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'I'm bored,' not lazy: Helping kids create their own solutions to summer boredom

Published: Wednesday, June 12 2013 10:30 p.m. MDT

Unstructured play is an essential part of combatting boredom and learning creativity.

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With summer in full swing, parents have more than likely already heard the familiar yet dreaded words from their children, "I'm bored."

However parents plan their children's summer break, it doesn't make it any easier on parents when they inevitably hear the complaint. According to the Wall Street Journal, many parents will respond by chastising their children for being lazy or get frustrated with themselves as parents.

"We assign a lot of social meaning to boredom," said John D. Eastwood, an associate professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, in the Wall Street Journal article. "When children complain of being bored, parents sometimes are threatened, thinking, 'What's wrong with you?' Or they judge themselves as parents, thinking they failed to bring up their child to have the proper character or skills."

Laziness or ineffective parenting actually may not be at fault, according to a new study in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, which Eastwood was lead author on. The study suggests that boredom is actually a negative state where kids, or adults, are experiencing real tension.

According to Science Daily, Eastwood describes boredom as "an aversive state of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity."

According to Eastwood, boredom comes into play when kids have trouble "paying attention to the internal information (e.g., thoughts or feelings) or external information (e.g., environmental stimuli)," when they're "aware of the fact that we're having difficulty paying attention" or when they "believe that the environment is responsible for our aversive state."

Rather than getting frustrated with the children or themselves, parents should instead challenge children to find a remedy for their boredom themselves, "own it" and become self-starters. Judy Willis, a Santa Barbara, Calif., neurologist and author, said, "Children need to figure out, 'OK, this is uncomfortable. I need to do something about it.’ ”

Getting the kids involved in fighting boredom will help relieve the tension that comes with it. Making a "boredom jar" that kids and parents can fill with ideas to be used throughout the summer helps kids become engaged.

While filling the summer with activities will help keep them busy, it's important for parents to remember to incorporate that unstructured play time, which will teach them to be resourceful and creative.

Younger children still may need some training from parents on how to make their own fun, and with a parent's help they can learn quickly how to engage in the world around them.

Sometimes asking kids to help with mundane tasks like cleaning, mopping or dishes will help jump-start the child's imagination, according to Laura Markham, a New York clinical psychologist who specializes in coaching parents.

Markham also suggested when parents are confronted with bored children to use that opportunity to listen, help children think about their own solutions and empathize with their children without taking on the burden or guilt of their child's boredom.

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