Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Summer Boredom?

This excerpt from Hold On To Your Kids made me see things in a different way. My youngest Paddy is a lively, affectionate, extroverted 6 year old and none of his siblings are close to him in age or temperament. I realize I have been afraid of his boredom but in a subtly wrong way, and this gave me some insight.

"I'm bored" or "This is boring" are all-too-familiar childhood refrain. Many parents find themselves trying to alleviate their child's boredom by facilitating peer interaction of one kind or another. The solution may work temporarily, but it exacerbates the underlying dynamic, just as a hungry infant given a pacifier will only become hungrier, or a drinker who tried to drown his sorrows in alcohol will be, in the end, even more unhappy. And the worst of it is that using peers to soothe boredom, we are promoting peer orientation.

What are the true causes of boredom? The void that is felt in boredom is not a lack of stimulation or social activity, as is typically assumed. Children become bored when their attachment instincts are not sufficiently engaged and when their sense of self does not emerge to fill this void. It is like being in neutral, on hold, waiting for life to begin. Children who are able to feel the shape of this hole are more likely to talk about feelings of loneliness, missing, and separateness. Or alternatively, their words bespeak the lack of emergence: "I can't think of anything to do," "Nothing interests me right now," "I've run out of ideas," "I'm not feeling very creative." Children not aware of this void in a vulnerable way feel listless and disconnected and talk about being bored.

...Ideally, such a void comes to be filled with the child's emergent self: initiative, interests, creative solitude and play, original ideas, imagination, reflection, independent momentum. When this doesn't happen, there is an urgent impulse to fill this vacuum with something else. Boredom is what a child or adult feels who is unaware of the true causes of his emptiness. Because the void is felt so indirectly, the solution is correspondingly vague. Instead of looking to our inner resources, we want a fix from the outside--something to eat, something to distract, someone to engage with. This is usually where the child's brain seizes on stimulation or social activity as the answer. Television, electronic games, or outside stimulation can cover up the void temporarily but never fill it. As soon as the distracting activity ceases, the boredom returns.

....Peer orientation actually exacerbates the problem of boredom. Children who are seriously attached to each other experience life as very dull when not with each other. Many children, after a time of being with each other for an extended period of time, like a sleepover or a camp, will, on their return, experience tremendous ennui and seek immediate reconnection to their peers. By arresting the maturing process and triggering the flight from vulnerability, peer orientation also blocks the emergence of the vital, curious, engaged self in the child. If parents have any control over the situation at all, a time of boredom is a time to rein in the child and to fill the attachment void with those whom the child truly needs to be attached to--ourselves.

There are some suggestions for helping bored children here, and here.

Another suggestion, from Hold On To Your Catholic Kids, is to "sit with the child and just be bored together." I thought that was worth trying as a way of coming alongside my child and really understanding what he is dealing with.

Also, if you get there in time Homeschool Freebies has a couple of Summer downloads in pdf up for a limited time.


  1. Thank you so much for linking to Hold Onto Your Catholic Kids. What a wealth of information there!

  2. I find this quite enlightening, Willa! Thanks for sharing it - lots of food for thought...

  3. I liked this book when I read it a couple of years ago and you've pulled out some of the best parts as good reminders. It takes going against the societal grain to encourage solitude for yourself or your child (or children), but it's worth it.

    And it's Augustinian, too. Only God can truly fill that emptiness that is the root cause of boredom.

    I like all these little sidebars you have on your new site and look forward to exploring them more soon :-).


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!