How should you respond when your child says, “I'm bored”?
It was finally here. After a long, cold winter and barely-there spring, I was so happy to welcome summer. The day was as pretty as a postcard, with spotless blue skies and, at last, sunshine and warmth.
I couldn’t have been more pleased if I tried.
He looked about as rosy as a frost-bitten apple.
“I'm bored,” he announced.
Well, I thought, I know how to turn that murky mood around – and I didn't mean by offering an ice-cream.
And No, I Didn't Try to Entertain Him… At Least Not at First.
I watched him take up a piece of chalk and randomly draw a line on the ground. For a minute, I just watched.
It was only after I paid close attention to him that I went to him.
“Let’s get bored together,” I said.
I took another piece of chalk and tried to follow his line.
He drew one more line, and then looked up at me with curiosity and interest. Was that a smile playing on his lips?
Aha! The apple was thawing…
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I mirrored his drawing again and looked at him playfully.
This time, he made a more complicated design and waited for me to try and copy it.
Busting Boredom: I didn't even have to try and win him around…
Sticking my tongue out in a bid to show how intensely I was concentrating, I doodled with energy and enthusiasm.
But my drawing was way worse than his.
He laughed like crazy!
Then he challenged me again and again. As my drawings got sillier his laughter got louder. His mood shifted and he got cheery and upbeat.
The art of play and persuasion
In her book, Hand in Hand Parenting's founder Patty Wipfler calls this child-guided play Playlistening, and it's a brilliant tool to use when your child says they are bored. It's this “playful role reversal” she says, that lets them determine how the play goes and puts a child in charge of the relationship for a minute.
When we use play like this, we actually grow closer to our children rather than push them away.
That afternoon, I could have responded totally differently to my son's boredom.
- I could have got angry that he didn't share my happiness about the weather, although really, it's a free world. Who am I to demand he feels the same about the weather as me?
- I could have listed endless choices or offered options of things to play or do. Most likely, he would have rebuffed them all.
- I could have sent him off to figure things out. But then the day would have been hit with a sour note. He would have remained cold and aloof. And I would have ended up that way too.
But what I wanted, what I really, really wanted, was a lovely time enjoying the sun.
I didn't want to push him away.
By venturing over to my son in his shade, I brought the warmth of the sun to him.
All he needed after that long, cold winter, was a little warming up.