“Mum…I’m Bored!” What Boredom Is Really About

Photography: Lamb Loves Fox

By Nelle Myrica Donaldson

“I’m bored!”

My eyebrows lurch, “How can you possibly be bored? You have toys and art supplies…Or you could help me sweep the kitchen!”

As an adult, I know something about the bigness of the world, and I am deeply invested in my goals and interests. I am unmoved by histrionic apathy. Particularly in moments when I feel frazzled, exhausted, and strapped for time, I am inclined to interpret boredom as a kind of personal failure, a sign of flawed character. Yet I’ve noticed that many times my kids react to feeling ignored and exasperated by asking for extra snacks or TV time. They may grumble, “There’s no one to play with me!”

Patty Wipfler of handinhandparenting.org offers that, when children flop around and whine “I’m bored!”, it’s not because they lack creativity. Rather, they are missing a sense of connection. Wipfler suggests that physical closeness, communication, and collaboration are all achieved through the simple maneuver of plopping down next to your child and talking the problem through, together. Boredom isn’t simply being unoccupied or uninterested, it’s about loneliness. A cuddle may be enough to reignite those mopey, sullen eyes with interest, compassion, and inspiration.

…when children flop around and whine “I’m bored!”, it’s not because they lack creativity. Rather, they are missing a sense of connection.

Trying something out of the ordinary can also do the trick. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, psychologist and author of Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life, defines ecstasy as the experience of stepping into an alternative reality (from the Greek, ekstasis, formed of ek “outside or beyond” and stasis “the place in which one stands”). So instead of reprimanding a “bored” kid, take them outside to look for bugs or notice the sunset; play a quick game of chase and tickle, or pillow fight; or put them in a bath. The objective is to transport and transform. When I feel listless, jaded, and indecisive, I read these symptoms as indicators that I need to reset my state of mind. I find sleep, a hot shower, and music all useful. To combat low mood, people sometimes suggest “getting fresh air,” “walking it off,” or “singing in the rain” [wait, do people suggest “singing in the rain”? Is that Seuss? No. Arthur Freed! Well, it might work…].

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