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Helping Your Kids With Pandemic Boredom

Before Covid-19, many kids were constantly busy. From in-person school classes to numerous extracurricular activities, birthday parties, concerts, museum visits and more, kids were always on the go. With the abrupt shift to online learning and socialization restrictions, many of these kids are now stuck at home with far fewer options, and as the pandemic drags on, many kids struggle with pandemic boredom.

Parents have a lot of practice keeping their kids entertained, but when your child is home all of the time you may soon run out of options. Some boredom isn’t always a bad thing. But it isn’t always good either, according to James Danckert, cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Waterloo. While boredom is uncomfortable in the moment, the way you (or your child) choose to act on those feelings ultimately determines the value of the situation.

But for a young child with underdeveloped sense of self control, boredom can lead to activities such as pouring a pound of sugar on the floor and rolling the wet cat in it. Or drawing all over a brand new bedspread with a sharpie.

Even among adults, research has found that a sense of boredom can increase both proactive and reactive aggression. Bored adults with no alternative ways to alleviate the boredom may resort to ‘sadistic’ behaviors that range from killing worms to docking someone else’s pay for amusement according to a new series of studies

Adults may also turn to self-harm; in another study, published in Science magazine in 2014, college students were asked to sit alone with their thoughts while monitored by a device that delivered electric shocks for 15 minutes. Over half of them chose to shock themselves just to give themselves something to do. 

A small percentage of people (about 10 to 15 percent) experience boredom more intensely than the rest of the population. Although research on this topic is sporadic, studies consistently find that those who are easily bored also tend to have a higher risk of poor academic performance, binge-drinking, aggression, and other risk-taking behavior. 

Interestingly, early research on pandemic behaviors has found that those who are easily bored are less likely to wear masks or socially distance themselves.

One study by Dr. Danckert and colleagues in 2020 found that boredom might be able to be mastered by re-framing it. In this study, 228 undergrad students were placed in a room that had internet-connected tablet, puzzles, and a partially built set of Legos. Students were instructed to not use any of them. This group exhibited higher levels of boredom than those who sat in a room without anything in it. This study sheds light on how people are coping with the pandemic, according to Dr. Danckert. We all want to see friends unrestricted, but knowing we cannot may heighten our tendency to feel bored.

Helping Bored Kids Cope

If your child is struggling with boredom, try reframing a situation. If a child is annoyed with a task, try to make it fun for them by framing it as a challenge and incentivizing a positive outcome. Take the pressure off yourself by enrolling them in structured activities, such as basketball that follows current COVID-19 protocol or Zoom instrument lessons. Take your kids outside and let them collect rocks to paint or create binoculars from paper towel rolls and make a game out of what you can see, such as “I Spy.”

If your children are in their teens, this may be more difficult – after all, teens have been suddenly cut off from important social networks and stripped of some of their independence. Suggest activity-based projects that they can do alone, with you, or with friends, such as creating a bucket list of things they want to do while at home, or choose new books to read. Sign up for a 5k race and suggest virtual training runs, wherein they call friends or relatives while exercising. And help them prepare for life after the pandemic, by creating long-term goals and breaking them down into easily achievable small goals that they can work on while still under pandemic restrictions. But always be sympathetic when your child is bored; after all, you are probably bored too. Acknowledge their struggle before offering a new activity, regardless of age.

No matter the activity, professionals agree that the end goal is to encourage your kids to learn how to self-entertain. By encouraging them when they struggle and teaching them coping strategies, you will better equip them to handle both pandemic and post-pandemic boredom.

Learn more about the brain and how you can train it at NeuroGrow.com.

 

This article was written by Mrs. Courtney Cosby and edited by Dr. Majid Fotuhi.

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