Thinking About Boredom

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

   -Dorothy Parker

Here comes the summer with all of the fun the kids will have; no school, vacations, camps, sleeping in, shenanigans. With all of that fun, however, comes boredom. How ironic because the kids just escaped the boredom of school.

Boredom is an interesting and complicated subject. In the literature, there are different definitions of boredom. We all agree that boredom is a feeling that makes the experience of time go by very slowly.

Boredom involves attention. Problems with attention can cause boredom. Unfortunately, boredom causes problems with attention. Therefore, those with preexisting attention problems are more likely to have problems with boredom.

In addition, boredom has an emotional component. It causes unpleasant emotions. These unpleasant emotions lead to negative thoughts such as “This will never end” or “I never get to do anything I want.” The feelings and thoughts of boredom can ultimately lead to depression or fear. The fear is in the form of what I call boredom anxiety.

People with boredom anxiety have some of the biggest challenges with boredom. As fear or anxiety causes fight or flight, people with boredom anxiety will get angry or irritable when faced with what they anticipate to be a boring task or they will simply avoid it.

Kids with attention deficit disorder (ADHD) tend to be prone to boredom anxiety. Think of ADHD more as a focus regulation problem than an inability to focus. Kids who have ADHD can focus very well, maybe too well, on a stimulus that is interesting to them or worth their time. That said, because of their challenges of focus regulation, if the stimulus is not interesting or not worthwhile to them, they fear the boredom as it hits them quickly and hard in certain situations.

Perhaps the reason certain people, especially those with ADHD, engage in dangerous adrenaline seeking behavior is because they are seeking a solution for the boredom they are experiencing in life.

Sometimes boredom is caused by confusion, misunderstanding, or not grasping concepts. Other times it is because a subject is too simple or easy, or has no meaning. Kids who fear trying something new or fear failure will experience a feeling of boredom, or at least say that they are bored. As you can see, there are potentially several layers to boredom.

This is why it is important that we stop and think about boredom. When we view boredom as not just a “meh” problem but one of many layers that may actually have causes, it gives us a better chance of handling it well and helping our kids handle it better.

When a kid is complaining of being bored, explore what he or she means by “bored”. Try to sort out emotions such as fear or depression. As you talk about a child’s feelings, do not judge those feelings and show acceptance. Listen to them. Kids will tell you more if you listen and not judge or lecture.

Have an active conversation about it, asking open ended questions, such as “can you tell me more?”, or “what do you mean by that?” If anything, the conversation can help your child understand what boredom is and learn to accept the challenges it presents. This fosters the best chance of working toward problem solving.

If a child has ADHD, strongly consider treating if boredom and avoidance are persistent problems.

Spend time with your child to find activities that are stimulating and interesting. You can educate them that boredom may be an opportunity. For example, creativity often stems from boredom. It presents an opportunity to try new things. It is easy to just put a bored kid (or yourself) on electronics.   That may be a good solution for one to two hours per day but beyond that may lead to problems. Staring at a screen not only stifles creativity but stifles learning other (and healthier) ways to manage boredom.

Having no access to screens forces a child to find creative pursuits, experience new things, and initiate social interactions. Encourage being outside and also encourage exercise. Once you find something interesting, put it on the list of interesting things to do.

For things like chores, try to make it a game. See how fast a task can be completed with points for speed but also accuracy or craftsmanship. Break the bigger things down into smaller chunks of time. With that give positive rewards along the way such as smiles, saying “way to go” and giving high fives.

I have been thinking about this a lot today because I am bored on an airplane. As I write this, I am positive that I will disembark feeling better overall for writing this versus playing some dopey (albeit fun) video game.

I did not consider going outside to be one of my solutions for boredom in this particular instance.

Happy summer break!

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