Children will often say, “I’m bored!” It is hard to know what to do about it. I am thinking of a boy of seven who resisted going to school saying that he was bored there. His mother felt that was sufficient reason for keeping him home. As his teacher I visited them and asked the boy what “bored” meant. He explained that meant all the other children got the arithmetic better than he. He was spending his days designing a very large ocean-going ship which he intended to build on the vacant lot nearby. This took quite a bit of figuring. He was also interested in cars, their makes and models and cubic inch displacements. I am sure my drill lessons in addition were indeed very boring.
Adults are used to being bored. We wait in office waiting rooms, we wait in traffic gridlock, through TV commercials, etc., etc. We can name many boring times and we rarely complain. We don’t like it, however, and when our children complain about it, they usually get a good reaction from us. The are well aware of this.
Children can amuse themselves quite well, they usually have far too many toys and games, so what are they trying to say to us when they complain of boredom?
The first thing we should think about is the themesong of the child, “Help me to do it myself.”, and the maxim for parents, “Every useless aid prevents development.” These things are basic and cannot be ruled out. They have only a few years to learn everything about their society, so they need to get to work – see more things, experience more situations, watch other people to get cues as to how to handle situations.
Children make demands on us that we cannot fulfill. They don’t need amusements. They need to learn to function as human beings in our society, and for this they need us desperately. They want our undivided attention whenever they need it, and freedom of action whenever they think they are ready. It is as if they were Aladdin with a couple of genies at their beck and call. Adults, on the other hand, need a little relief from the constant pressure once in a while. One way adults deal with this is to give the children amusements such as television, videos, etc. It is not too much television that is the trouble, but too little activity.
From the child’s point of view, paradise is the undivided attention of some adult, preferably a parent, lacking a parent, any adult. They want an adult to be on hand to answer questions, listen to everything they have to say, keep them out of trouble,, anticipate when they need help and keep out of the way when they feel empowered. From the adult point of view, paradise is a self-reliant child, singing as she goes about her daily tasks, considerate of the adult need for peace and quiet. Paradise being impossible, we all settle for purgatory, namely boredom.
We begin boring children in the first few months when we put them to sleep n a room away from us with nothing to see but the ceiling.. Of course we mean well, we think babies crave peace and quiet too, that they are too young to get much out of our conversations and activities. When they wail we let them “cry it out” so that they will be able to deal with boredom. We take great pains not to “give in” to their demands since we have all seen clingy spoiled children whose behavior is most obnoxious. It is endemic in our society to think of babies as precious little pets and to be completely unaware of their mental powers or their mental needs.
If you had a memory such that you could take in an environment in one fell swoop and find it exciting to do so, why wouldn’t you be bored in a crib? Imagine yourself landing on Mars without a clue and being left to your own devices! You would have a burning desire to know what is going on. You would do everything possible to persuade the natives to clue you in. Not knowing the language would be another handicap. Then when the natives insisted on treating you as little pets to be trained, you would howl a bit. You would get used to it in time, accept your role and behave like a little pet.
Children from wealthy families are especially bored. Everything is done for them until they have no opportunity to be independent. Servants are there to wait on them before they have a chance to venture forth, taking away all confidence. This helpless feeling is a terrible one, making for a demanding person who is bored unless waited upon. The desire for independence is overwhelming, but it can be stifled by well-meaning servants who do not understand.
Children are extremely sensitive on the subject of bodily dexterity. They will cringe when told they are awkward of clumsy. They cringe also when they break things and make trouble for you. They are scolded by exhausted adults who do not understand. Most children keep trying, but there are many who just give up the effort and wait to be amused. They say they are bored.
Some children say they are bored in order to be able to do things with you instead of being relegated to a playroom full of useless toys. They need your company and will say or do anything in order to get it.
by Marietta Rawson