A state of weariness with, and disinterest in, life.
Everyone, at one time or another, feels bored. Children, however, may report boredom more frequently because they have not yet learned to alleviate it for themselves. The following essay describes children's sense of boredom at the major developmental stages.
Infants and toddlers
Infants and toddlers rarely experience boredom. Infants spend large blocks of time asleep and much of their waking time feeding. Toddlers have a nearly unlimited curiosity to explore a world that is still new to them. Infants and toddlers, furthermore, have not yet developed the cognitive ability to understand the concept of "having nothing to do."
Preschool and school-aged children
Preschool and school-aged children are fickle in their attentions. The child may be engrossed in an activity one minute and, seconds later, lose interest and complain of boredom. This common complaint of preschool and school-aged children can have a variety of meanings, according to psychologists.
Children may complain of boredom when they're anxious because of a change in their environment or schedule. A classic example is the end of the school year. While children have an initial feeling of euphoria at being "set free," many feel apprehensive about having nothing to do all summer. Despite what they say about hating to get up for school every day, children, like most people, crave structure and routine, at least to some extent.
Many psychologists say that it is important to let children try to come up with creative outlets for their anxiety on their own. This helps them realize they can occupy themselves, an ability they may have forgotten after nine months of following a school schedule. Children can also participate in organized group activities, such as a soccer league or bicycling club, which can fill large, empty blocks of time.
Sometimes complaints of boredom mean that the child wants the parent take a more direct interest in his or her life. As Dr. Stephanie Pratola told Parents magazine, "When kids feel stressed, they often want your undivided attention. Sit down and have a glass of milk together and let your daughter ramble on or spend a few extra minutes with her before bed." Often, some parental attention will satisfy the child, and she can then occupy herself.
Children may complain of boredom when they are frustrated at being unchallenged by their present activities. Often, children become bored with things that used to challenge them, even before they have achieved what adults might consider mastery. So, a child taking tennis lessons might achieve a level of play that adults may not think is very high, but he or she has lost interest in the game. Many children simply like to try many different things, rather than focusing on mastering a few specific tasks.
In rare instances, children over the age of 10 who repeatedly complain of having nothing to do might be suffering from a clinical condition such as depression. In young children, depression is almost always triggered by an emotional upheaval of some sort, such as a family move, death, or divorce. Depressed children may withdraw from formerly interesting activities and complain of boredom. The child may need to talk to a psychologist or parent about the factors that are causing the depression.
Boredom is most problematic during adolescence. Adolescents are in the process of defining themselves as being autonomous of their parents and different from the children they were. Activities they enjoyed when they were younger now feel like childish games, but they have not fully developed the interests that will dominate their lives as adults. It is an experimental and stressful time. Adolescents who find themselves unable to navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood sometimes retreat into depression or social pathologies, such as drug use or delinquency.
Boredom in adolescents can also be a sign of a lack of intellectual stimulation in school. More challenging schoolwork can prevent a talented adolescent from becoming bored with school. Boredom can also be effectively alleviated by directing a teen's energy toward creative outlets. Expressing oneself creatively is one of the best methods of coping with boredom and depression because these areas have the potential to seriously engage an adolescent's mind.
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Dembling, Sophia. "I'm Bored." McCall's 124, July 1997, pp. 103+.
Graham, Janet. "Is Boredom Good for Your Child?" Working Mother 18, July 1995, pp. 52+.
Israeloff, Roberta. "There's Nothing To Do," Parents Magazine 71, June 1996, pp. 52+.
Wester-Anderson, Joan. "Overcoming Life's Little Doldrums," Current Health 19, February 1993, pp. 4+.