children can momentarily detach from their surroundings and focus their attention inward. During what we call daydreaming, children may be in natural contemplation, allowing thoughts, visions, and feelings to arise and dissipate. They may playfully tackle problems important to them. And, they may not think at all, which gives their mind an important break during which sudden insights may occur, which is so well described in Guy Claxton’s book Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less.

What you can do: If you notice that a child is “staring into space” and not participating actively I anything, try to nd out if they are in a pleasurable state. If they are, simply smile, nod, and let them be. Don’t interrupt. If a child trusts you, they may tell you about their internal journey afterward.

Daydreaming flow to learn

BOREDOM FROM INNER PAIN

If you see that a child rarely plays with toys, art supplies, or other games, if they cling to their significant adults or withdraw frequently, even though the environment is interesting, this child may be experiencing some deep internal pain. Emotional pain needs to be addressed before a child can be active and self-motivated.

What you can do: Try to find out what is weighing the child down: Is it a coflict with peers? Is bullying involved? Is it a stressful situation at school or at home? Are they afraid of something? Whatever it is, do your best to listen and acknowledge what the child is going through and take whatever measures are in your power to support the child. Sometimes this may involve mediating between children, talking to their teacher, or helping the child apologize and make amends for something they did. Or, you may need to apologize for something you did. All of these are natural challenges and as long as a child sees they are not alone, and there are things they can do to heal with our support, we are giving them valuable tools for future challenges. You can also offer the suggestions for tension release described in Week 11.

BOREDOM WITH THE WORLD OFF THE SCREEN

Children who are used to being entertained by a screen might easily get bored with the world when the screen is off. Natural things are usually slower and clumsier; they don’t light up, vibrate, or give instant points for progress. Conversations with real people are much more complex and might not be as exciting as computer games. When a child gets bored with the real world and wants to go back to the screen as soon as possible, they need our help with reincorporating natural or human elements back into the fabric of their day-to-day lives.

What you can do: Make the off-screen world attractive! For instance, let a child be in touch with animals,—get them a pet, or take them to a farm; go camping with them and hike to a spectacular waterfall; help them make friends, perhaps with children who are also used to the screen— offer them physical activities, so they can commiserate and heal together.

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Flow to Learn. Get the book or eBook on amazon and continue reading. There is so much more to discover!

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